Published: April 21, 2022 By

Dean's Downbeat




John DavisSusanne Langer—philosopher and educator renowned for her theories on the influences of art on the mind—defined music as “a laboratory for feeling and time.” I would add that music is essential to human betterment.

This Spring alone, from the war in Ukraine to fires in our own backyard—on the heels of a two-year (and counting) pandemic and accelerating repercussions of global climate change—it can be difficult to stay focused, to be creative. And yet, in the steady success of our students (meet Outstanding Graduating Senior Nelson Walker), alumni and faculty, I’m convinced that what we do at the College of Music is more important, more relevant than ever. Because what we do is create the building blocks of human betterment—of ourselves, one another and our world.

As I reflect on the past academic year and look forward to the next one, I’m moved by our accomplishments and motivated by our mission to develop and nurture the universal musician. I consider it a profound privilege to ensure that our programs and practices increasingly support a compassionate community, transcending differences and difficult times. It’s through this lens that our faculty and staff, too, aim to guide, empower and elevate our talented and remarkably resilient students.

It’s understandable to feel helpless and to ask “What can I do?” While there’s no playbook for the unprecedented and the unknowable, a shared commitment to betterment provides anchorage and inspires action. The way I see it, by channeling collective despair into collective creativity, we become artistic entrepreneurs, contributing to society in impactful ways:

Among too many recent student successes to name, Nelson Walker’s composition “Untitled [wind]” is his processing of—and reflection upon—the devastation of the Marshall and Middle Fork fires. Meanwhile, first-year master’s student Kedrick Armstrong landed on The Washington Post’s 2022 “Composers and performers to watch” list, representing the College of Music among diverse composers, performers and artists who are “hitting their stride with work that resonates with the right now.” As well, the Ivalas Quartet—our Graduate String Quartet in Residence, studying with the Takács Quartet—won Grand Prize and First Prize in the national Coltman Chamber Music Competition; and our exceptional trumpet studio had unprecedented success at the National Trumpet Competition, winning three out of five collegiate divisions (large ensemble division, small ensemble division and military excerpts division) and placing second in the graduate solo division.

Among wide-ranging faculty achievements and well-earned accolades, Professor of Music Education James Austin was inducted into the Colorado Music Educators Association’s Hall of Fame earlier this year; and Susan Thomas—the College of Music’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity + Inclusion, Director of the American Music Research Center and Professor of Musicology—was recognized for her leadership and service by the Boulder Faculty Assembly this month. The Soundscapes of the People project she co-directs was just awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Archaeological and Ethnographic Field Research program. Additionally, a new book—“In Search of Inspiration: Interviews with Notable Choral Conductors”—by Director of Choral Studies Gregory Gentry features 15 choral conductors, each answering fundamental questions about how they shaped their achievements; and, on April 30, Chair of Musicology and Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology Austin Okigbo will explore how we create music in response to pandemics, and how musicians impact public health and healing from pandemics at TEDxMileHigh.

Such examples of the College of Music’s community engagement and artistic entrepreneurship in composition, performance, scholarship and research inspire me every day. I’m confident that, through music, our students, alumni, faculty, staff and supporters will continue to contribute to the betterment and benefit of the world we inhabit. Stay tuned for our spotlights next week featuring the impact and influence of 2022 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient Damani Phillips and 2022 Distinguished Service Award recipient Judith Glyde

With proud congratulations to our Spring 2022 graduates, I wish you a rejuvenating summer!

Photo: Dean Davis interacts with Conducting Chair and Director of Bands Donald McKinney. On Tuesday, April 19, the CU Wind Symphony—conducted by McKinney—performed “The Battle for the Ballot” by Stacy Garrop. Her piece celebrates the centenary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Also on the program was “I wander the world in a dream of my own making” by composer Christopher Theofanidis. Join us on April 26, when the CU Symphony Orchestra premieres Theofanidis’ “On the Bridge of the Eternal.” Originally commissioned by the college in 2020, the debut of this work was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.