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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[ Convocation 2013 ]

Video Highlights from Convocation 2013

Published September 13, 2013
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[ events ]

“Rediscovering Wonder”: Dean Blocker’s Convocation Address

This is the text of Dean Robert Blocker’s address to the incoming class at the Yale School of Music Convocation, which took place September 9, 2013.

Convocation-014“What is wonder?” asked the mind. “It is having your heart dazzled and your life forever changed,” answered the soul. WONDER—an ineffable word—a transcendent experience.

When did wonder visit you, capture you, envelop you, and squeeze you so tight that you were left breathless and gasping for air? Was it your first great performance at the age of five, the moment you heard a phrase shaped more beautifully than you could imagine, or when you were frozen in place as you entered one of the world’s great concert halls? MORE

Published September 12, 2013
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Margins and Mirrors: Dean Blocker’s Convocation Address

Robert Blocker, Dean of the School of Music, delivered this address to the incoming class at the School’s Fall Convocation on September 6, 2012.


Tonight I want to think with you about the margins and mirrors that determine the course and quality of our lives. Margins are measurements of time and space that establish borders and boundaries, and in so doing, can unleash a transformative DNA in our lives. Some margins are flexible while others are fixed.

A margin is most frequently defined as the border of a printed page. For most of you, a more current application would be the white space surrounding text on your iPad. We make notes in the margin to expand or question the text. We extend the boundary.

I am reminded of Beethoven’s manuscript of the Grosse Fuge four-hand piano transcription. On two adjoining pages of the score, everything had been marked out – the pages were almost black. The margins were filled and also crossed out, with the exception of one boldly boxed measure. Here he writes a few notes on a handwritten staff surrounded by a bold black ink border in the furthest margin of the page where it could be seen. Beethoven characteristically stretched the boundary: one marginal measure survives from two full pages and margins of creative energy and output. MORE

Published September 13, 2012
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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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Michael Yaffe on arts education

An Emotional Education through Music

These remarks are adapted from a talk given on August 18 at the final event of the second annual Morse Summer Music Academy on August 18. The Academy’s 51 students, who are in grades 5 through 11 in the New Haven Public Schools, undertook four weeks of intensive music instruction at the Yale School of Music. Families of the students were involved throughout the summer and attended workshops to help them prepare their children for future musical experiences. While addressed to the family and friends who came out for the students’ finale performance at Sprague Hall, Yaffe’s remarks have resonance for parents and educators everywhere. They are particularly apt at this time of economic downturn, when arts programs elsewhere in the nation’s public schools are increasingly considered expendable.

These New Haven students have spent a month in the world of emotions. They’ve learned how to play their instruments better, but they’ve also learned how to express themselves better: that’s what music does. And learning about this as young people is going to affect them all their lives.

Emotion: what do I mean by that? I could mean getting angry and hitting someone. But I could also mean getting angry and playing a very loud and aggressive piece of music. And what would you rather have a young person do – hit someone, or play music? MORE

Published August 23, 2011
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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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