What to Listen for in Music

July 11, 2016
UR president Ronald A. Crutcher shares his enthusiasm for music with Osher members and guests

Beth Cuthbert, Osher Member

As the classroom in the Gottwald Center for the Sciences filled with Osher members one day in May 2016, you could feel the anticipation build.  The University of Richmond’s new president, Dr. Ronald A. Crutcher, agreed to teach a class about one of his passions, music.  Osher members were excited to meet and listen to a distinguished scholar and administrator who is also an accomplished professional musician.

Dr. Crutcher’s dedication to music is deep-rooted.  He began singing professionally as a six-year-old in his Cincinnati, Ohio, church.  At fourteen, he began taking cello lessons. As an adult, he has continued his music career, playing cello with the Klemperer Trio

Academically, Dr. Crutcher has done it all.  After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, he earned his doctorate of music from Yale University and won a Fulbright Scholarship.  Before coming to Richmond, Dr. Crutcher served as President of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

President Crutcher’s enthusiasm for music is contagious, and he was eager to teach Osher members how to understand and enjoy classical music. He began his lecture with an introduction to the basic elements of music —  melody, rhythm, harmony, and musical texture — following up with a description of the specific characteristics of monophonic, homophonic and polyphonic music.  As examples, the audience heard a Gregorian chant, a Schubert ‘lied’ (song), and Dr. Crutcher’s own rousing rendition of “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” sung simultaneously with “This Little Light of Mine.”

Members also listened to excerpts of recordings that illustrated different forms of music: vocal, opera, instrumental, symphonic and chamber orchestra.  Among attendee favorites were Dame Janet Baker singing Schubert’s Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel with its rippling, melodic piano accompaniment, Glenn Gould playing his signature version of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Diana Damrau singing and dramatizing the powerful Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute.

It was Dr. Crutcher’s response to one Osher member’s question that was particularly intriguing. The member asked how we can better experience and appreciate modern classical music and mentioned the recorded music that had greeted us over the sound system when we walked into the classroom. The sounds had been dissonant and disjointed.

It turns out the recording featured Dr. Crutcher himself playing his cello.  A university friend, composer Alvin Singleton, wrote the music especially for Dr. Crutcher, and the composer included the performance on his album Sweet Chariot.

In his answer to the member’s question, President Crutcher encouraged music lovers to be open minded.  Sit, concentrate, and “take the music in,” he replied. You may have to listen to a piece carefully, over and over, before you discern “what’s going on.”  Dr. Crutcher added that contemporary composers often devise their own musical forms, which make the music more difficult for us to understand. With patience, however, careful listeners may learn to appreciate a composer’s musical message.

Dr. Ronald A. Crutcher led the Osher Institute class “What to Listen for in Music” in May 2016. He has graciously agreed to teach for the Osher Institute on a regular basis.