AMSGNY Announcements

Remembering Ronald Cross

This is the text of the tribute given at the April 27th meeting by Chapter President Jeff Dailey:

The Greater New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society mourns the loss of one of its long time members, Ronald Cross, who died this past February 22nd, several days after his 84th birthday.   In remembering Ron, let us examine his accomplishments as a scholar, as a teacher, and as a performer.
 A native of Forth Worth, Texas, Ronald Cross came to New York in the 1950s to study in the musicology program at NYU.  His primary mentor there was Gustave Reese, but he also studied with Curt Sachs and Dragan Plamenac.   American musicology was in a growth spurt then, focusing heavily on early music, and Ron started out in the field assisting Reese with research for the book Music in the Renaissance.  He ultimately concentrated on the life and works of Mattheus Pipelare.   Reese devoted one paragraph to this contemporary of Josquin; Ron expanded that into a dissertation, several articles, and the three-volume opera omnia published by the American Institute of Musicology, which has never been superseded.  He also wrote the New Grove entry on Pipelare, and gave an update on his research most recently in 2010, when he read a paper at this chapter’s spring meeting.  He based his work on his travels throughout Europe as a Fulbright Fellow from 1955 to 1957, when he studied in Venice, Siena, Florence, and Vienna, examining first-hand the sources of Pipelare’s music.

Nor was he attracted solely to Renaissance music.   He had wide ranging interests in musics of all times and places.  A great lover of Bach, he liked to explore the number symbolism the Baroque master’s works.  In recent years, he expanded his horizons into American music and opera.  In addition to being a member of the AMS, he also held membership in the Society for Ethnomusicology, and loved to listen to and study non-Western musics of different cultures. 

As a teacher, Ron was an inspiration to generations of students.  He started teaching in 1958 at Notre Dame College  – a school that is now the Staten Island campus of St. John’s University.  Ten years later he moved down the road to Wagner College, where -- first as associate professor, then professor, then holder of the college’s first endowed professorship --  he remained until his death.  He taught a wide range of courses over the years –music history and theory, appreciation, rudiments – and started the Collegium Musicum there, providing opportunities for the performance of early music for twenty years.  When Wagner embraced a new interdisciplinary curriculum, Ron eagerly joined in, team-teaching courses with colleagues from other departments.  He was also an early exponent of online learning, and had a tremendous facility for instructional technology.  He had the wonderful ability to make the complexities of music interesting to the uninitiated, and interspersed theory and analysis with amusing anecdotes about composers, as well as his personal experiences as a performer.

Ron was an amazing performer.  Early in his career, he earned an associate rating from the American Guild of Organists, and performed as organist at St. Paul’s – St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Staten Island for over forty years.  The parishioners there got to hear his virtuosic performances on a weekly basis, which others got to hear only infrequently, although he did give occasional recitals at other churches.  Between 1986 and 1991, the Staten Island Council on the Arts awarded him six grants to give harpsichord recitals, the programs of which ranged from Renaissance and baroque masters to modern works (he also received grants from Meet the Composer), with the occasional addition of novelty pieces by composers such as Leroy Anderson and John Philip Sousa.  It often seemed like he did not realize how good he was at the keyboard.  Sometimes, he would look at a very complicated piece of music, say “Oh, that’s easy,” and then sit down and play it perfectly.  Conversely, he would look at an equally challenging piece, say “Oh, that’s hard,” and then again sit down and play it perfectly. 

Although primarily a keyboard player, he also had a great love of stringed instruments.  He played the viola da gamba, and, through his efforts, arranged for the New York Consort of Viols to give annual summer workshops at Wagner College for some years.  As director of the Collegium Musicum at Wagner, he also performed on other early instruments.  As a conductor, he directed works ranging from plainsong to Stravinsky, and also composed music for choirs and the organ. 

But apart from his technical and scholarly abilities, Ron was an advocate of seeing music as a way of understanding people and civilization.  He was a great lover of nature and animals, and encouraged the preservation of both the environment and human culture.  He will be sorely missed.


Winner of Student Paper Award

The winner of the annual prize given to the best student paper read at a Greater New York Chapter meeting for the 2012/13 academic year is Nicholas J. Chong from Columbia University for his paper "Beethoven’s Favorite Theologian? Johann Michael Sailer, the Missa Solemnis, and the Question of Beethoven’s Faith."  He will be giving the paper again at the national meeting in Pittsburgh in the fall.

William Hettrick Wins Curt Sachs Award

AMSGNY Treasurer William Hettrick has been awarded the Curt Sachs Award by the American Musical Instrument Society, which honors lifetime contributions toward the goals of the Society.  Dr. Hettrick, Professor of Music at Hofstra University, was editor of the AMIS Journal for seven years.  His organological research focuses on American piano manufacturing.

Opera Education Panel Report

Feb. 16, 2013

Panelists: Robert Butts, John Dunlap, Karen Hiles, Stuart Holt, David Hurwitz, Catherine Ludlow, Robert Walters

Respondent: Jeff Dailey

The purpose of this panel was to encourage dialogue among panelists and conference attendees concerning opera education. Some questions that arose include: Who are we educating and why? Is it not opera education so much as opera evangelism? Should new operas be populist? How is the delivery of opera in HD changing the way operas are written and produced? How should opera be introduced to youth?

The discussion addressed the politics of opera accessibility. David Hurwitz stated that opera has never been economical, and will always be elitist. Several speakers cited the advantages of HD performances: they are more affordable, often easier to get to, and do not require a season subscription. The movie format is more familiar to many, and can therefore serve as a good entry point for people who are new to opera. Yet Hurwitz warned people to be wary of a possible two-tiered class structure that could emerge from the differences between opera in the theater and opera in HD. Will HD ultimately hinder the success of local opera performances? Stuart Holt acknowledged that opera is becoming more accessible through the efforts of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and university programs (such as Nashville, where graduate students bring opera to local schools), and that opera becomes more accessible once it is demystified. This commitment to demystification resonated with many of the respondents. Bob Walters recommended interactive approaches to opera education, such as relating operas to popular movies. He stressed that interactivity was essential when introducing children to opera.

Specific strategies for teaching opera were debated. Karen Hiles characterized opera as “the ideal subject for a liberal arts course.” She described a potential course in which 6 operas would be studied over the course of the semester, with two weeks devoted to each. She outlined a possible format for class meetings pertaining to each opera as follows: Day 1—Introduction to the opera; Day 2—Opera screening with professor commentary and class discussion; Day 3—“lens reading” in which students read articles that provide historical or cultural context; Day 4—Class discussion of the reading material. Barbara Hanning also offered specific suggestions: assign parts to read/act out from the scene that is going to be viewed in class. After viewing the scene, compare the two modes of delivery…the libretto alone and the libretto, music, and staging combined. Sylvia Kahan pointed out that operatic time is usually more drawn out than film time because the communication of operatic events is so concrete. Clearly opera is its own medium, distinct from other musical and film genres. Respondents generally agreed that opera should be actively promoted amongst all age groups using interactive and engaging methods.

Bethany Cencer, AMS-GNY Secretary

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