From the Dean

David KiethThe Townsend School of Music offers you the very best of tradition, artistry, mentorship, and vision.  

Tradition – Our music school was founded on the same principles of excellence fostered by Mercer University for the past 175 years. History and tradition matter to a university that is as old as Johannes Brahms.

Artistry – At Townsend, we celebrate the musician's art.  Our internationally recognized faculty are gifted performers representing the highest standards in musical artistry and committed to artistic excellence as pedagogues.

Mentorship – Our mission is to inspire the whole musician – musically, artistically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Vision – Today's musicians must be prepared for a changing society.  Innovative courses in music business and new media assist in the extra-musical preparation. Our graduates are singers at the Metropolitan Opera, conductors in collegiate programs, organists in leading churches, teachers in secondary schools, and collaborative pianists, instrumentalists, and singers in some of the country's most prestigious graduate schools.

Visit our campus and tour our state-of-the-art McCorkle Music complex.  Talk with our students and faculty and discover why the Townsend School of Music offers the Mercer Difference.

Dr. C. David Keith

Townsend School of Music is an institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Music.

Remarks from John H. Hewett

Founder and President, Hewett Consulting LLC

Townsend School of Music Hooding Ceremony
Friday, May 10, 2013
Neva Langley Fickling Hall
McCorkle Music Building

Dean Keith, members of this distinguished faculty, graduates, families, friends and fellow musicians:You have honored me with the invitation to share this hour of hope and glory with you. As the 19th century Kentucky Baptist deacon was heard to pray when he fell into a vat of bourbon whiskey: "O Lord, make my tongue worthy of this occasion."

Four young philosophers are lying on their backs on a grassy hillside, gazing up at puffy clouds, playing the age-old game, "What do you see?"

Linus speaks first. "I see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, in intricate detail, faithfully reproducing his mural on a wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delie Grazie in Milan, completed in 1498."

Then Schroeder. "I see the original manuscript of Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, in C Sharp Minor, often called "Moonlight", completed in 1801 and rumored to be dedicated to his 17 year old pupil, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom Beethoven was in love."

Lucy chimes in. "I see the silhouette of the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, shortly before his death in London in 1939."

Then silence. Finally, "Charlie Brown, what do you see?"

"I was going to say a ducky and a horsey, but I changed my mind."

Back when he wrote his classic All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum traveled the United States visiting elementary schools and colleges. He asked the same questions in literally every elementary classroom as well as every college classroom. "How many of you can sing? How many can draw? How many can dance?"

Fulghum said when he asked that question of six year olds, every hand shot up. "I can sing! I can draw! I can dance!"

But when he put the question to college students - crickets. Maybe one or two music majors copped to being able to sing, a few art majors claimed they could draw, and nobody would own up to being able to dance.

He concluded that somewhere on the journey from childhood to adulthood life beats out of us our exuberant dreams, our crazy visions, our bold goals and plans, and all we've got left is a ducky and a horsey – safe bets, bland ideas, a whole lifetime of nothing special.

We are gathered here this afternoon in public witness to a different journey. This is an hour for the robust celebration of exuberant dreams, wild visions, transcendent goals and plans, all in service to the gratuity of great music. We are not here because music is useful.Art is rarely pragmatic. The popular notion that the only reason for a college education is to increase your job prospects reminds me of the woman who sent her husband a dozen roses at work. That evening he came through the door exasperated, carrying an armful of beautiful, thorny blooms. "What am I supposed to do with these? And where am I supposed to put them?"

So she told him. Exactly where he could put them.

I know we've just met, but I'm going to take a wild guess that most of you didn't major in music because it was functionally useful, or promised the prospect of a secure, predictable job with great benefits. I'm going to wager that few of you set up Excel spreadsheets of academic practicality and settled on music because, on balance, it just made the most sense. Having briefly majored in music myself, I can testify that music isn't the major you choose if you want to coast through college without cracking a book, because it remains one of the few academic pursuits in which you can't fake the final. You can either sing it or you can't. You can play it or you can't. The study of music, like all great art, is remarkably free of what the Baptists call bovine byproduct.

And so the overriding question among the musicians here is not, "what am I going to do with this degree?" but "who am I going to be?" You're here because somewhere in your young lives you were beckoned by what John Milton called the "ringing of the crystal spheres." You woke up and heard the music. I love the way the old Quaker hymn expressed it:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn

That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul—

How can I keep from singing?

It "sounds an echo in our souls." Yes, that's it. That's why it's a little silly to talk about music too much. As the old saying goes, talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Music is about movement - literally. It locates motion amid emotion. It "sounds an echo in our souls. "It's why Les Miserables couldn't possibly end with a passionate speech, but sent us forth instead with an anthem:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart

Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start

When tomorrow comes!

There's that word again. "When the beating of your heart echoes. . ." Remember young Echo, the musical nymph of Greek mythology. Her voice resounds in this very room. "It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?"

Fifteen years ago, while living in Fort Worth, I learned from my friend and conductor David Keith that the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the oldest symphonic ensemble in Russia, was coming to our new Bass Performance Hall. Though I'd been a musician since the age of five, I had never heard of them, nor did I know one thing about Yuri Temirkanov, their artistic director and chief conductor. And I apparently was not alone, since not many Texans had bought tickets. So the hall papered the house, which is how I and 300 of my closest friends ended up in center orchestra that Saturday evening to hear that magical performance.

Now, in truth, I can't tell you a single work they performed. Until the encore. After repeated thunderous ovations for the 120 Russians and their formidable maestro, they returned to the stage to play a piece I did not know.

Here's what I remember. Termirkanov conducted without a baton. (If you've ever seen him conduct, each of his fingers is as long as a baton.) The musicians played from memory. And 20 seconds into that encore, I began weeping, and I wept until the last notes faded. Didn't know the composer, had never heard the score, and yet the music "sounded an echo in my soul" and took me utterly captive. It put my heart under a kind of spiritual arrest.

The next morning at church I asked a musician friend who'd been present about that encore. "Oh", she nodded, knowingly.  "The Elgar."I learned it was the ninth of Edward Elgar's mighty Enigma Variations, the one known as "Nimrod." It is an iconic work, as beloved to the British as Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is to his fellow Americans.

You no doubt know that each of the fourteen Enigma Variations is intended as a musical "portrait" of one of Elgar's closest friends. Except the ninth. As he would later tell his friend Dora Penny, the subject of Variation 10, the ninth is not really a portrait of a person, but a story of something that happened.

Here's what happened. Elgar's friend Augustus Jaeger was an Austrian employed as a music editor by the London publisher Novello & Co. For years Jaeger gave Elgar not only useful advice but also honest criticism, which Elgar greatly appreciated. 

Like many musicians, Elgar hit a rough patch. He lost his muse. He became severely depressed and was about to give up composition for good. Then Jaeger came to visit. His friend encouraged him, and urged him to continue his craft. He reminded Elgar of the journey of Beethoven, who had overcome considerable difficulty to write more and more beautiful music. "And that," he said to Elgar, "is what you must do!" And then Jaeger turned to his friend and began, softly, to sing - the opening theme of the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, "Pathétique". 

Elgar would craft the opening notes of the Ninth Variation to suggest that same theme. He called it "Nimrod," after the Hebrew patriarch in Scripture described as a "mighty hunter before the Lord," and after his friend Jaeger, whose name was German for "hunter" – his musical friend Augustus who came hunting for him when he was completely lost, and showed him what it meant to be found.

That Saturday evening in Bass Performance Hall, though I knew none of this, I woke up and heard the music. I experienced transcendence. I received the gift. All of it sounded an echo in my soul. And reminded me that life is way too short, and the future far too dangerous, for any of us to ignore those life-giving moments when beauty beckons, when we are moved above and beyond ourselves by the music of the spheres.

One day a little boy went to a choral concert with his father and watched in amazement as the director waved her arms, swirled her body, made strange gestures with her hands, pages snapping, sleeves flapping. Finally, he understood: "Look, Daddy!" he said. "She's trying to fly!"

And so you are.

Soar high and far, my friends, for you have received one of God's greatest and most enduring gifts. The melody of the spheres has found you, and echoes in your souls. You are musicians.