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New Musicians-In-Residence Series Brings Distinguished Artists to Students

Published on June 30, 2014


Generous gift from alumnus and retired employee makes visits possible


Susquehanna University's Martha Barker BlessingSusquehanna University’s music department will host four preeminent musicians for the 2014–15 academic year to kick off the inaugural year of the Martha Barker Blessing Musicians-in-Residence Series. The four residencies and public performances are made possible thanks to an endowment established through a gift from Blessing. Known by friends and former colleagues as Marty, she is a graduate of Susquehanna, a 40-year employee now retired, and the widow of political science professor James Blessing.

“Our music program at Susquehanna has such an excellent reputation that has been built up for quite some time,” Blessing said. “I thought it would be nice if we had something extra, other than money, that might attract even more students.”

Having worked with the admissions office at Susquehanna for 40 years, she said she was open to almost any suggestion—from tuning tubas to buying sheet music—but is thrilled at how the department came together with the idea to have visiting musicians work directly with students. Blessing also envisions the endowment eventually being used for student scholarships.

Inaugural group

The first group of visiting musicians in this five-year series will be keyboardist Trevor Stephenson, composer Libby Larsen, pianist Gilbert Kalish and conductor Timothy Reynish. The musicians will each spend between three and nine days with Susquehanna University’s students and faculty. They will work with the music department in a variety of ways, including master classes, as part of chamber music coaching sessions and through outreach to local high schools.

“We’re so deeply grateful for Marty’s generosity,” said David Steinau, associate professor and chair of the music department at Susquehanna. “From her many years of working in admissions, Marty knows how important it is for us to have distinctive offerings. Bringing important musicians to campus to work with students over a period of several days is something we simply wouldn’t be able to do without significant funding. We chose four very different musicians to invite to campus for this first series, and all four immediately agreed. This gift makes substantial invitations to great musicians possible.”

  • Stephenson is a performer, recording artist and noted expert in the keyboard instruments of earlier historical periods, from the harpsichord and fortepiano to the 19th-century forerunners of the modern concert grand piano. He’ll be at Susquehanna September 18–20, as part of Keyboard Fest, a one-day festival for piano and organ students and teachers held at Susquehanna. He will give a public recital Sept. 19 at 8 p.m.
  • One of America’s most-performed composers, Larsen has created a catalogue of over 500 works spanning virtually every genre from intimate vocal and chamber music to massive orchestral works and more than 15 operas. She has also won Grammy awards and co-founded what has become the American Composer’s Forum. She’ll visit Susquehanna in October, and present a public performance Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.
  • Kalish is a frequent guest artist with many of the world's most distinguished chamber ensembles. His discography of some 100 recordings encompasses classical repertory, 20th-century masterworks and new compositions. He will be in residence at Susquehanna April 13–15, and perform a piano recital at 8 p.m. on both April 14 and 15.
  • After emerging as one of the leading conductors of wind bands and wind ensembles, Reynish has conducted several noteworthy bands on five continents, including the “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. He has travelled extensively to give clinics, lectured, guest conducted and adjudicated, and he has contributed a chapter to The New Percy Grainger Companion. He will work with music students April 16–25, and co-conduct the University Symphonic Band, with associate professor of music Eric Hinton, in a public concert April 25.

Importance of music at SU

“I think music is important,” Blessing said. “I’d like our students to hear from these professionals what the musician’s life is like and maybe they’ll get excited about it. If you’ve ever talked to someone who is passionate in their field, you get excited about it. Hopefully students will make contacts that pay off later in life. Those kinds of connections happen often on our campus. I hope the musicians in residence find that working with our people inspires them, too.”

Blessing takes a personal interest in music herself, following composers and performers, and listening to classical music. While she hasn’t taken piano lessons since grade school, she loves picking up on distinct rhythms in music and everyday life. More importantly, she recognizes Susquehanna’s music history and the excellence of the current program.

Founded more than 150 years ago, the music department has a nearly 100 percent rate of music education graduates gaining employment within six months of graduation. Taught in a collaborative yet competitive environment, Susquehanna performance and composition graduates have excelled in the professional ranks. They’ve been nominated for Grammies, been featured on hundreds of recordings, worked on Broadway and for world-renowned opera companies, and gone on to teach around the globe.

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