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Sharing the musical backstory of an inaugural premiere

September 30, 2019
Jeff Beal conducting musicians.Jeff Beal ’85E and his wife, Joan Beal ‘84E established the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music in 2015. Beal's composition “The Pathway” will premiere at the inauguration of University of Rochester President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf.

Also coming this week: A Q&A with Sarah Mangelsdorf; and a profile of Karl Rosengren, a professor in the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences as well as Psychology, and the husband of Mangelsdorf.

Please join us to celebrate the inauguration of Sarah C. Mangelsdorf as the University of Rochester’s 11th president.

Inauguration ceremony: 2:30 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Register online

Watch the livestream

Music for film and television is, perhaps more than any other musical genre, about storytelling. And the musical centerpiece at the inauguration of President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf on October 4 is a work by one of the contemporary masters of musical storytelling, Jeff Beal ’85E.

When Jamal Rossi ’87E (DMA), the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music, asked the five-time Emmy Award–winning composer to write the inaugural composition, Beal said “yes”—and then started learning what he could about the University of Rochester’s 11th president.

He knew something already: Beal is married to the vocalist and University trustee Joan Beal ’84E, who was a member of the presidential search committee. But as he began doing his research, he found a common theme in “the spirit” of the two disparate figures—Sarah Mangelsdorf and Frederick Douglass, whose careers are separated by nearly two centuries—and conveyed it in a piece he has called “The Pathway.”

In the week before the premiere of the piece—by the Eastman School of Music’s internationally recognized Ying Quartet—Beal tells the story about his own creative process, and what he hopes the piece will convey.

Jeff Beal playing the trumpetJeff Beal ’85E: Composer for film, television, and concert hall, Jeff Beal ’85E has received 19 prime-time Emmy nominations and has won the award five times. He has composed works for several notable televisions shows, including House of Cards, Monk, Ugly Betty, Medium, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes. Beal has also written award-winning scores for the films Pollock (2000), Appaloosa (2008), Wild Salome (2011), and Blackfish (2013).

Beal and his wife, Joan Beal ‘84E, a studio singer and vocal contractor for film, media, and television, also established the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music in 2015. Jeff is a visiting professor of the Beal Institute. Joan is a member of the University Board of Trustees.


As you started learning about Sarah Mangelsdorf, what struck you?

One of the things that struck me most about Sarah is that she has this passion for making education accessible to as many people as possible. The University is not unique in the sense that for a lot of young people right now, the aspiration of a four-year degree has become economically tough. This mission of accessibility, I thought, was a defining part of who she is.

What inspired you to bring Frederick Douglass into the work?

I started to think about what makes Rochester unique. In a previous visit, my wife [University trustee and vocalist Joan Beal ’84E] and I both saw this very cool multimedia exhibit at the Memorial Art Gallery about Frederick Douglass [Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass, a media installation by artist Isaac Julian that was on view from March 3 to May 12, 2019]. A quote by Douglass gave me my title and original inspiration for the piece. He said: “Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” There’s obviously a specific context in which he said that, but I started to think of the ways in which education really makes us evolve as humans. It really does liberate us in so many ways.

And so in the spirit of both [Sarah Mangelsdorf and Frederick Douglass] and their mission around education, I thought, “This is good emotional narrative I can work from.”


The Ying Quartet The Ying Quartet is the string quartet-in-residence of the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. The ensemble formed at Eastman in 1988 and have received global acclaim in their 30-year history. The Grammy Award-winning artists—now including original members (and siblings) cellist David Ying ’92E (DMA), violinist Janet Ying ’93E, and violist Philip Ying ’91E, ’92E (MM), as well as violinist Robin Scott, who joined the ensemble in 2015—are passionate about making music accessible and part of daily life. They perform regularly not only in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House, but also in workplaces, schools, prisons, and other nontraditional settings.


How do you think Mangelsdorf has envisioned education as a pathway?

In one of her speeches, she said: “Exposure to difference, experience with civil discourse, embracing new ideas, new approaches, new points of view, risk and reward, argument and perspective, challenge and compassion. These are the things which higher education should provide in abundance. These are the things that I believe make better thinkers, better leaders and better citizens of the world. Higher education should and does and should change people’s lives.”

This quote from Sarah encapsulates so many things that I remember as person who went to the University of Rochester. Being educated gives you the tools to really become a new person, to be more understanding, more empathetic, and more evolved – in terms of understanding of other people, but also about understanding who you are as a human being.

How did you convey these ideas musically?

It starts out with a very simple motif. A string quartet is about equal voices in conversation with each other. You can hear a dialogue, and the individual voices. As it evolves, it morphs, and morphs, as if it’s growing and learning. And this is the story I was making up for the composition.

It’s really special to have the Ying Quartet premiere the piece. David Ying ‘92E (MM), the quartet cellist, was a classmate of mine at Eastman. I’ve written for the quartet before, and we’re doing a more extensive recording project together later on in the year. “The Pathway” is going to be part of that recording.


“The Pathway,” by Jeff Beal ’85E, will be performed by the Ying Quartet at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, this Friday October 4, immediately preceding the investiture portion of the inauguration ceremony. The ceremony begins at 2:30 p.m.



Read more

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A ceremonial start
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President Sarah C. Mangelsdorf jumped right in early Monday morning with a two-hour tour of parts of the River Campus.
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Off and running: Sarah Mangelsdorf sets her own presidential tone
For nearly three months now, the new president of the University of Rochester has been getting acquainted with University, and one of her consistent themes is her intention to remain a curious, visible, and accessible leader.



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Category: University News