Letter from the Chairs: Passing the Baton During a Pandemic
Since becoming chair of the Department on July 1, many colleagues and students have asked, “How it’s been being chair during a pandemic?” I often don’t know how to answer since working remotely mostly from home has stood in place of what I’ve seen my predecessors do, leading faculty meetings in Hill 107, saying a few words to an audience before the start of a concert, or shaking a student’s hand as we cross paths in the entrance of Kenan. “It’s been challenging but fine . . . taking it one day at a time” is my usual answer. The truth is, since March, we have all been taking it one day at a time teaching one Zoom class to the next, scheduling a Zoom meeting, attending someone else’s Zoom meeting, taking a break from the screen to rest our eyes, taking a walk, and helping our child with a question while they Zoom into their class from their bedroom upstairs. Everything we do together with our colleagues, students, and staff is now mediated by technology, and necessarily so.
More than ever, we strive to inspire and to be inspired. We have pursued creative solutions to keep making music together safely and to share our work with our community, indeed, with the entire globe on our department’s YouTube channel. We continue to publish scholarship, compositions, and recordings, to produce films, videos, and participate in podcasts, and to share our work in all-remote conferences and master classes and at invited lectures delivered remotely. Faculty have won awards in recognition of their ongoing achievements. Students have also forged ahead with lessons over Zoom, practicing their instrument in unconventional spaces (so as not to disturb their housemates), and learning new recording software to complete their class assignments or projects. They, too, have shared their work virtually via the First Fridays series while winning awards and competitions. And our staff continue to do the work that keeps our Department going without pause. Without our staff, much of what we have accomplished since March would not have been possible.
Indeed, our faculty, staff, and students have collaborated to accomplish incredible things in these unprecedented times. We have created a new Mission Statement. More than aspirational, our new mission gives us a clear path forward to remodel our degree programs for the twenty-first century. We have created an Anti-Racism Music Resources page to reflect and share ideas on how we can do what we do better and for more groups of people. And we have instituted “Do the Work Wednesdays,” a series of short written pieces on anti-racism and music to which undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni, staff, and faculty have contributed.
Much of this work started under the leadership of my predecessor, Allen Anderson, who shepherded the Department through the first months of the pandemic. We surpassed our fundraising goal of $100,000 for the Centennial Challenge of 2019–2020. For the many gifts large and small totaling close to $150,000, we thank our friends and supporters. We look to use this money in part to give special project support for junior faculty. This year also saw a major bequest from the estate of long-time supporter of UNC Jazz, Thomas F. Steward, to fund Jazz Studies. To Professor James Ketch, who retired this past spring after 43 years of dedicating his energies to jazz and trumpet teaching at UNC, we extend our gratitude and deep respect for his leadership and inspiring example. At the same time, we turn and welcome to the Department our newest faculty member, saxophonist, jazz studies instructor, and jazz band director Rahsaan Barber.
Our work would not have been possible without the department’s supporters. Their support will continue to be crucial through what promises to be difficult budgetary challenges ahead. With our supporters, we will continue innovating, collaborating, educating, and making music together, infusing beauty and inspiration into these difficult times. We are committed to forging ahead with our mission to continue providing our students and the Carolina community a world-class education in music, and we will accomplish this by doing what we do best: collaborating. In music, anything is possible.
Professor and Chair
Professor and Chair, 2017-2020