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Rossi: Eastman Will Help Shape ‘the Future of Music’

October 26, 2014

“I am convinced that the core values on which this school was built will remain the keys for educating future generations of musicians—musicians who can best meet the challenges of yet-unknown obstacles, and musicians who will take best advantage of unanticipated opportunities.”—Jamal Rossi, Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music

rossi playing saxophone
A saxophonist, Rossi was joined by pianist Nelita True to perform the second movement of Paul Creston’s Sonata “With Tranquility” during the ceremony.

The appointment of Jamal Rossi as the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music was formally celebrated during a Sunday ceremony in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. In remarks delivered during the event, Rossi outlined some of his goals for leading the school. Here is a prepared version of his address:

Shaping the Future of Music

Remarks by Jamal Rossi
Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music
Investiture Ceremony
October 26, 2014

President Seligman, Chair Emeritus of the Board Witmer, Provost Lennie, and Honored Guests: I can think of no greater privilege than being named the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the greatest school of music in the world.

I am deeply honored by this opportunity, and truly grateful for the work done by so many in preparing for this event. But this ceremony is about much more than the investiture of a new dean. Today is our day to celebrate the future of our school—a future that we—together—will make as brilliant and influential as its shining past.

Martin Messinger: Luminary Award

The inaugural ceremony also featured the presentation of the Luminary Award to Martin Messinger, a life trustee and long-time supporter of programs and initiatives across the University.

The Eastman Luminary Award is given by the Eastman School of Music to individuals who have not only given extraordinary service to music and the arts at the national level, but who have also worked to support the arts at the community level.

Messinger, a managing director of Neuberger Berman, is senior trustee of the Messinger Family Foundation, which he cofounded with his late wife, Joan. Currently a life trustee of the University, Messinger became a member of the University’s Board of Trustees in 1989 and soon joined the Visiting Committee for the Eastman School of Music. He began serving on the Eastman Board of Managers and, later, the Eastman National Council.

In 2003, the Messingers helped provide a new home for the Eastman Community Music School at 10 Gibbs St. In 2011, the couple established the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music Endowed Fund to provide funding for the dean of Eastman in support of programming and areas of critical need.

Messinger supports a variety of nonprofit organizations. A long-time member of the Memorial Art Gallery, he has shown a keen interest in the arts, especially the craft arts. He has served as a trustee for the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Museum of Arts & Design (formerly American Craft Museum), and the United Jewish Appeal—Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. He proposed and funded “Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood 2014: Selected Works by Albert Paley,” an exhibition at the historic home of American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931).

Musical Performances

The Eastman Brass performed both the musical prelude and the recessional music for the ceremony. The ensemble is composed of trumpeters James Thompson and Douglas Prosser, hornist W. Peter Kurau, trombonist Larry Zalkind, and tubist Don Harry.

During the ceremony, Rossi, a saxophonist, was joined by pianist Nelita True to perform the second movement of Paul Creston’s Sonata “With Tranquility.” Mezzo soprano Kathryn Cowdrick and tenors Robert Swensen and Matthew Swensen, and pianist Russell Miller performed “The Promise of Living” from Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land. A musical interlude was also presented by the Eastman Jazz Faculty Quartet, composed of Jeff Campbell, bass; Harold Danko, piano; Clay Jenkins, trumpet; and Howard Potter, vibraphone.

In addition, Eastman Virtuosi presented the Finale from Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds. Performing under the baton of conductor Mark Scatterday were Kenneth Grant and Luke Eckhoff, clarinets; Richard Killmer and Hugo Souza, oboes; John Hunt and Amanda Moreton, bassoons; Samuel Fraser, contrabassoon; W. Peter Kurau, Rebekah Lorenz, and Caroline Baker, horns; David Ying, cello; and James VanDemark, bass.

As a proud graduate of the Eastman School of Music for more than 25 years, I have always understood the leading role Eastman has played throughout the world of music. Remember with me, for a moment, some of the legendary musicians and teachers who have been members of this school’s faculty. They have names like Hanson, Fennell, and Remington. Mariano, Wright, and DeGaetani. Hunsberger, Beck and Zeitlin. (And some in this theatre right now, who I dare not name for fear of leaving someone out!) Think also about the impact Eastman alumni have had in every facet of the music profession. With that legacy, we can feel both humility and excitement that we, together, have been entrusted with the future of this remarkable school. I accept my responsibilities to lead this great school with eagerness and passion and I pledge to do so with distinction, integrity, and excellence.

I want to talk for a few minutes about what I believe makes Eastman so special, and the opportunities we have to advance the mission of our school.

All of us who are part of this community understand our shared commitment to artistry, scholarship, leadership, community engagement, and diversity. And that undergirding these pillars is a foundation of excellence. We have seen great changes in the musical world in recent years, and Eastman has been a leader in adapting to those changes, and will remain so. But even as we continue to innovate in the best Eastman tradition, I am convinced that the core values on which this school was built will remain the keys for educating future generations of musicians—musicians who can best meet the challenges of yet-unknown obstacles, and musicians who will take best advantage of unanticipated opportunities.

Last week, we celebrated a wonderful reunion weekend with many memorable events. I was especially moved by the “Eastman Wind Ensemble Reading Session,” during which alumni shared a little bit about their careers after graduating from Eastman.

The common theme among them was that they thrived in careers they never really anticipated as students. Almost to a person, they said the education they received at Eastman enabled them to seize opportunities that led to wonderful careers. As students they did not know what their futures would hold. They knew only that there were no ready-made jobs waiting for them upon graduation. These new alumni entered a challenging and competitive profession. But they were as well prepared as graduates of any school in the world, and they were able to pursue—and often make—their own opportunities.

Many of the changes in the music profession over the past fifty years have not been encouraging (fewer orchestras, a dramatically reshaped recording industry, fewer public school teaching positions). On the other hand, the opportunities for creativity and exposure may be greater today than at any time in the past two hundred years. Three cellists and a drummer can record a theme from a television show, post it on YouTube, and have it viewed by 5,010,969 people. (In fact, just yesterday, this video by our alumni Break of Reality crossed the 5 million mark!) I have no idea how many people ever saw or heard Pablo Casals in his lifetime, but I’ll bet he would have been pretty pleased to reach 5 million listeners.

In the years ahead, we must constantly ask ourselves if we are doing everything we possibly can to best prepare our students to enter the highly competitive music field. It is an ever-changing landscape, and we must be willing to make certain our students are as prepared as possible for meaningful lives in music. Yet even as we do these things, we must hold true to the following principles:

  • Music is first and foremost about artistry. Music has been called “the universal language.” However, bad music, or even good music performed poorly, does nothing to stir one’s soul. I would modify that saying to, “great music, performed exquisitely, has the capacity to touch people universally.”
  • Musicians must be broadly educated and must cultivate a life-long attitude of curiosity. A musician constantly practices because there is always more to learn, and there is always something to be improved. Like our alumni who forged careers they never anticipated, the next generations of graduates must embrace a spirit of curiosity to constantly grow and learn.
  • Musicians are teachers, and they are communicators. When a musician steps on stage to perform, her goal is to communicate to her audience the beauty and power of the music. Even when we are not performing, as musicians we must be educating our children, our communities, and society about the value of music.
  • The music profession needs strong leaders. Eastman graduates are viewed as leaders in whatever musical opportunity or community they find themselves. We must continue to prepare our students to be outstanding performers and knowledgeable musicians, but we must also prepare them with the skills to provide effective advocacy and leadership.
  • Musicians have a responsibility to society. Carved into the stone façade of this beautiful theatre is the phrase “for the enrichment of community life.” Music exists to enrich life, and musicians have a responsibility to enrich the communities where they live. In his book, “The Artist as Citizen,” my friend and the President of the Juilliard School, Joseph Polisi, wrote:

    “As performing artists, you have a very important role to play in our society. I have come to believe more and more that it is today’s artist who has the responsibility for making our world a livable place during these times of economic, political, and technological upheaval. And, in many ways, it can be the artist who may personally benefit most from this enriching responsibility.”

If we expect society to care about music, specifically classical music, than we have a responsibility to make a difference in society. Musicians need to make a difference in the communities where we live, and with the people with whom we interact. When people experience and appreciate the difference music makes in their lives, they will care very much about seeing that music continue and thrive.

Few of the alumni with whom I spoke last weekend ever anticipated the careers that we were all fortunate enough to enjoy. If someone had suggested to me in 1984, 30 years ago, that I would be standing on this stage today as the dean of Eastman, I would have suggested that the person was crazy. My goal was to be an outstanding saxophonist and teacher. That said, we were all prepared to forge our own paths—and excel—because of the rigor of our training, and because we had been taught what it took to achieve real and lasting excellence. We learned these things here, at Eastman. And we will continue to teach these things in the years ahead, even as we continue to develop the most innovative curricula to prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.

The Eastman School of Music has powerfully influenced music over the past 93 years. It has done that through the nature of our instruction, through the artistry of our music, through innovative programs that have been emulated internationally, through lives that have been transformed, and through the impact of our alumni around the world. I am absolutely confident that Eastman will continue to shape the future of music through our actions, through our excellence, and through our people.

My friends, I could not be more proud to be affiliated with any institution in the world, and I could not be more eager to work with my colleagues to lead our school, the Eastman School of Music, to its vibrant future.

About Jamal Rossi
Rossi is the seventh dean of the Eastman School of Music. He came to Eastman in 2005 as senior associate dean and served as executive associate dean from 2007 until September 2013, when he was appointed dean following the illness and resignation of former Messinger Dean Douglas Lowry. Rossi was named the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music in May.

As executive associate dean, Rossi supervised the award-winning $47 million project to renovate Eastman Theatre and construct the Eastman East Wing. He oversaw a review of the undergraduate curriculum and led the School’s recent reaccreditation review by the National Association of Schools of Music. He also founded RocMusic, a collaborative partnership of arts and education institutions in Rochester to establish a free after-school music program for Rochester inner-city students.

Rossi also fostered new partnership projects with Chamber Music America and another with the New World Symphony, and he is developing a new music leadership conference to be launched in the summer of 2015.

Before joining Eastman, Rossi was assistant dean and then associate dean of the School of Music at Ithaca College between 1989 and 2000, and dean of the School of Music at the University of South Carolina for five years.

An active saxophone soloist and chamber musician, Rossi is featured on numerous recordings, has given solo recitals and performed with bands and orchestras, and is a founding member of the Kilbourn Saxophone Quartet.

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