Music to my Ears

February 20, 2017

Among the many exciting occasions on campus this spring, the opening of the Adams Center for Musical Arts—which was formally launched in a ceremony last Thursday—was certainly one of the most highly anticipated. This incredible space includes the beautifully renovated Hendrie Hall and an additional 34,000 square feet of rehearsal facilities, studios, practice rooms, an orchestra hall, a digital recording studio, and student gathering space. It will draw musicians from the School of Music, Yale College, and across the university to practice and perform in a single space—opening the door to tremendous new possibilities.

I am profoundly grateful to Stephen and Denise Adams, whose name graces the center. Steve, who graduated from Yale College in 1959, and Denise have transformed music education at Yale through their visionary philanthropy. Thanks to their historic $100 million gift, the Yale School of Music is now tuition-free. Today our students enjoy unprecedented access and opportunity to pursue their musical interests.

Yale enjoys a long tradition of musicians and music-lovers encouraging each other on campus. From the beginning of music instruction at Yale, we relied on the support of our friends. In 1854, Irene Battell Larned—the wife of a Yale history professor, and a musician herself—persuaded her brother, Joseph Battell, to give $5,000 to hire “a teacher of the science of music.” That gift enabled Yale to hire its first music instructor, Gustave Jacob Stoeckel. Over the next several decades the Battell family generously supported the expansion of music education along with other projects on campus. The beautiful Battell Chapel was dedicated in 1876, and the Battell Professorship of Music was established in 1890.

The Adams Center’s opening is a milestone for the university, but it also holds deep meaning for me personally. I first discovered a great passion of mine as an undergraduate: yes, psychology, but also bluegrass music! After listening to bluegrass and classic country on KFAT radio out of Gilroy, California (the garlic capital of the world), I learned to play the banjo. When I came to Yale for graduate school a few years later, I discovered the bass, an instrument I’ve been playing ever since. Some of you may have heard me play with the Professors of Bluegrass, a band formed with other Yale faculty and students in 1990. Although we haven’t been able to perform together as often in recent years, the opening of the Adams Center might just be a reason to get the band back together …

Music enriches all our lives. It connects people and reveals our humanity in ways few other things can. I know this from all the times I’ve picked with friends, new and old, or listened to a chamber orchestra play a delicate, perfect sonata. By providing our talented musicians with a wonderful new home, the Adams Center will allow all of us to create and share in these moments of our common humanity.