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Institute of Sacred Music Commencement Banquet 2009

Martin D. Jean, Director, Institute of Sacred Music

Editor’s note: Written version of comments may vary slightly from actual delivery.

At the start of each year I offer the same advice to new students: “Make the most of your time here, because two or three years will pass by more quickly than you will believe.” And yet, when that statement comes true, no one is more surprised than I am!

Here we are – months or years after welcoming you all here, and now, to many of you, it is time to say goodbye.

In this year alone, we shared two dozen colloquia, where we thought about death, about mysticism, about congregational song, Messiaen, choral singing, artists as prophets, acoustics, theology and music, white weddings, African-American sacred music, and yes, controversial art.

Throughout the year we performed in over fifty concerts, learned about Peruvian art, whirling dervishes, Orthodox liturgy, heard texts by Robert Alter, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jacqueline Osherow, viewed images of Soichi Watanabe and John August Swanson, discovered the riches of Spanish liturgical manuscripts, prayed together in literally hundreds of liturgies, heard both Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B Minor, and took the latter on tour to Korea and China -- not to mention the thirty some odd courses that our faculty taught to you in this year alone. All in all, these things, we figure, touched the lives over 18,000 people. And they all have one thing in common: You.

We are here to honor you, dear graduates, and to give thanks for those staff, faculty and friends who have supported you on your journey at Yale. We are here to honor you all, and especially those who have successfully completed the program of study at the ISM and in their respective schools.

At the beginning of the year, I said it was our job to confound you, to challenge your assumptions about those things – art, music, texts, rites -- which people have named “sacred.” What I really hope has happened is that we have deepened your respect for and shown you something wonderful about this multivalent, multi-textured tapestry of worship, music, and the arts.  How complex, how tremendous, and how paradoxical are all these various ways of engaging with, getting our arms around, and coming before the Divine. Remember Augustine’s words; namely, that it is something “like light, sound, smell, food, and touch that I love when I love my God.”

You aren’t finished learning, but I hope we have given you a map – a schematic – upon which to form greater learning all your lives long. The certificate we now present to you, given with all the seriousness of a degree, signifies that you have learned more than what any of your chosen disciplines alone might offer you. And it challenges you to take what you know, grow upon it, and offer it to others from the positions of leadership in which you will soon find yourself. 

Blessings upon you and all your future endeavors!

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