Nearly 50 years ago, the Department of Music eagerly prepared to move into newly completed Meek Hall. Today, music fills the halls of renovated Scruggs Hall and Nutt Auditorium, new home to the department.
As the 1950s drew to a close, the Department of Music was on the move — figuratively and literally.
The University Orchestra played its first-ever television concert in 1955-56. The UM Marching Band made its mark in Europe with performances at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium, and at the World Music Competition in Kerkrade, Netherlands.
William Faulkner showed his music appreciation with a $500 scholarship and a meeting with Professor Arthur Kreutz to develop an opera based on one of his short stories. And Nancy Van de Vate, who later became an internationally renowned and award-winning composer, was working on her Master of Music degree. (She even taught a freshman named Robert Khayat in her music appreciation course!)
But the real moves came in 1960. Construction had just been completed on the department’s new home, Meek Hall. Compared with the converted student infirmary that housed the department for many years, Meek was a drastic upgrade.
“We had one little recital hall, a couple of classrooms and faculty offices,” said Professor Emeritus Andrew Fox, who was a freshman in 1953. “They put pianos in what had been patient rooms.”
Mark Hoffman, chair of the department at the time, saw the positive effect of the move.
“Morale of the student body and faculty has risen noticeably,” Hoffman wrote after Meek opened in 1960. “As a result, the department may expect greatly increased enthusiasm.”
Fast forward more than 50 years, and faculty and students are equally excited about moving into another new building — the renovated Richard and Diane Scruggs Music Building and the accompanying David H. Nutt Auditorium. With faculty moving from Meek and Barr halls, the department is now under one roof for the first time in many years. Future renovations to Scruggs include sound-isolating practice rooms and a new roof and facade for the front wing.
“It’s not just that we’ve moved that has everyone excited, it’s the quality of our new facilities,” said Charles Gates, chair of the music department. “We now have state-of-the-art rehearsal and practice facilities. And Nutt Auditorium is simply an aesthetically and acoustically superb performance hall. It’s boosted the morale of faculty and students alike.”
Currently there are 77 undergraduate music majors and 50 graduate students taught by 24 faculty and 14 full-time and part-time instructors. Their expertise includes all orchestral instruments as well as piano, voice, organ and harpsichord. Their specialties include conducting, music education, music pedagogy, music history and literature, ethnomusicology and music theory.
The faculty members are active in their fields. In just the past two years, faculty members have published 12 significant journal articles, three books and three CD compilations. They have performed on national and international stages. At the same time, they are significantly committed to teaching. For two years running, UM’s most prestigious teaching award, the Elsie M. Hood Award, has gone to music faculty — Laurdella Foulkes-Levy, associate professor of music, in 2006 and David Willson, band director and professor of music, in 2007.
“Our students enjoy an academic and artistic environment in which scholarly and creative work is actively produced,” Gates said. “The department provides a breadth of musical experience allowing students to reach their fullest potential.”
Students have been achieving their potential, both in academics and in musical performance. Under the direction of Donald Trott, the Concert Singers received a standing ovation at the American Choral Directors Association’s National Convention last March. Students have won National Association of Teachers of Singing competitions. They have studied abroad with a Fulbright scholarship to Hungary and a Rotary International Scholarship to New Zealand. And students have presented research at professional conferences.
The department has also expanded the opportunities for students’ musical development by offering experiences with a wider variety of musical groups than in the 1950s, including an African drum-and-dance ensemble, a percussion ensemble, a steel-drum ensemble and a salsa band.
The performance groups and music students benefit from access to the highest quality equipment and instruments. The Thomas Colbert family donation of a Steinway concert grand piano will benefit music students, faculty and audiences for years to come.
Another recent donation is the Mary Lee Sneed Hill Vocal Music Scholarship. Established by Dean E. Hill of Memphis, the $25,000 endowment is earmarked for service-minded undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in music.
“We hope recipients will share their talents with those who need it most — the elderly, the poor and the sick,” said Hill, who also recently donated a collection of flutes from around the world including China, Argentina, Yugoslavia, Haiti and Spain.
Indeed, over the years, one thing that has not wavered is the desire to give students a sense of responsibility about sharing the gift of music, Fox said.
“As faculty members, we tried to make sure our students knew that when they graduated, they had a job to do,” he said. “That’s why they call it ‘commencement’ — it’s not an ending, it’s a beginning.”