From the Director's Desk
Martin D. Jean
The new academic year is well underway at the ISM. Students have arrived safely and the new ones – some of whom you are reading about in this issue – have been oriented. They have been sorted through placement tests and auditions and have done their own sifting through the initial “shopping period” of classes. These new students have joined us from all over the world, and are already becoming friends. New fellows and post-docs have gathered from around the world, too, and our newest addition to the faculty, Prof. Melanie Ross, has begun teaching her first courses at Yale.
As I write, we are all on buses home after a long day in New York City where we visited the Cloisters museum, Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and attended a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert featuring Bobby McFerrin. We were exhilarated by these experiences, and by the intense and generous conversations that ensued among students and faculty.
This year the ISM enters its fortieth year, and I have become more than ever aware of the role of faculty and staff as “custodians,” caring for this precious and unique institution as it journeys into the waiting arms of future generations. To be sure, the Institute has never stagnated, but one mission has held us together: the interdisciplinary study and practice of sacred music, worship, and the arts.
This year, as always, I began our first colloquium by reading excerpts from the founding indenture of the ISM, penned forty years ago by Mr. J. Irwin Miller and signed by Mrs. Clementine Tangeman. This year, as I was reading aloud these words, I was struck all over again by the poignancy, relevance, and beauty of our mission.
We perceive men and women becoming steadily (though unequally) richer in things, and still baffled as to how they may cure the poverty of their spirits, and how they ought to behave toward each other. The Christian Gospel has always claimed to have the word for such tormented and baffled persons. . . . A peculiar danger of our own society is that so many of us are now so well off. The “do-it-yourself” society is in danger of developing a contempt for the minority of poor and disadvantaged and helpless. In recalling us to such concern and to the unpalatable truth that we save our lives only by losing them, the compassionate artist has often been the best preacher among us.
To a generation busily plundering and despoiling the planet, Haydn’s Creation tells us more eloquently than all the computer runs from all the agencies what our world and our relations with our fellows could be like — if we are able to listen with our hearts as well as with our minds.
Mozart’s fragment of a Requiem reveals to us a human spirit never at ease on this planet, yet desperately not yet ready to die. The revelation, if perceived, helps us to come to terms with our contradictory selves and our situation.
And the understanding of our own endless capacity to attack and kill that small best part of our own selves, the God within us, comes home to us, as nowhere else, in the final chorus of the “St. Matthew Passion.. . . . . . . “
. . . . . .We make this grant for this enterprise then in the conviction that the importance of the Christian Gospel is today in no way diminished; that, next to the example of a committed human life, this gospel is most powerfully revealed by the artists of each generation; and that in the Gospel each of us can most certainly find the service and the peace that seem always to escape us. We hope that God will prosper the enterprise, and all who are a part of it.
Sadly, the world has not changed much in forty years: the proportion of poor and disadvantaged among us has only increased, as has disease, dissension, and violence. We are still tearing through the earth’s resources faster than we or it can replenish them, and human beings still struggle with the basic questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose? What is life’s meaning? What is my end?
Our donors were captains of industry and, surely, had they wished, they could have endowed a school of business or law to instruct students in policy-making and commerce. But they didn’t. They created this Institute of Sacred Music. They believed that through the study and practice of sacred music, worship, and the related arts, they could ultimately affect more people for good than by any other means. They had the sense that people who are committed to the life of prayer are most true to themselves when they are engaged with the arts. They were faithful people who believed in the power of the Gospel to redeem that which is broken in the world and in the power of the arts to proclaim this good news, and they were eager to extend this vision to all religious communities as well.
Our mission as an educational institution holds us accountable for the preparation of our students for their respective professions. At the same time, it also inspires us to offer compelling initiatives locally and globally to explore the full array of religious artistic expressions, and how these interact with the rest of the world. To these ends, we will ramp up our recruitment efforts this year to assure we are reaching out to the best possible students. We continue to develop touch points in their curriculum and in their community life where their specialized work can come into harmony. Now in its third year, our Fellows initiative is serving more and more as a resource to encourage the work of like-minded scholars and artists. Our Congregations Project is bringing new ideas to parishes and their communities, and our budding ideas for new publications and conferences are rapidly taking shape.
This year, we are expanding our exhibitions program into a larger, albeit peripatetic, Gallery of Sacred Arts. At least for this year, we will occupy the Divinity School’s historic Common Room and Refectory with greatly extended exhibitions and related programming that we know will contribute to further religious understanding and creativity. You will read about the first of these exhibitions in this issue.
As if all this were not enough, perhaps our largest challenge and opportunity is to begin a serious engineering study of an existing building and property near the ISM on Prospect Street to accommodate recently developed programs and make room for new ones. Such a facility will also give us much needed common space for our bustling little community.
From a stalwart band of three faculty members, one administrator, and seven students, the Institute of Sacred Music has grown since 1973 to a community of nearly 120 students, faculty, staff, fellows, post-docs, and other affiliates. It is immensely impressive to watch this growth up close, and I am proud to say that my colleagues are more productive and creative than ever. In the months to come, you will be reading of their work, activities from the students, and more good news from us. In the meantime, on behalf of our entire community, I thank you for your prayers, support, and continued good wishes as we strive to live out the powerful and expansive vision of those who came before us.
BACK to Prism
Martin Jean with Bobby McFerrin at Lincoln Center. Photo by Katie Cadigan.