Dean Robert Blocker delivers his 2019 convocation speech, “Beyond Beginnings.” Seated, from left: Yale University President Emeritus Richard Levin, President Peter Salovey, Provost Benjamin Polak, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music Director Martin Jean. Photo by Harold Shapiro
Convocation 2019, during which the incoming class was formally installed, marked the beginning of a yearlong celebration of the School’s 125-year history and featured performances by faculty, students, and alumni and remarks by Dean Robert Blocker, Yale University President Peter Salovey and University President Emeritus Richard Levin. The ceremony also featured the presentation of the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal, the School’s highest honor. Members of the incoming class were joined in Morse Recital Hall by returning students, faculty, staff, the School’s Board of Advisors, trustees of the Yale Summer School of Music/Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, members of Yale’s Class of 1957, University leaders, and guests from around the world.
“Throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and concert season, the Yale School of Music community will reflect on the School’s 125-year history and look forward to the future of music at Yale,” Blocker said at the September 5 event. “While music at Yale can be traced to earlier days, it was in 1894 that the School was established and that its first degrees were conferred. To celebrate music at Yale is to appreciate and acknowledge all those who have made music here.” Addressing the incoming class, Blocker pointed to the “bold and visionary legacy and the tenacious work of many generations” who sought “to fulfill Yale’s aspirations of improving our world. Among those aspirations is this School’s firm resolve to ensure the birthright of music for humankind, without regard for who an individual is, what they look like, and where they are from.”
Just as he talked about the School’s commitments to its students, Blocker told incoming students, “your Yale citizenship carries the responsibility … of considering your dreams and how your distinctive talents will contribute to our common goals. Imagine where you want to be in a few years, and ask yourself how your vision might benefit those around you.” Blocker’s speech, Beyond Beginnings, explored the limits of time. “Most of this entering class will spend fewer than 700 days here,” he said. “The excitement of a purposeful life comes from what we do with our time. The wonder of your Yale experience can be that here you will make sense of your artistic, intellectual, spiritual, and social impulses by discovering your unique musical voices and human capacities. I implore you to embark fully on this Yale journey. Not to do so would amount to the heinous crime of stealing from yourself.”
Dean Robert Blocker, right, awards faculty composer Martin Bresnick the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal
The presentation of the Sanford Medal reflected the larger moment, calling on the School’s history by way of the award’s namesake, professor and patron Samuel Simons Sanford. The award presentation recognized the work of one of the School’s most respected faculty members, composer Martin Bresnick, among whose former students are several current faculty colleagues. “I know of no one who is truer to his own belief and truer to his own heart than Martin,” Blocker said, referring to Bresnick as a “master teacher.” “When the student is ready,” Bresnick said, “the teacher appears. I was happy to appear.”
Salovey and Levin, celebrating the history of music at Yale with the School of Music community, shared their perspectives on the moment. Salovey, a musician by avocation, asked rhetorically, “How many of us have felt this power in our own lives?” “The School of Music,” Levin said, “is the soul of the University.”
While the above-mentioned remarks contextualized the School’s work and music’s transformative potential, the evening’s performances spoke even more directly. Faculty tenor James Taylor, faculty trumpeter Kevin Cobb, and faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang performed “Sound the Trumpet,” from Purcell’s Come, ye Sons of Art Away. Soprano Annie Rosen ’08BA ’12MM and pianist Hilda Huang ’17BS ’19MM ’20MMA performed La vie en rose by Piaf and Guglielmi, “C’est ainsi que tu es,” from Poulenc and Vilmorin’s Métamorphoses, and Trenet’s Le Soleil et la lune. And marimbist Jisu Jung ’19MM ’20AD performed an arrangement of part of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert and Leigh Howard Stevens’ Rhythmic Caprice. As is tradition, attendees sang Schubert and von Schober’s An die Musik. That performance was led by Associate Professor of Choral Conducting Marguerite Brooks and faculty clarinetist David Shifrin.