It is a grey, February afternoon in 1986. A blast of arctic air has settled across the Midwest that promises to chill the bones for several days to come. In this climate the cozy college town looked rather austere and foreboding. Your author had grown up on a Big-Ten campus, and a bigger campus at that, but where his home-town school has a laid back, Bohemian vibe, this one looks and feels more conservative, more old-world.
Having gotten lost on the short walk from the Union to the music building, this observer was nearly late for the fateful tour of the School of Music. Not that it would have mattered- when he returned as a student five months later, he was amazed at how misleading many of his initial impressions were. Starting from the office of admissions, the imperious sounding Associate Assistant Dean of Admissions, or whatever his title was, led us in a loop through the main buildings- the “old building” and the “round building.” We then made ready to cross to the “new building” (now, 20 years later the “music practice building”), gathering for the first time in front of the façade at the front of the world’s biggest music school.
Across the top of the building were a number of names of great composers. Our host was keen to draw our attention to one in particular. “Yes, we’re quite embarrassed about that one. Apparently he was very popular in the 1950’s, when this building was put up. It’s amazing how wrong people can get things! Such horrible, simplistic, naïve, cliché-ridden music!” He chortled in smug satisfaction.
“We’ve looked into tearing it down, but because of the age of the building there is a concern that if we replaced him with a more legitimate composer, the stone wouldn’t match. Anyway, it really is a huge embarrassment to the whole School of Music that he’s up there.” The composer?Jean Sibelius.
Hear KW conduct Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony this Saturday, February 23rd in Bute Hall, Glasgow with the musicians of the Kelvin Ensemble. Also on the program is Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi, and Bloch’s Schelomo. And the outcome of the campus tour?
Lord forgive me…. I went there anyway.