President Andrea Kalyn Makes a Lasting Impression on Students

“I’ve spent my first four months here on something of a whirlwind listening tour, trying to get to know NEC from the inside,” said Kalyn in her inauguration speech.

By Erich Burnett, Guest Correspondent

Kevonna Shuford
“I like being able to see that you’re supported by family here.” —Kevonna Shuford ’20

For Kevonna Shuford ’20, it all starts with an admittedly awkward dance up the stairs of Jordan Hall. Awkward because it happens every morning.

Virtually without fail, Shuford starts her day at the same time as Andrea Kalyn, the two of them ascending the stairs in tandem. And with their mutual punctuality, a sort of inside joke has developed.

But the Jordan stairwells are just one of many places Shuford finds Kalyn. The new NEC president is a regular at student performances and countless other gatherings, including a season-ending concert presented by Music for Food, a service group in which Shuford participates.

“I like being able to see that you’re supported by family here,” says Shuford, a violist from West Palm Beach, Florida.

“I’m extremely hopeful, because she’s concerned with how she can make NEC better, but she also wants to make sure there is a sense of community within this place—that our students are being heard and our opinions are being voiced, and we’re getting the support that we definitely need.”

Shuford is far from alone among her peers.

Composition student Bosba Panh smiles and conducts a cellist and violist who also smile
“She really treats the role of president as a normal member of the school.” —Bosba Panh ’19

Composition student Bosba Panh ’19 has had numerous opportunities to connect with Kalyn through her own various leadership roles on campus, including student council and the Asian Student Association.

“I see her walking a lot around the halls,” says Panh, a native of Cambodia and self-described “president of the NEC Fan Club.”

“She really treats the role of president as a normal member of the school. For me, being such an important member of the administration and just walking around the school like a regular student is really touching, because there is no gap between us. I’m so happy for her to be a part of NEC’s legacy and for our future going forward.”

Only four months into her new position, Kalyn has quickly earned widespread admiration for her tireless interest in NEC’s students. Amid her own overstuffed calendar, she squeezes in student recitals and meetings of various student groups, seeking input at every turn about what matters to them and how she can improve their experience.

Verona Quartet
Jonathan Dormand and Abigail Rojansky with the Verona Quartet

It is a reputation Kalyn also earned during her tenure at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Abigail Rojansky ’19 GD is a violist who completed her undergraduate degree at Oberlin in 2011, when Kalyn was associate dean for academic affairs. Even then, Rojansky remembers, Kalyn frequently made the rounds to student recitals and other events.

“I was super-excited when I learned she had been chosen as our president,” Rojansky says. “I was like ‘That’s my lady! She’s my president!’”

At NEC, Rojansky plays in the Verona Quartet, the ensemble in residence for the Professional String Quartet Training Program. “She came to our Jordan Hall recital, and that’s a very telling thing for us,” Rojansky recalls. “Not just to come to our recital, but to stay and talk to each one of us—that tells me all you need to know about her.”

“She is so appreciative of the music itself, which is first and foremost in importance,” says cellist Jonathan Dormand ’12 MM, ’19 GD of the Verona Quartet, which performed at Kalyn’s April 26 inauguration. “I only wish for her to stay true to her love for music and let that be her guiding light. And if that’s the case, she can do no wrong.

“NEC is a special place because everybody cares so deeply about the music, and that’s not lost within all the bureaucratic details that can happen to an institution,” Dormand says. “As long as we stay ahead of the ever-changing ways in which music is delivered to the public, the future looks very bright for NEC, and I am sure that’s on the top of her mind.”

Magdalena Abrego
“She has been all over campus. It feels like she’s really finding out about the place for herself.” —Magdalena Abrego ’19

Magdalena Abrego ’19 MM, a jazz guitarist from Chicago who is completing a master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation this spring, performed with a pair of ensembles at the Block Party that followed the inauguration, and again at the Inaugural Gala the following night. Her first interaction with the new president came months earlier, when Kalyn visited Abrego’s marketing class. “She was super-warm and friendly,” she remembers.

Not long after, Abrego found herself presenting a grant proposal. To her surprise, Kalyn was there too.

“It was funny because I realized in mid-pitch that she was in the room!” Abrego says. “That made me nervous, but it was ultimately exciting that she was there. I’m struck by how she has been all over campus. It feels like she’s really finding out about the place for herself.”

Kalyn addressed her proclivity to such immersion in her inaugural speech, in which she also noted NEC’s reputation among students as “the friendly conservatory.”

“I’ve spent my first four months here on something of a whirlwind listening tour, trying to get to know NEC from the inside—through conversation, and concerts, and classes—as well as from the outside, benefitting from the perspectives of the leaders of other educational and cultural institutions in Boston,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that NEC is a place that embraces the deeply humanistic element of music, and through that music seeks to advance the human spirit.”

Much like students all over campus, NEC administrators have quickly warmed to Kalyn’s style.

“She has a very solid sense of musical and moral values that are ideal for the job,” says Laurence Lesser, president emeritus and Walter W. Naumburg faculty chair in cello.

“People speak about this school as being friendly, which is true. It’s a very collegial environment. But Andrea is more than that. She reaches inside people to not only learn about who they are, but to learn from them and to better understand her community.”

“I respect her, but more important, I like her. We very much enjoy having her at NEC, and we hope she enjoys us. We have a lot in common, and I think that is going to help us immensely.”