Presidential Address, January 26, 2018
By Dr. David Scott

What a year so far. I don’t know about you, but almost every conversation I’ve had with colleagues, be at this conference, at NASM, or anywhere else, seems to confirm that, while we know that every day will bring unexpected challenges and joys, this year has been well outside traditional expectations for almost everyone. Hurricanes, single digit temperatures, personal and family illness, administrative changes, software updates, student outcomes and the reporting of them, political struggles at the campus, community, state, national, and international level, as well as dozens of other variables, all seem to be making this year in our association and the life and work of its members one that will live in infamy, to steal a line from FDR.

That’s a strange way of doing it, but that is my way of personally thanking you for taking time away from all of the things that pull at you to attend this year’s meeting. TAMS continues to do great work for our art form and profession and our members share the joys, concerns, and daily grind of our colleagues as well as, if not better than, any other professional organization of which I am aware.

Since you are here, and have been for a day or more, you probably haven’t answered near as many questions as you normally do. So, let me make up for it just a bit. . .
“Why are you here?” That question isn’t nearly as loaded as some of you are thinking, but just that fact that you are thinking it means that those four words in that order can have a wide variety of meanings, intents, and expectations associated with them.

“WHY are you here?”
“Why ARE you here?”
“Why are YOU here?”
“Why are you HERE?”

This simple question has at least four different meanings, depending on the emphasis you give each word. I bet that, if you added the right eyebrow inflections, hand gestures, or other body language, we could extend the list of potential meanings by quite a bit.

You may have uttered that phrase, or at least thought it to yourself, in the last few weeks, as students or colleagues entered your office. Or, you may have had to address that question in one or more of its forms, when you met with one of the folks above you in your own campus’ food chain. In any case, even though the question could be perfectly appropriate in any of its forms, we all know it can also have a snarky, condescending tone in most of them. With all its weight, snark, optimism, self-reflection, and ability to cast doubt before a conversation even starts, it is still an important question to ask, of our colleagues, our students, our bosses, and ourselves.

Unfortunately, in too many recent cases, that question seems to be being asked in regards to the Humanities, the Arts, and, in some cases, to Music specifically on our campuses. For years, we have been somewhat buffered from the pains felt by so many of our artistic colleagues in other parts of the country, if for no other reason than we provide cheap and readily available entertainment at sporting and donor events. While the pragmatic elements of our art have been, or continue to keep us afloat in many settings, it is not inappropriate to ask of ourselves as leaders of our discipline and art on our own campuses, why ARE we here? What is it that we do? Why do we need to do it, where we do it, when we do it, and how we do it? I apologize if I am touching a nerve in some of you who are fighting this very fight on this very day, and I hope that we may be able to get closer to some answers together.

As we all know, the University started with Humanities and Arts at its core. To be fair, Science as we know it didn’t exist in its current form for several centuries after the first University was formed, but still, from a historical point of view, we have been central to the academy for around a millennium, double that if you include the concept of what was considered important for educated members of the society in ancient Greece. While this feel-good moment is wonderful for us to share, it has done seemingly little good as an argument for our continued inclusion in the academy during the last few decades. The advance of scientific thought, the space race, the global understanding of what it means and takes to be successful, and so many other elements of society have forever changed what is accepted as vital on any campus; public, private, 2-year, 4-year, graduate, technical, or otherwise.

So, if history isn’t our best defense, then we need to look at other options. Again, we all know that Music allows us to communicate in ways that words cannot; it transcends feelings, language, geographical barriers, and so many other limits that the human experience imposes on us and what we think is important, valued, and vital. It has been used to assist with teaching other subjects, as therapy to overcome physical, emotional, and neurological impediments, and to stir emotions in men and women in order to love, hate, fight, reflect, and console. There is no doubt that Music can be powerful, subtle, blatant, offensive, entreating, and merciful, often within the same piece. While difficult to quantify in a way that makes conversations difficult, few doubt that our art has the ability to transcend in a way few, if any other academic subjects could ever hope to.

In what will seem, at least for a moment, as a total change of direction, let me ask another question: How many of you have heard of Gander, Newfoundland? A town of around 11,000 people, Gander was, like many rural Canadian towns, happy to be remote, quiet, filled with familiar folk and familiarity. All that changed a few hours after the tragedy in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Gander is adjacent to a large airport, built in 1938 to serve as a midpoint for transatlantic flights during air travel’s infancy. In fact, that airport was once the largest in the world. While little used and mostly forgotten by the beginning of the 21st Century, Gander’s airport became the logical and required destination of 38 in-progress flights when US airspace was closed in reaction to the strikes on the World Trade Center. 7000 unsuspecting travelers found themselves in Gander, with no immediate ability to make exit plans, or even to control their own short term destiny in the town. The citizens of Gander opened their homes, provided food, clothing, and other essentials, and in so many other ways took the passengers into their lives and homes for the weeks during which the world sorted out events of that horrible day.

Natives identified everyone not originally from there as a “Come From Away;” and that is the name of a new Broadway Musical about the ordeal. The musical’s plot follows the extreme hospitality of the people of Gander and how everyone involved adapted and grew as a community under the circumstance. In an interview with the New Yorker, the town’s mayor, Claude Elliott, remembers that he “was at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, initiating marooned passengers as honorary Newfoundlanders, in a ritual named ‘screeching in’: visitors wear yellow sou’westers, eat hard bread and pickled bologna, kiss a cod on the lips, then drink the local rum, called screech, while onlookers bang an ‘ugly stick’ covered in beer-bottle caps. ‘We started off with seven thousand strangers, Elliott said, ‘but we finished with seven thousand family members.’ The locals used everything that was important to them to bring others into the fold. While that isn’t precisely a quote honoring the importance of Music in the college setting, there is a message in there for us, as we face the challenges of our own “Come From Aways” that have influence over our programs, budgets, and curricula. We can ignore them, fight against them, or invite them to partake of what we know is best for our programs and the humanity we influence. It is also worth noting that those historical events were turned into a Broadway musical, retelling the tale through our art. We can also point to recent operatic undertakings including Everest and Moby Dick as wonderful examples of taking heroic, and tragic events and using Music to explore the subject from many angles. That doesn’t even begin to list the number of songs that relate stories about love, spiritual uplift, tragedy, and mundane answers to the question “What are we going to do this weekend?” Music tells the most interesting tales, does it in both socially acceptable and envelope-pushing ways, and when taken as the artform in its entirety, speaks to every culture, every social strata, every nationality on the planet. At the end of the day, we as musicians and educators are on our campuses and in our communities because Music makes a difference in the lives of our students, our culture, and our community. It may be expensive, it may be hard to quantify, it may be easy to relegate it to entertainment of frivolity, but at its core, Music tells stories, supports emotions, and builds opportunities in ways that other subjects cannot and should not.

Beyond musical thought, in this time of workforce preparation, skill mastery and myriad other expectations saddled on higher education, I think it is important to remember what African-American educator and activist W.E.B. Dubois said; “The true college will ever have one goal-not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.” Music can be the appetizer, main course, and dessert in the metaphor, and it is important that we keep our programs, and each other, on the path that nourishes this generation of students and all of those to come. The academic meal would be less filling and less appetizing without us and our work to keep our programs vital, active, and aware of both our rich traditions and the potential of our future is not only in our best interest, but the best interest of communities, nation, and society in general.

So, where you are matters. Why you are there matters. And the fact that we have Music, to represent us, to tell our story, to influence our processes and our outcomes, matters. Please accept my most sincere wish that all your adventures may be worthy of a soundtrack or a musical script, and may your work on your campus, in your communities and in the profession be filled with the passion, process, and rewards that represent the finest in humanity and give those from other places a chance to be “local.”

© 2018 Texas Association of Music Schools