From the Art Museum to Music and Back
A beige metal shelf in my temporary office in Presser Hall was filled with old accreditation reports and nearly a dozen stacks of CDs with recordings by music faculty and campus performing organizations. At the bottom of one of the piles was Bringing Music to Life, a book by Barry Green.
The double meaning intrigued me. Green had two audiences in mind when he wrote it, the professional musician who is constantly challenged by how to take the music from the page and present it to the world, and the layperson who enjoys musical performances but wants to incorporate music more fully into their own lives.
This past semester I served as Acting Chair of the Music Department. At times I felt as though I was experiencing a discordant reality. What was I—a visually attuned museum professional and art historian—doing in the rarified world of professional musicians, music educators, composers and ethnomusicologists? My musical training was limited to singing in the church choir and studying accordion as a young teen in Venezuela. My wife and children are all incredibly musical—they play the piano, organ, jazz saxophone, classical guitar, cello and voice, all at extremely high levels. As I took on this unexpected challenge I could only hope that some of their ability and musical insight had rubbed off on me.
The first few weeks on the job were like climbing to the top of a mountain ridge and seeing before me a nearly endless expanse of unexplored territory. At times I felt like a White-tailed deer in the middle of the road frozen in place by the blinding lights of an oncoming car. A potential life-or-death decision has to be made but which one is the right one? Go left, go right, or just stand still? Each choice had its consequences, both intended and not.
Needless to say, I successfully made it through the semester, in no small part due to an incredibly supportive administrative staff, associate chair, chief departmental advisor and sympathetic and encouraging faculty members. Their commitment to their disciplines, not to mention their incredible talent, as performers, teachers and scholars, was inspirational to me.
Now that I’m back at the Art Museum I’m able to reflect on what I learned from my experiences. It reaffirmed for me the importance of open communication, of teamwork, of a willingness to take a great idea and make it even better through consultation, consensus building and compromise.
Even more important, perhaps, is a growing awareness that although we approach our disciplines from very different perspectives, we each face the dual challenge of a rapidly changing landscape of higher education in the twenty-first century coupled with the devaluing of the role of the arts in our society. Our test will be to see how we, as professional educators, are able to maintain relevance of the arts for all Americans, regardless of background, so that we can continue Bringing the Arts to Life for even more generations of Miami students.
We look forward to seeing you this Fall! Feel free to call (513) 529-2232, email ArtMuseum@MiamiOH.edu and/or sign our comments book in the entryway.
Robert S. Wicks, Director