Convocation Remarks from President Andrea Kalyn

“We have the opportunity to inspire an objectively challenged world—with the beauty, brilliance, optimism, and courage inherent in the creation, study, and sharing of music,” says President Kalyn at the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Andrea Kalyn speaks at a podium in Jordan Hall.

Good morning! It is my great privilege and joy to welcome you to Convocation 2019!

Joshua Brown plays the violin in Jordan Hall.
Joshua Brown performs at Convocation 2019.

And it is especially joyful for me, as this is my first convocation. I am humbled and honoured to serve as president of NEC, to work with such amazing people across the institution and the board, and to have the tremendous good fortune to serve alongside a senior administrative team of truly dedicated individuals—Vice President and Provost Tom Novak; Vice Presidents Kairyn Rainer, Kathleen Kelly, Elizabeth Dionne, Mike Sarra (who joined us over the summer), and Juliana Jordan, who keeps us all together. We are honoured to have the privilege of supporting your work, and of stewarding this amazing institution together with all of you.

Today’s convocation is our moment as a community to set our intention for the year ahead, and to think about what we want to achieve this year:

to think about what we are doing, about why we are doing it, and about how we want to do it, so that our work has quality, meaning, and resonance, far beyond these walls and halls.

In the course of my little “listening tour” last semester, the thing I heard expressed most frequently and fervently was that NEC is a community – a family.  And even after just one semester, it’s absolutely clear to me that community is in fact at the heart of what makes NEC such an extraordinary institution—it’s the people.

The Showa Bell—which in 1988 was given to NEC’s president, Larry Lesser, by a neighbouring Japanese school—bears an inscription that articulates the highest aspiration of community. It reads:

"As everyone in every country in the world fully develops their innate abilities and intelligence, all nations will work together in peace and harmony.”

And so, NEC tradition dictates that the president mark the official start of the school year by ringing the Showa bell four times, in representation of the four, interlocked communities of our NEC family:

  1. our wonderfully talented students (college, prep, and continuing ed); 
  2. our brilliant faculty;
  3. our incredibly dedicated staff; 
  4. and our deeply devoted and supportive trustees 

And with that, NEC family, welcome to the 2019-20 academic year!

So, it’s been both a wonderful and an intense summer.

If you’ve been following NEC’s social media, you’ll have been as inspired as I have by the stories of how our students and faculty spent their summers: making music on tours, at festivals, and in competitions; teaching and working with communities; and even making lego accessible to the blind. Here on campus, our staff supported an incredible range of summer programs that brought musicians of all ages and levels to NEC. And, of course, we just welcomed a fabulous class of 314 new students to the NEC family.  

At the same time, it bears acknowledging that there’s a lot gone on in the world this summer—socially, politically, economically, environmentally, and even musically—that is truly sobering.  

And yet, as we heard Sebastian Ortega so beautifully articulate in the video that opened our convocation this morning,

“Music is instrumental in helping us to have the courage to see the tough things without having to run away from them.”

I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this, but as we start this particular school year, I think it bears repeating:  Making and studying music is a fundamentally humanistic endeavor, and everything we do here at NEC is deeply connected to the human condition.

I believe so strongly that our collective work is important, purposeful, and relevant, with the potential for powerful impact, both on and beyond our own musical profession. 

We have the opportunity to inspire an objectively challenged world—with the beauty, brilliance, optimism, and courage inherent in the creation, study, and sharing of music.  

I said earlier that this convocation is our moment to set our collective intention for the year, and so—from my perspective—here it is:

The artistry and creativity, the passion and compassion, the curiosity, connection, and collaboration that we practice here daily not only reflect, but advance our shared humanity;

and so we must commit together to doing that work exceedingly well, and to sharing it broadly.

This is our year to turn NEC outward; to think collectively about how the high artistry that we are committed to cultivating within our practice rooms, studios, classrooms, and concert halls resounds far beyond them, and about how we—the NEC family—have an impact, both on our field and on the broader world.

I’d like to share with you one (I think rather poignant) example of this impact:

I wanted to play that video for three reasons:

(1) it highlights a part of NEC’s educational offerings that isn’t always obvious—the school of continuing education—and reminds us that we’re a multifaceted community, with multifaceted opportunities for impact; 

(2) it shows the impact that music can have on individuals; and 

(3) even more—it demonstrates the ways in which the quality of your daily work—as students, faculty, and staff— inspires others. For Denise in the video, having a window into the world of the conservatory—a window into “great musicianship”— unleashed her imagination for herself, and gave her hope.  And so, again, we have a responsibility to strive for the very highest levels in our work, because there are people listening—and they are hoping to be inspired. 

And—speaking of inspiration—we have an exciting year ahead! This is a year full of anniversaries: 

We celebrate the 50th anniversary of jazz at NEC; the 50th anniversary of our Wind Ensemble; and Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

Our Philharmonia will perform in Symphony Hall in the spring, and that semester also, we’ll launch the brand-new Pratt Residency and Performance Series for Early Music.

This fall, we’re partnering with Arts Emerson and Celebrity Series in a multi-disciplinary performance with Roomful of Teeth, inspired by the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, and that grapples with some strong social issues;

and of course there are many more incredible performances, masterclasses, residencies, and events than there is time to list right now.

Jazz ensemble performing in Jordan Hall.
A jazz quartet performs during Convocation 2019, featuring Aaron Dutton, saxophone; Eric Krouse, piano; Anna Abondolo, bass; and Charles Weller, drums.

This is also a year in which we will be thinking hard about our future—about how we, as an institution, fulfill our mission of guiding you, our students, in becoming the best musicians you can be, and in preparing for your professional lives ahead;

about what it really means to be a family, and what community values and expectations we hold for ourselves;

about how music connects to our audiences;

as well as how music lives in the world beyond our halls, and how we connect to that; 

and about NEC’s role in demonstrating our take on all of that, at the very highest level.

Ours is a culture of practice and performance—of learning and experimenting, and of collaborating and sharing. So, as we start this new school year, let’s determine to hone and extrapolate both sets of skills: to strengthen our work inside NEC and to turn our institutional face outwards; to think together about how we deepen and extend the artistry, connectivity, community, and impact of NEC; to empower both the world of music, and the world through music.

And to underscore the power of that, I’d like to close by sharing the example set by one of our most recent alums, in this final video.  Let’s have a great year together.