Newsletter 2021: Letter from the Chair

Tue, 03/09/2021

Dear Friends of Music,

One year ago the Department of Music hosted “When Machines Rock: A Celebration of Robert Moog and Electronic Music”, a magnificent exhibition and a series of concerts and talks co-curated by Judith Peraino, Trevor Pinch, and Roger Moseley in early March 2020. It was a huge success, attracting overflow crowds to Klarman Hall and new friends and students to the Department of Music. In the middle of that celebratory moment it would have been difficult to imagine the harsh year ahead of us.

COVID-19 brought us incredible challenges and the loss of dear friends and family; but the pandemic was not the only predicament we faced in 2020. We lived through a year of social and racial injustice and protest, a year of demands for the end of violence against women, and a year of political mobilization to defend democracy from those who were sworn to defend it.  

In these hard and trying times we came to re-evaluate our relationship to music. We recognized it again as an incredibly individual and collective force that helps us to establish personal connections, develop a sense of community, celebrate the anonymous heroes in our lives, sing along with chants of justice and hope, and renew our faith in the resilience of the human spirit. But just as music gave us yet again a space to appreciate what it does for us, we also had to learn how to do something for it, to re-invent it and to re-imagine how to use it to connect with one another in a year of masks and social distance. In the Department these efforts have been spearheaded by our indefatigable colleagues in performance, by our tireless and resourceful staff, and by our in-house technological wizardry. Thanks to them we secured spaces to continue making music together in person while adhering to social distance and safety measures and figured out ways to allow for virtual rehearsals and performances. Especially noteworthy is Paul Merrill’s amazing feat of converting Lincoln Hall into a giant virtual studio where students throughout the building were enabled to play together as if they were in the same room. Our colleagues’ efforts set the stage for the rest of the activities the Department of Music is renowned for worldwide—research, composing, teaching, advising, discussing ideas—to continue as close to normal as these unprecedented times allowed. My most sincere and deepest appreciation goes to all of them.

Thanks also to Roger Moseley for his extraordinary job as interim chair of the Department during one of the most difficult years we have lived through. He was not only able to lead us through the beginning of the health crisis, he also led us through the completion of many tasks that were key for our department’s future. There are still many things to do in the coming years, but I am confident that he has steered the ship in the right direction.

As the year came to a close, and regardless of how hard it was for all of us, we still had many things to celebrate: performances, books and articles published, new works premiered, recordings made, appearances in national and international media. I would like to highlight only two of the most memorable moments:

  1. The passing of an extraordinary curricular reform that will allow Cornell to maintain its rightful place among the leading music programs in the world (watch the department website for updates). This reform was the result of many minds working together but it should be noted that Professor Judith Peraino’s work in getting it through a number of bureaucratic loops quickly and with ease was remarkable. Thanks, Judith!
  2. The retirement of Professor Neal Zaslaw after 50 years of teaching at Cornell. Professor Zaslaw’s trajectory at Cornell is full of academic success and recognition. The wonderful testimonies presented during his farewell celebration this past December only go to show how special he has been for colleagues, mentees, students, and peers all over the world for many decades. Neal, it has been an honor working with you at Cornell.

We have another difficult year ahead of us, but looking at my colleagues and seeing their inspiring talent, conviction, humanity, and hard work, I can only be optimistic and positive that we will come out of this stronger than ever before.


Alejandro L. Madrid