The Yale School of Music’s incoming class was formally installed during an annual Convocation on September 8. As part of the ceremony, which was attended by new and incoming students, faculty, staff, members of YSM’s Board of Advisors, and special guests, and watched online by constituents around the world, Blocker presented the School’s Cultural Leadership Citation to James Nelson and David N. Low Jr. ’87MPPM for their respective dedication to the growth of the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Low, a Norfolk trustee and a member of YSM’s Board of Advisors, has brought the Norfolk community together to support improvements to the Festival’s facilities, Blocker explained. Nelson, who’s enjoying a phased retirement after serving for 20 years as General Manager of the Festival, “has devoted his life to arts administration” and, through his work at Norfolk, has “changed our lives,” Blocker said. Following his presentation of the Cultural Leadership Citations, Blocker awarded YSM alum Martin Pearlman ’71MM the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal—the School’s highest honor—for “years of distinguished service to our art.” Pearlman studied composition at YSM before founding the early music ensemble Boston Baroque, which is now in its 50th year.
As is tradition, Convocation featured three performances, one each by faculty, an alum, and a current student. Members of YSM’s ensemble-in-residence, the Brentano String Quartet, performed the first movement (the only portion of the work the composer completed) of Schubert’s String Trio in B-flat major, D. 471. Pianist and YSM alum Henry Kramer ’13AD ’19DMA performed the fourth and fifth movements of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. And oboist and current YSM student Will Stevens ’22MM ’28DMA performed faculty oboist Stephen Taylor’s arrangement of Schubert’s Polonaise in B-flat major, D. 580, with collaborative pianist David Ji. Adding to the performance element of the program, and to tradition, the YSM community sang Schubert’s An die Musik with accompaniment from members of the Brentano Quartet and pianist and YSM Deputy Dean Melvin Chen.
In a speech titled “A New Chapter,” Blocker returned several times to a refrain from the Gospel of Luke: “To whom much is given, much is required.” The speech was an exhortation to a privileged group—“all of us in this room,” Blocker pointed out—and a reference to the School’s mission of preparing “exceptional students for service to the profession and to society.” Quoting from the late Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian, Blocker told the incoming class, “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” Blocker also quoted E.E. Cummings, saying, “It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are.”
Blocker’s remarks were the last ones he’ll deliver at a YSM Convocation. The previous day, Yale University President Peter Salovey had announced that Blocker will retire at the end of August after 28 years as the Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music at Yale. Blocker’s parting words for the evening spoke to his time as Dean as much as they did to his hopes for those gathered. “A new chapter begins tonight for each of us in this hall,” he said. “I wish for each of you a time at Yale that is fulfilling, enlightening, and inspiring.” At the conclusion of the ceremony, Blocker sent attendees, accompanied by Trinidadian rhythms played by the Yale Percussion Group, to a reception at the Yale Schwarzman Center Commons.