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September 1, 2017: Convocation Address

Good afternoon.  It is great to see you all here.  I want to begin by welcoming everyone officially to Peabody’s 2017-18 academic year, our 160th year in existence as the oldest conservatory in the United States, and by the way, this year we are also celebrating our 40th year as part of Johns Hopkins University.

Let me also thank our performers and student speakers today for their important contributions.  Great job!

I also want to invite you to join us for lunch in the courtyard immediately following Convocation.  But before we adjourn, we’ll continue a tradition at Convocation where we thank our more than 1,100 people who donate to Peabody each year.  For those of you who are returning students, faculty and staff, you will remember that we take this great photo that goes on a postcard to our donors.  So following my remarks and Alex Fiterstein’s performance, Leslie Procter will provide us instructions as we take a few moments to thank all our donors in this way.  Please join us for that.

Now, the start of every year is always special, full of excitement and possibility.  But perhaps this year is just a little more special as it’s a year of real ‘firsts” at Peabody in many important ways.

First, as you heard, this year we welcome an unprecedented 25 new faculty members.  I’m reasonably sure that there has never been another academic year with so many new faculty faces, perhaps since Peabody’s beginnings.  You’ve already heard from Dean Bush about these folks, and of course you’ll meet them in the days ahead, but we could not be more excited.  The greatness of Peabody is without question found in its faculty, and these appointments just build strength on strength.

Another first is that this year we launch the Breakthrough Curriculum focused on enhancing the skillset of every student that comes to Peabody around what it means to be a musician and citizen artist in the 21st century.  Peabody has put a stake in the ground by committing to the belief that being a great musician today requires both excellence and a facility with other critical skills that will allow you to bring your musical training to fruition in meaningful, imaginative and useful ways.

You know, 25 years ago American orchestras began a conversation about what would happen to the core focus on excellence in performance if orchestras broadened their programming and missions to more deeply encompass education and community engagement.  The fear, which was completely unfounded, was that excellence would be compromised.  In fact, the opposite was true.

We see an identical conversation today in our music schools and conservatories – a fear or belief that if we ask students to stretch beyond the traditional focus of mastering performance skills, then the core will be jeopardized.  Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their fabulous book about visionary companies, Built to Last, call these kinds of false choices the “Tyranny of the Or” compared to the “Genius of the And.”  We must embrace and teach the “Genius of the And.”  It is possible to be both an outstanding performer and a citizen artist – indeed it’s necessary to be both.  Now, Peabody has taken this critical step to place itself at the forefront of this work.

As part of this, this is the first year of a reimagined ensembles program that emphasizes a broad range of eclectic ensemble experiences for students, similar to what you will experience ultimately in the professional world.  As an instrumentalist, for example, you’ll have opportunities to play across a range of ensembles, from orchestra to chamber orchestra, to studio orchestra, and many others.  It is our belief that through uniquely crafted experiences during your time here, you’ll emerge more flexible and capable of handling the kind of professional challenges that you will face.

And before leaving this, I think it’s important to also note that arguably never in our history has it been more important for artists to fully connect with communities in order to overcome the separation and disconnect that we increasingly see in our culture.  As artists, we can make connections where others cannot.   It’s also why the work undertaken over the last several years in diversity and inclusion continues in earnest at Peabody this year – this is a topic on our collective consciousness that more than ever, deserves our attention.

This is also the first year of a wholly revitalized faculty governance system, unchanged since its debut 40 years ago until now, and which after 18 months of development by the Governance Task Force received the overwhelming endorsement of our faculty last spring.  As I noted, the faculty is the focus of what makes Peabody what it is.  It’s why you’re here.  So, it’s important that our faculty be deeply engaged in the work of Peabody, in formulating its direction and in the life of the Institute.  This new governance system, from the expanded role of our department chairs, to critical committee work, will engage faculty in new ways that enhances ownership, involvement and accountability.

This is also the first year of recruiting for our new dance BFA program in the Conservatory under the leadership of danah bella who arrives at Peabody with a strong record of professional dance and program building, as well as the first year of recruitment for the equally exciting New Media program under the leadership of Thomas Dolby.  Both of these programs will have their first cohort of students in fall of 2018.  I am enormously excited about adding these new activities to Peabody.

And finally, this is the first year of an expanded commitment in our programs to musician wellness, as demonstrated by the focus on this critical area in orientation this year, and supported by plans to open a clinic on the Peabody campus for the treatment of performance-related injuries as part of the Music and Medicine initiative with John Hopkins Medicine.  There is nothing more important than understanding and managing your precious assets – your physical and mental wellbeing in light of the career you’ve chosen.  We are committed to making sure that Peabody leads in this area as well.

As I said, a year of firsts in so many ways.  And we look forward to watching it all unfold.  Again, we are excited to have our new classes here, to welcome returning students, and to simply use this opportunity to say good luck, have a great year, and make every minute count!

Remember, after the performance, pictures and lunch in the courtyard!  Thank you very much!