Commencement focuses on the artist’s role

YSM Commencement 2019In his remarks to members of the Class of 2019 during the School of Music’s 126th Commencement on May 20, Dean Robert Blocker told graduates, “The world needs you! It is gasping for the oxygen that your talent and sense of justice can provide.”

Before awarding diplomas to 110 graduates, Blocker presented three students prizes. Composer Miles Walter ’20MM was awarded the Harriet Gibbs Fox Memorial Prize, which is given to the student who has achieved the highest grade-point average during the student’s first year at the School; composer Frances Pollock ’19MM was awarded the Horatio Parker Memorial Prize, which is given to the student who best fulfills Dean Parker’s lofty musical ideals; and violist Marta Lambert ’19MM was presented with the Dean’s Prize, the School’s highest excellence award.

Blocker lauded the work members of the graduating class did to make their community a more welcoming place for those who call the School home, even for a few relatively short years. He cited OutLoud, the School’s first-ever affinity group, which seeks to create a safe space for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff. And he praised the YSM Black Collective, whose leadership, “with courage, kindness, and restraint, called on our community to become better educated about unconscious and implicit bias.” Blocker also referenced the Music in Schools Initiative and the School’s Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students in pointing to the School’s commitment to advocacy and action.

Faculty trumpeter Allan Dean and faculty and University organist Thomas Murray performed Schubert’s An die Musik, which students, faculty, and staff sang, in keeping with School tradition. For Dean and Murray, the performance marked the end of decades-long careers at Yale. Both retired at the end of the academic year.

Watch Dean Blocker’s 2019 Commencement Address, Why Music Matters

Watch the presentation of student prices

Watch the awarding of diplomas

Published May 23, 2019
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Willie Ruff awarded honorary doctorate

Willie Ruff receives an honorary doctorate from University President Salovey. Photo by Michael Marsland

As part of Yale’s 317th Commencement, which took place on May 21, the University awarded honorary degrees to “10 individuals who have received distinction in their respective fields.” Among the recipients was Willie Ruff ’53BM ’54MM, who retired in May 2017 having spent 46 years on the School of Music faculty.

Presenting Ruff with an honorary doctor of music degree, University President Peter Salovey said, “You have shared the wonders of music with the world. Introducing new audiences to the transcendent power of jazz; you discovered the echoes of distant times and faraway places in this quintessential American art form. In your ‘conservatory without walls,’ generations of young people have been inspired by jazz legends. Scholar, storyteller, and musician, in gratitude for your creativity and charisma, we are privileged to present your third Yale degree, Doctor of Music.”

The “conservatory without walls” to which Salovey referred is the “‘invisible institution’ through which African American music has been nurtured and developed over time,” explained Lucile Bruce in the Spring 2017 issue of Music at Yale. In 1972, a year after joining the faculty at his alma mater, Ruff brought 40 jazz legends to Yale — among them Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus — and launched the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Ellington Jazz Series.

Throughout his extraordinary career, Ruff has introduced audiences around the world to jazz. With pianist Dwike Mitchell, Ruff — a horn and bass player — brought the art form to the Soviet Union in 1959 and to China in 1981.

Ruff’s scholarship has yielded remarkable insight into musical connections, and his eagerness to share his experiences and knowledge has enlightened many. His 1991 memoir, A Call to Assembly: The Autobiography of a Musical Storyteller, earned him an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Music Writing.

At the School of Music’s 2017 Honors Banquet, Ruff was given Yale University’s Nathan Hale Award. “He’s changed all our lives,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said.

Ruff came to the Yale School of Music to study with Paul Hindemith — because he had read that Charlie Parker would have done the same. More than half century later, the School and the University continue to recognize and appreciate his remarkable legacy.


Published May 23, 2018
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YSM Class of 2016 presents gift to School

Commencement 2016

Yale School of Music Commencement, May 2016

In May, the Yale School of Music’s Class of 2016 became the first graduating class to present a gift to the School. More than half the class’ 98 members contributed to the gift, which exceeded $1,000.

A seat in Sprague Hall (seat C101) will be adorned with a plaque identifying the Class of 2016 as having made a contribution to the School.

Acknowledging the gift during the School’s Commencement ceremony in May, Dean Robert Blocker said to the graduating class, “You’re starting a very, very important tradition, and the tradition is more about staying connected to your School and to this community and what has become your family than it is giving a gift.” MORE

Published September 27, 2016
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[ concerts ]

YSM Commencement Concert to showcase the Class of 2016

chamber_music5On Sunday, May 22, the Yale School of Music presents its annual Commencement Concert, featuring a variety of performers selected from the Class of 2016. The event takes place at 4pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall.

The concert will open with Mario Castelnuovo’s Capriccio Diabolico, performed by guitarist Solomon Silber. This will be followed by composer Katie Balch’s Whisper Music, scored for amplified solo double bass and distortion pedal and performed by Levi Jones.

Soprano Meechot Marrero and pianist Yevgeny Yontov will perform Gian Carlo Menotti’s Muero porque no muero, and two movements from Steve Reich’s Quartet will be performed by pianists Dominic Cheli, Yevgeny Yontov, and percussionists Jeffrey Stern and Matthew Keown.

The concert concludes with two movements from Leoš Janáček’s Mládí (Youth), scored for woodwind sextet. It will feature flutist Joanna Wu, oboist Ron Cohen Mann, clarinetist William Bixby Kennedy, bass clarinetist Kenta Akaogi, bassoonist Cornelia Sommer, and hornist Cody Halquist.

The concert is free and open to the public. It will also be streamed live online.

Published May 18, 2016
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[ events ]

Awards and degrees conferred at 2014 Commencement

School-of-Music-2014-0263Yale’s 313th Commencement took place on Monday, May 19, 2014. The university’s Commencement Exercises began at 10:00 am on Old Campus, and the School of Music ceremony followed at noon in Morse Recital Hall.

Dean Robert Blocker presided over the School of Music’s Commencement Exercises. (The program can be viewed here; it includes the program of speakers as well as a list of all degree recipients.) Rabbi Leah Cohen, executive director of the Slifka Center and Senior Jewish Chaplain, gave the invocation.


Fiona Last receives her award

The School of Music awards three prizes at Commencement. MORE

Published June 4, 2014
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Willie Ruff receives Sanford Medal

CK-School_of_Music-2013-098Willie Ruff ’53BM, ’54MM received the Sanford Medal, the School of Music’s highest honor, this past Monday, May 20. Dean Robert Blocker presented the medal at the School’s Commencement ceremonies in Sprague Hall. The award honors Ruff’s contributions to the Yale School of Music and to the field of music.

A musician and scholar of wide-ranging interests and influence, Willie Ruff plays French horn and bass and is an author, lecturer, and educator. After graduating from Yale, he joined Lionel Hampton’s band and soon collaborated with his friend, pianist Dwike Mitchell, to form the Mitchell-Ruff Duo. The duo performed on the bill with major jazz figures, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, in every major nightclub. In 1959 they introduced jazz to the Soviet Union, playing and teaching in Russian conservatories, and in 1981 they did the same in China. MORE

Published May 24, 2013
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“Observe the Fermata”: Dean Blocker’s address to the Class of 2012

Photo by Richard LaPlante.

The Yale School of Music held its Commencement exercises on Monday, May 21, 2012 in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall. Here is the text of Dean Robert Blocker’s address to the Class of 2012.

In his epic poem THE FOUR QUARTETS, T.S. Elliot offers this revelation:

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we often start from.

For many of us, the introduction of the fermata to our musical vocabulary and skill marked our passage from the mathematical exactness of notation to a discretionary choice. As a seven-year old, I was fascinated with this new freedom – much more so than my teacher thought necessary or amusing. Fortunately, she was endowed with extraordinary patience. Her words still echo in my mind: “Linger, Robert, don’t hurry, think about the next phrase. Take time, observe the fermata.” MORE

Published May 23, 2012
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Yale awards honorary degree to Midori

At Yale’s 311th Commencement exercises this morning, the violinist Midori was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree.

In awarding the honorary degree, University President Richard C. Levin said:

With poise, precision, and artistry, you have been acclaimed as one of the world’s great violinists since the age of fourteen. Equally gifted in the classical and the contemporary repertoire, you have embraced new music even as you bring interpretative brilliance to the composers of the past. And your philanthropic ventures have extended your influence far beyond the concert hall. You provide music education to 15,000 New York City children each year, and you promote music as a force for good in your role as a United Nations Messenger for Peace. For your supreme talent and your commitment to education and community wellbeing, we are pleased to name you Doctor of Music.

An internationally renowned violinist, Midori is widely known as a master musician, an innovator, and a champion of the developmental potential of children. Named a Messenger of Peace by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007, she has created a new model for young artists who seek to balance the joys and demands of a performing career at the highest level with a hands-on investment in the power of music to change lives. She is also the founder of Midori & Friends, an organization that provides music education and performance opportunities to students in New York City schools that lack music programs. MORE

Published May 21, 2012
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Commencement Events 2012

This year marks the Yale School of Music’s hundred nineteenth Commencement, and Yale University’s three hundred eleventh Commencement.

On Sunday, May 20 at 4 pm, the School of Music will present its annual Commencement Concert, featuring outstanding performers from the Class of 2012. This concert, which is free and open to the public, takes place at Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall (470 College Street). The program includes music from Schubert to Šulek to Bright Sheng, with additional pieces by Ernst, Schumann, Jacob Druckman, and Chen Yi.

Yale University will hold its Commencement exercises on Monday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. on Yale’s historic Old Campus. Ceremonies will be streamed live online; click HERE to view.

Commencement exercises for the School of Music will take place in Sprague Hall immediately following the University Commencement ceremony on Old Campus. Tickets are not required. The School of Music’s ceremony will be streamed live HERE.

The University’s Class Day, featuring Class Day speaker Barbara Walters, will be streamed live on Sunday, May 20, beginning at 2 p.m. MORE

Published May 14, 2012
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Asking Good Questions: Dean Blocker’s Commencement Address

At the School of Music’s 118th Commencement, held May 23, 2011, Dean Robert Blocker addressed the graduates. The text of his address, titled Asking Good Questions, is reprinted here.


Robert Blocker
The Henry and Lucy Moses Dean of Music

In the library of questions, there are many different types. Some are social, such as a greeting like “How are you?” Others are personal, sometimes gossipy and intrusive, like “Can you believe she moved in with him?” Some have short-term implications – “When do we get out of this rehearsal?”, while others have lasting meaning – “Will you marry me?” Some require one-word replies, and some cannot be answered. This morning, I want to focus on questions that pertain to you and your life as a person, an artist, an educated citizen, and a cultural leader.

Isidor Rabi, the Nobel Laureate in Physics who died earlier this year, was once asked why he became a scientist rather than a doctor, lawyer, or businessman like the other immigrant kids in his neighborhood. His answer was profound and an inspiration to all educators: “My mother,” he said, “made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions – made me become a good scientist!”

Educated people – scientists, artists, physicians, teachers, lawyers, ministers, business owners, to name a few – are intellectually curious. If you wish to achieve your personal goals, to develop your talent, and to live a rich, satisfying life, asking good questions is, I believe, the best possible outcome of your educational experience.

Much has been said and written about the Information Age and its digital implications, but we have no singular claim on this term. What of the people who first encountered the alphabet, or those who lived when Gutenberg invented movable print, or more recently our grandparents and great-grandparents who witnessed the advent of radio and television?

Some say the book is dead. Hardly! In 2011 over one million new titles were published. Some say anything and everything is available on-line. Not so! The average life span of a URL is 44 days. MORE

Published June 9, 2011
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