When I knew I wanted to attend New England Conservatory (NEC), I wanted to understand the history behind America’s first private music school and the first to have a full-fledged jazz department. I quickly found that perhaps the most influential figure in NEC’s recent history was horn player/composer/conductor/historian/author Gunther Schuller. I wrote a paper about him in my final semester at Berklee College of Music. I then began reading his monstrous autobiography A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty over the summer. After being “sidetracked” by my first semester in graduate school, I prioritized the completion of the book over winter break, and just finished it two nights ago. As I neared the end of the book, I realized that my journey with Gunther was far from over.
Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. As a name for my project, I came up with Encountering Gunther (or #EncounteringGunther in hashtag form, which I also intend to use). I chose this name for two reasons. 1) Gunther used the word “encounter” and its variants frequently throughout his autobiography. 2) Gunther wrote a demanding piece called Encounters for the centennial celebration of Jordan Hall. I was fortunate to be in an ensemble that performed it last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of NEC’s jazz department (one of Gunther’s major accomplishments as the president of NEC).
I have many plans for the directions of the research. Some writings will focus on specific musicians or albums while others will be more philosophical or ideological. I look forward to sharing my “encounters” with this American icon and hope others will be as interested in this exploration as I have been.