Music Department Celebration of the Class of 2020

Descriptive Transcript

This video is a blend of text slides and self-recorded video clips. All of the professors and students featured are addressing the camera directly.

The Brandeis insignia is in the upper center of the blue slide. The text on the slide reads:
Brandeis University
Department of Music
Celebrating the Class of 2020

A video plays featuring the following landmarks and photos:

Mark Berger appears on the screen.

Mark Berger: Welcome everyone. On behalf of the music department's faculty and staff, I would like to express how excited we are to be able to celebrate with all of you today. A technical word — for best viewing, please select speaker view found in the upper right corner of your browser window, and please enter full screen mode. I would also invite you to follow along in the program which was emailed to many of you. It can also be accessed from the chat window. To all the family, friends, and loved ones in the audience we would like to express our sincere gratitude for the support that you have shown over the years to our students. They would not be the amazing scholars, artists, and musicians that they are today without your support. And to the graduating students, we have seen you grow and develop over the past four years and many of us have been witness to your extraordinary musical and scholastic achievements.

We hope that your experiences creating and making music at Brandeis have had a transformative effect on your lives and that you will cherish your memories and experiences from here, taking them with you as you venture out into the world. These are extraordinary and uncertain times. It would be impossible not to acknowledge present circumstances. But perseverance and dedication of you and the entire Brandeis community, especially over the past two months, have been nothing short of extraordinary. Challenging times require that we all rise to the occasion, and this is especially true in the arts. The transformative power of music is so crucial to us now. For all of us artists we know that music is more than a luxury. It is a necessity. The present circumstances have set up nearly insurmountable obstacles that prevent us from making music together as evidenced by our gathering here on screen today instead of in person. But we still find ways. The impulse to create, hone, and share your art is something that unites us all as musicians, and rather than seeing the present circumstances as a deterrent, I hope you see them instead as a challenge. To quote Leonard Bernstein, "This will be our response to violence, to make music more intensely, more beautifully and more devotedly than ever before."

As you begin the next stage in your lives, you'll be faced with many challenges. At Brandeis you've had the amazing opportunity to work with some of the most incredible artists and scholars, all of whom are dedicated to teaching and supporting your musical and academic development. We know you will take what you have learned at Brandeis — skills, passions, community, the experience — and you will rise to these challenges.

These are extraordinary times. And this is no ordinary commencement, but here we are, in spite of the circumstances, and I wanna take a moment to thank everyone who has worked incredibly hard and incredibly quickly to make this happen. Special thanks to Media and Technology Services for working with our department so closely to make this event possible. To our dedicated staff, our administrators, Mark Kagan and Cheryl Nalbach, our concert program manager, Deborah Rosenstein, and our technologist, James Praznik, and to all of my amazing faculty colleagues, many of whom are in attendance today. Thank you all for your contributions to this event and to the dedication you have shown to our students who are gathered here on this celebratory day. And speaking of rising to these challenges, I am now happy to introduce the Brandeis Chamber Singers directed by Professor Robert Duff for a special performance of Alma Mater.

An opaque blue slide shows the Brandeis University logo with the insignia on its left, centered on the slide. The text below it reads:
The Brandeis Alma Mater
performed by the
Brandeis Chamber Singers
Dr. Robert Duff, conductor

A Zoom video call shows each singer in a collage view. As they sing, a video of campus landmarks feature:

"To thee, Alma Mater
We'll always be true
All hail to thy standard
The white and the blue
Proclaiming thy future
Recalling thy past
Our hopes spring from mem'ries eternally cast
With sorrows we'll leave thee
New worlds to create
May deeds of thy children
Make thee forever great
May deeds of thy children
Make thee forever great!"

The same opaque blue slide is shown. The text on the slide reads:
Class of 2020

Mark Berger: Thank you again to Robert Duff and the Chamber Singers for that beautiful performance. In the program you'll be able to see the individual names of the students involved in that. Next I am honored to introduce a special guest speaker, Ann Hobson Pilot. Prior to her 29-year tenure as principal harp of the Boston Symphony, Ann has been a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the National Symphony, which she joined in 1969 as one of the very first African American musicians to win a position in a professional orchestra. In addition to her long and distinguished career as an orchestral harpist and soloist, Ann has been a dedicated teacher, guiding and inspiring generations of harpists at the New England Conservatory. You are welcome to read her full biography in the program. We are thrilled that Ann is joining us today to share her story and wisdom with us. Greetings to the 2020 music class of Brandeis University.

Ann Hobson Pilot is seated in front of a piano.

Ann Hobson Pilot: My name is Ann Hobson Pilot, and I am the retired principal harpist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 2018 I was honored to be the commencement speaker at my alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Music, where I received an honorary doctorate of music. I chose the topic of overcoming adversity as my theme, since that was what I had to do as a young African American woman entering the field of classical music in the mid 1960s. I spoke about how my first roommate moved out after she met me because she did not want to room with a black woman. I spoke about the discomfort I felt as the first and only African American in the Washington National Symphony, my first full time job, and later as the only African American in the BSO for over 20 years.

My 40-year career with the BSO was an extraordinary and rewarding experience, and I feel as if I learned a great deal from it. A life with music at its core, of course, can be filled with harmony and beauty beyond words. And I commend all of you for choosing to follow this path. Since my retirement from the BSO I have been fortunate to continue my career, but more as a soloist and a chamber musician. I have performed the harp concerto that was written for me by John Williams more than 20 times, all over this country and Canada. I have performed the concerto by Alberto Ginastera many times, including at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires with the Philharmonic at the 100th anniversary of his birth. I've performed for the opening of the Museum of African American History in Washington DC in 2016. And I have continued to enjoy collaborations with friends and colleagues. Little did I know that I would be invited to speak to you at your graduation in 2020 in the middle of a global pandemic.

There is no need for me to warn you about adversity because we are all living it right now. This is what adversity looks like. I'm sure it never occurred to you when you began your journey at Brandeis that you would not be able to attend graduation like every other class. So the class of 2020 will always be special, be different. You will be able to tell your children and grandchildren about this. I would imagine many years from now when this will be a distant memory, you will have much to smile about. I would expect that most of you will be concerned about how all of this social distancing and staying at home will affect your future. Of course the truth is that no one really knows. My optimistic side says that we will all eventually be fine, though there will be a new normal. I can't help but think that music lovers will flock to concert halls and theaters when they reopen. Online streaming of performances are wonderful, but cannot compare to a live concert of music to lift the human spirit. I also think that the irrepressible desire of musicians to share their gifts will also bring the music back stronger than ever.

I have been trying to think of any advice that I can give to you graduates about what you should be doing during this period of isolation and uncertainty. First of all, it is very important that you stay motivated and ready. Since most concerts have been canceled or postponed for the foreseeable future, I can imagine that it might be difficult to maintain your focus on your work, but this is more important than ever. Those that continue to practice, to compose, to study, and to hone their craft are the ones that will be successful and ready when all of this is over. Find a way to increase your love of music and don't become cynical. I am fortunate and old enough to have met and worked with many historical figures in music. Pablo Casals at Marlboro, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Eugene Ormandy — all had the same love of and delight in music making. Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, and Joshua Bell are some of the younger ones who clearly still love music making, even after long and exhaustive careers.

Unfortunately, some of my younger colleagues in the orchestra are already bored and cynical. This is a dangerous time for all of you to fall into that trap. You must keep going, keep working hard. Find ways to challenge yourself, ways to expand your knowledge and your talents. Have the courage to make a difference as you chart your music course. How we emerge from this crisis will shape your future, so be prepared and learn to love the journey. It will be worth it.

Mark Berger: Thank you, Ann, for that inspiring and heartfelt address. At this point, we would like to turn our attention to where it matters most, our graduating students. I would like to make one more small technical suggestion for all of you viewing. In order to be able to see the full screen without an obstructed view, you can feel free to minimize the video panel by clicking on the single thin bar from the options on the border of the video panel. And now I'm happy to introduce our 2020 Brandeis music graduates.

A slideshow featuring the graduates is shown. Some slides are accompanied by a photo and a quote. All photos are portraits, except where noted. The slideshow is titled: "A few words from the Class of 2020..."

At this point in a normal year, we would invite the graduates to walk up on stage and read their names and their degrees. In lieu of the handshake on stage, we would now like to individually recognize each of our amazing music degree graduates. Again, please make sure that you select speaker view so that you can virtually cheer on your graduates. I'm now happy to turn things over to our distinguished faculty to introduce you to the class of 2020 music degree recipients. Take it away Paula.

Each professor appears briefly on screen before the camera turns over to the recognized graduate.

Paula Musegades: I'm Professor Paula Musegades, and I am pleased to recognize Justin Max Chimoff, bachelor of science magna cum laude with major in biology and minors in music and psychology. Congratulations Justin.

Karen Desmond: [From offscreen] I'm Professor Karen Desmond and I'm pleased to recognize Joel Herman, bachelor of science, summa cum laude, majors in physics with highest honors and mathematics with honors, minor in music. Joel was a Leonard Bernstein Fellow in music. Congratulations Joel.

Joshua Gordon: I'm Professor Joshua Gordon, and I'm pleased to recognize Jasmine Lee. Jasmine is unable to be here today, but we are proud to recognize her in absentia for earning the bachelor of science, magna cum laude, majors in biology and health: science, society, and policy, minor in music. Jasmine was also a Leonard Bernstein Fellow in music and the recipient of the Florence and Charles Milender Prize in music and a wonderful participant in all music department activities. Congratulations Jasmine.

Robert Duff: I'm Professor Robert Duff, and I'm pleased to recognize Max Monheit. Max is unable to be here today, but we're proud to recognize him in absentia for earning the bachelor of arts in philosophy with a minor in music. Congratulations Max.

Andrea Segar: [From offscreen] I'm Professor Andrea Segar, and I'm pleased to recognize Dustine Reich, bachelor of science magna cum laude, majors in neuroscience and biology, minor in music. Dustine was a Leonard Bernstein Fellow in music and the recipient of the Rosalie L. Warren Award in music. Congratulations Dustine.

Judith Eissenberg: And now for the recipients of the bachelors degree. My name is Professor Judith Eissenberg, and I'm happy to recognize Talya Bedford, bachelor of arts cum laude, major in music and a minor in computer science. Congratulations Talya.

Tom Hall: [From offscreen] I'm Tom Hall, director of the Brandies Improv Collective. And I'm pleased to recognize Mathias Boyar. He had a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude, with highest honors in music, a minor in economics. Mathias was a recipient of the Herbert and Sandra Fisher Award for exceptional ability in the creative arts. Congratulations Mathias.

Sarah Mead: [From offscreen] I'm Professor Sarah Mead, and I'm pleased to recognize Leah Samantha Chanen, bachelor of arts with majors in music with honors and health: science, society, and policy. Leah is the recipient of the Class of 1955 Prize for Creative Ability. Congratulations Leah.

Andrea Segar: [From offscreen] I'm Professor Andrea Segar, and I'm pleased to recognize Benjamin Dov Eisenstein, bachelor of arts cum laude, majors in music with highest honors and biology. Ben is the recipient of the Phyllis and Lee Coffey Award in Music. Congratulations Ben.

Sarah Mead: [From offscreen] I'm Professor Sarah Mead. And I'm pleased to recognize Eliana Ellenberger, bachelor of science, majors in neuroscience and music with honors and a minor in medieval and renaissance studies. Congratulations Eliana.

David Rakowski: [From offscreen] I'm Professor David Rakowski, and I'm pleased to recognize Marek Haar, bachelor of arts, magna cum laude with majors in music with high honors, religion and the creative arts with honors and politics. Marek is the recipient of the Reiner Prize in Music Composition. Congratulations Marek.

Pamela Wolfe: [From offscreen] I'm Pamela Wolfe, vocal instructor, and I'm pleased to recognize Ora Rogovin for attaining the bachelor of arts, summa cum laude, with majors in music with highest honors and neuroscience. Ora is a recipient of the Herbert and Sandra Fisher Award for Exceptional Ability in the Creative Arts. Congratulations Ora.

Yu-Hui Chang: And now for the graduate degree recipients. I'm Professor Yu-Hui Chang, and I'm pleased to recognize Alexander Bean. Alex is unable to be here today. We are proud to recognize him in absentia for earning the master of fine arts in music composition and theory. Thesis title, "Of Thunder, of Spring: A New Work for String Quartet." Congratulations Alex.

Now for the doctoral degree, I'm pleased to recognize Talia Amar for earning the degree for doctor of philosophy in music composition and theory. Dissertation title, "The Light, Path and Voice: Underlying Process in Voi by Philippe Leroux" and an original composition titled, "Fractured Words." Talia is a recipient of the Herbert and Sandra Fisher Award for exceptional ability in the creative arts. Congratulations Talia.

Now I'm pleased to recognize Victoria Cheah for earning the degree of doctor of philosophy in music composition and theory. Dissertation title, "The Prismatic Lung: Morphology and Association in Steven Takasugi's Diary of a Lung," and an original composition titled, "I Watched the Horizon of the Sea, the World" for unconducted septet. Congratulations Victoria.

And I'm pleased to recognize Richard Chowenhill for earning the degree of doctor of philosophy in music composition and theory. Dissertation title, "Seeing the Invisible: New Approaches to the Analysis of Extreme Metal," and an original composition entitled, "raw[within] ." Congratulations Richard.

And now I'm pleased to recognize NamHoon Kim for earning the degree of doctor of philosophy in music composition and theory. Dissertation title, "Spherical Structured Time in the three Toccatas of 'die Soldaten' by Bernd Alois Zimmermann," and an original composition titled, "Wer wenn ich schriee" for soprano and double bass. Congratulations Matthew.

Mark Berger: Congratulations to all of our graduates on your many achievements. Let's all take a moment and cheer as loudly as you possibly can for the graduating class of 2020. [various background cheers]. It is now my honor to introduce our first student speaker, Victoria Cheah, who is receiving her PhD in composition.

A homemade video of the pathways around Slosberg Music Center is shown as Victoria speaks off-screen.

Victoria Cheah: [Victoria, from offscreen] Hello and welcome everyone and congratulations to the class of 2020. There are many people to thank, but here I would like to especially thank Mark Kagan, Cheryl Nalbach, Deborah Rosenstein, James Praznik, Mayvorly Ramirez, the music faculty and our graduate and undergraduate colleagues. I'm honored to have been asked to say something at our virtual department commencement ceremony. My name is Victoria Cheah, and I've been working on my PhD here since fall 2010. In this weird time I've struggled to come up with what to say on this occasion.

I've chosen to show you the campus around Slosberg, filmed on a short walk on May 15th while I speak, because if you, like me, have spent way too many hours and years in this oddly shaped building, you might miss its face too. Over the past few years, I haven't been a part of the Slosberg community as I have been previously. And reflecting on this distance has been slow going. As we know from recent ongoing experience, distance changes how we interact with each other and how we see ourselves. I would like to suggest that our experience together as musicians provides a specific perspective on our current mode of being. Making music and participating in academia requires the work and care of genuine connection.

Our courses, whether on the student side or the graduate instructor side, work because of how we choose to interact with each other and what we choose as the subject of that interaction. Our ensemble rehearsals, new music concerts, the Messiah Sing, trying to book a favorite practice room before someone else gets there first, and more. These large and small interactions that make up the activities of the music department rely on allowing each other the right amount of space in order to make it work, in order to practice or to hear whoever's playing or to play together or to show respect for and gain in awareness of ideas and interpretations communicated by sound waves traveling across distance. This isn't something we should take for granted or to deny it's difficult.

As David Foster Wallace said in his famous commencement speech, "It is about the real value of a real education which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness, awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight, all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: 'This is water. This is water.'" By reminding ourselves not to get lost in ourselves we can use this self-awareness to connect better. Reflecting on my time in the music department, I've learned not to take moments of connection for granted, moments of connection in the classroom, on the stage, backstage, at the monitor desk.

These moments of connection are rare, but they exist and will happen again. So I hope we can practice until then. I don't have much of my own advice to give, so I hope it's okay for me to share something that Professor David Rakowski said to me in a time of need. David wrote me, "It's stereotypical to give the keep plugging advice, but keep plugging. You've got something to offer and you believe you've got something to offer. So keep offering it. And two things: when you don't apply for anything you are never rejected. And you can't win if you don't play." Thank you, David. To the class of 2020, congratulations and best of luck for the future and in life.

Mark Berger: Thank you, Victoria for that heartfelt and inspiring message and reflection. Next up we have a special message from one of our graduating undergrad music majors, Ben Eisenstein.

Ben Eisenstein stands in a spacious room while giving his oratory.

Ben Eisenstein: I think it's really easy to undersell the power and the importance of music. Of course I don't need to tell that to any of you. But I think it's also easy to take for granted the institutions that enable us to make music. So just for a few minutes I'd like to shine a light on this department, an institution within an institution, and just mention some of the things that I've really come to appreciate about it.

The first is the faculty, from composers to conductors to theorists and historians to performers to the amazing Lydian String Quartet, we have a group of outstanding musicians dedicated both to their craft and to their students. If you'll forgive me getting a little personal, the mentors I have found in this department have left a noticeable imprint on my education and on my life. I want to take this opportunity to individually thank Andrea and Judy for their mentorship in violin playing and chamber music respectively. Learning from you has been one of the major highlights of my time in college.

Second thing I'll mention is a rather peculiar fact. For the most part I don't get the sense that the undergrads are here to become music professionals. It's possible that I'm wrong about this. But it sure seems like it to me. And I think this produces a unique atmosphere here. We're not here to outdo each other. We're here to outdo ourselves. We study music and we constantly work to better our skills, not because we're afraid of the competition that's out there, but because we acknowledge and respect the important role that music plays in our lives. Of course, it's not a bad thing to pursue a career in music, but I think it's worthwhile to mention that not everyone studies music for the same reason, and I think that that's a good thing. This brings me finally to the students themselves, ourselves. This includes non-majors who play in ensembles just 'cause. Their participation takes advantage of and therefore reinforces our wonderful culture of musical inclusivity which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Brandeis in the first place. But this also includes the majors and minors. And I wanna sign off by speaking directly to them.

First of all, thanks. Thank you all for being my friends and colleagues the past four odd years. We've learned from each other and taught each other. We have played together, listened together, suffered together through music history papers, and argued together about both the merit and the definition of atonal music. It's been a wonderful time, and I am privileged that I could spend it with all of you. So finally, no matter or how you chose to make music in college, please keep doing it when you're done here. I don't care what kind. I don't care how much. I just want you to do it. Then I want you to send it to me so that I can listen to it, 'cause I think that it's really easy to undersell the power and the importance of music.

Just in case you ever do, I'm going to leave you with some words that Karl Paulnack gave to the Boston Conservatory freshman in 2009 to welcome them to their studies: "If we were a medical school and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 a.m. someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well my friends, someday at 8 p.m. someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft." Happy graduation, congrats and good luck.

Mark Berger: Thank you Ben, and thank you once again to everyone who is with us today for this celebratory occasion. Let's take one more opportunity to cheer for our graduates and wish them success. [applause and various background cheers]. For a few final words, I would now like to turn things over to my amazing faculty colleagues, starting with Karen Desmond.

Karen Desmond: It's so lovely to see everyone. I'm proud of all of you for your brilliance, creativity, curiosity and, especially in the last few months, your good humor and grace. So congratulations graduates. I'm looking forward to what's next. And now I'll pass you over to Sarah.

Sarah Mead: As your advising head I want you to know we are all so proud of you. I'd like to congratulate your families too and thank them for giving us the opportunity to get to know you over the last several years. I hope you'll keep in touch and let us know about the next chapter in your lives and come back to visit when the time is right. And now I'll pass you over to Robert Duff.

Robert Duff: Congratulations, Class of 2020. It's been such a pleasure working with you over the past four years, and I hope to see and hear much from you in the upcoming years. Best of luck to you in your future. I'll now pass you on to Professor Judy Eissenberg.

Judith Eissenberg: Hi guys. Congratulations. You know, teachers learn from their students. So thank you for everything that you've taught me. I feel so privileged to have you in my life. So you're the next wave. Carry on and visit. You know where I live. Josh?

Joshua Gordon: Congrats, Class of 2020. May music always engage you in all its sounds, genres, and expressions. And when you're on any kind of a team, whether that be musical or otherwise, whether you're solving problems in an office or in a lab or in the field or even in a rehearsal, remember to be as accepting of your colleagues' ideas and input as you would have them and want them to be with yours. Learn from them, and they will learn from you. Congratulations. And now I'll pass you to Professor Andrea Segar.

Andrea Segar: Hi everyone, congratulations. It's been such a privilege getting to know you over the past four years. And I just wanted to say that wherever you go from here we will all be cheering you on every step of the way. So I'm wishing you the best of luck. Please stay in touch. And we are all so proud of you. And now I'll pass you to Ben Paulding.

Ben Paulding: Hi everyone. My name is Ben Paulding from Fafali and Survey of West African Music. And I just wanna say a big congratulations to the Class of 2020. I'm really looking forward to hearing the music you create after you graduate Brandeis. Over to Pam Wolfe.

Pamela Wolfe: Congratulation to you and your families, the Brandeis University Music Department Class of 2020. As you leave Brandeis to follow your paths, please know that we support the steps of your way. You will be missed. Please keep in touch. And now I pass you to Eric Chasalow.

Eric Chasalow: Hi, this is Eric Chasalow. I'm these days the dean of the Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences which is why I don't get to see many of you undergraduates the way I used to. We'll be fixing that soon I hope. But very best wishes and congratulations to everyone. We're all so proud of you. And just remember the world needs music, now perhaps more than ever. No one else can make your music, only you, so please keep making it. And now on to Mark Kagan.

Mark Kagan: Hi I'm Mark Kagan. I'm the senior academic administrator, and I want to tell you just how pleased and how honored I am to congratulate you on this very, very special day. It's a point in time which I hope will extend for many, many years on a long journey of success and happiness and fulfillment and as you go from strength to strength. Now I'll pass you on to our Concert Program Manager, Deborah Rosenstein.

Deborah Rosenstein: Hi everyone. I'm Deborah. I'm the concert program manager for the music department. And I'm so thrilled to be part of your commencement. It is my first commencement in all of my time at Brandeis and I couldn't have asked for a weirder one to be a part of. It has been such a pleasure to be part of your journeys through Brandeis and as musicians. And I'm just really honored to have been a small part of it in helping you realize all of your musical visions. So on behalf of Ms. Cookie and myself, a big congratulations to the class of 2020. And now I pass it on to Cheryl.

Cheryl Nalbach: Hi graduates. I'm Cheryl Nalbach, program administrator, and I'd like to say that it's been a joy getting to know each of you and being a part of this chapter in your lives. The creativity and the artistry that you've cultivated and shared have been truly outstanding. Take all that you've learned and experienced at Brandeis and share it with the world in inspiring and valuable ways. I wish each of you my sincere congratulations and best wishes, and please keep in touch with us. And now Mark Berger.

Mark Berger: Congratulations to everyone. I'm Mark Berger. I've had the honor of being chair of the music department for the past several years. And many of you graduates I had the pleasure of working with you in courses or also some of you composers, performing your works with the Lydian String Quartet and in other venues. And it's just such a treat. And we are all so proud of you and everything that you've achieved. And we cannot wait to see what you do moving forward. Thank you. Heartfelt thanks to everyone. Congratulations to all the graduates. And thanks again to all the family and friends who are tuned in with us today. Your support means the world to our graduates. Also a special thank you to my amazing faculty and staff colleagues for everything that you've contributed to the journey of this special graduating class.

We now will have the opportunity to interact with you in real time through a separate Zoom meeting, the link to which you will find in the chat window. And I believe it was also possibly emailed to many of you. Please come join us for a virtual post-ceremony reception there. Congratulations once again to the graduating class of 2020.

The video from the beginning is replayed.