Prof. Wayne Abercrombie
Remarks for Honoring Joshua Jacobson
Northeastern University Celebratory Concert
November 17, 2013, Jordan Hall
Rarely does one have the honor of publicly congratulating and thanking a friend. Today I have the opportunity to say some things to a good friend and a professional role model and teacher that might seem a bit awkward in friendly conversation.
A word about conductors: A widely-circulated cartoon shows a conductor in action, intently A widely-circulated cartoon shows a conductor in action, intently looking at the message on his music stand, which says, "Wave arms until music stops, then turn around and bow deeply." In truth, the public performance for a conductor is the tip of the iceberg - and in some cases, the easiest part of the job.
Obviously, the conductor must be a good musician, knowing everyone's parts, teaching and leading from a solid musical vision and urgency. Josh makes music, always compelling and entertaining. His musicianship has inspired countless performers and audiences, in highly varied contexts.
The conductor chooses the music to be performed before performers or audience show up: different music in each concert, each season. In an academic setting, an ensemble/class requires different content each term. (And those classes are among the very few whose final exam is taken in public.). Good programming admittedly involves a bit of voodoo, but mostly it requires deep knowledge of the literature, and an intuitive sense of how to build well-paced concert programs that satisfy both performers of how to build well-paced concert programs that satisfy both performers and listeners.
Drawing on his wide-ranging knowledge and experience, Josh builds programs that that mix the challenging, the new and the familiar in masterful ways. Josh's programs take students and audiences on adventures.
Many conductors legitimately have public performance as their single focus, their offering to the public and profession. Josh goes deeper: He is a scholar, as well. His scholarship is a gift that has informed all of us in this field. In addition to his command of the choral and choral-orchestral canon, his books and articles in scholarly journals, his programming, and creative lectures and workshops have opened the doors to a body of work that - it is safe to say - would still be unknown and unheard if not for his labors. I have had both personal pleasure - and awakening - as a result of his work over the years, as have so many of my colleagues. (The power of his research and editing of choral music written during the Holocaust still moves me, long after his presentation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst years ago.)
The conductor's "instrument" is an aggregation of human beings. I do not belittle any instrumentalist's skill ---- especially Ed Swanborn's -- when I note that performance calculus would be different if, for example, each of the 88 keys of a pianist's instrument had a distinct personality, which could be altered by the weather, time of day, tone of voice, or by interaction with its neighbors.
Such is the choral or orchestral "instrument," each rehearsal and performance. “It” is individuals willing to be part of an ensemble -- if given reason to do so. To help these individuals to transcend their individuality, and often to transcend what they thought were their skill limits -- requires inter-personal skills and inspiring guidance from the leader. That Josh has the respect and admiration of so many performers, after so many years and countless rehearsals and performances is the best and most obvious evidence of his understanding of and engagement with the human aspects of conducting.
Add to those talents as conductor and scholar his superb administrative skills. We celebrate today the unique choral program he has built and creatively nurtured at Northeastern. To that one adds his years as Chair of the Music Department, leadership of the Zamir Chorale, and his contributions to many professional organizations. Among those, Josh served as Massachusetts President of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). With over 20,000 members in the U.S. and affiliations throughout the world, these are the conductors of most of the 40+ million choral singers in the U.S. Leaders of both the national ACDA and its Eastern Division have asked me to express official congratulations on their behalf to Josh on this occasion.
I add to their congratulations my personal good wishes, and my appreciation as colleague and friend. It is not only the students and faculty of Northeastern that have benefitted from your brilliant and generous spirit and contribution to the arts. All of us in the profession are richer because of your work.
Your efforts have opened the eyes of colleagues and scholars, opened the voices of countless singers, and filled the hearts and minds of singers and audiences alike with hope, understanding and joy. BRAVO!