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Holiday Concert

“A Blending of Voices”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC Concert Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Good afternoon, and welcome to the Rensselaer Holiday Concert.

Today, we have the opportunity to celebrate the Rensselaer Concert Choir and the newly re-formed Rensselaer Orchestra, which will be performing its second concert this afternoon; and to welcome those musicians from the community who, generously, are lending their talents to this occasion.

Our program represents an important step in the realization of a new dream—of creating a music degree program as rigorous and sought-after as the engineering, math, and science degrees for which we are known. In just two years, Dean Mary Simoni of our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has turned this dream into the reality you will enjoy today.

Many Rensselaer students come to us with extensive training in classical music, and now will be able to continue that part of their education. Leading them in this endeavor is Dr. Nicholas DeMaison, our acclaimed conductor and a successful composer in his own right. He will guide our students’ continued classical training, while helping them to stretch into performing experimental music, in this experimental space.

This concert, and that dream, are inspired and enabled by the platform that surrounds us.

We conceived of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center as an architectural and technological set of firsts. Like the music that comes to life within these walls, the design of EMPAC was written in the language of order and structure—in order to enable an infinite variety of human expressions.

So today, we frame our concert around the themes of gratitude for place, and of singing alleluia.

We begin with Anton Bruckner’s “Locus Iste”—“this place”—and conclude the first half of the program with a song by Gustav Mahler that evokes a child’s view of heaven. Mahler’s heaven, drawn from images of his native Austria over one hundred years ago, suggests the riches—of the mind, of the soil, and of beauty—found in the magnificent Mohawk and Hudson Valley region that surrounds Rensselaer.

Today, we also sing “alleluia.” Though changing the world is our mission at Rensselaer, alleluia expresses the unchanging greatness of the human spirit. In this concert alone, we will hear alleluias that have been offered in royal courts, as parts of religious rituals, and, in Randall Thompson’s subdued version from 1940, as a petition to the divine against the grief of World War II. Like music itself, the expression of alleluia reaches across centuries of human experience, to touch us here in a modern setting, in an ancient ritual of celebration.

Alleluia, almost always, is offered in some form of counterpoint—a piece made whole by many voices contributing, coalescing, departing, and converging again—if only for a single moment of joy. This hall is designed to ensure that every voice will be heard with precision, each contribution made clear—a capacity due in part to the extraordinary quietude incorporated into the structure.

At Rensselaer, we believe that the blending of voices from many disciplines is the path to discovery and creativity, because it yields transcendent moments of insight.

Each voice would be so much poorer without the others. This concert is but one example of the infinite ways that we inform one another, and thereby enrich ourselves.

Please enjoy it and enjoy the holiday season. Thank you for coming.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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