Patrick Mason, Winter 2012
Thank you Chancellor DiStefano for that kind introduction. Representative Singer, Senator Heath, president Benson, honored guests, colleagues, students and all of you proud family members and friends who have come here to celebrate this milestone in the lives of our graduates –
It is a grand and a humbling honor to be asked to address you and I am grateful for the privilege.
Since the world did not end last night, I am glad that I actually prepared an address for today. And that I made my car payment and ate my oatmeal yesterday.
Seriously though, I feel I should say a word about the prize that is the cause of this honor of being asked to address you today. It is named after Dr. Hazel E. Barnes. This is not the place to talk about her, but if you ask me after the ceremony I will be happy to regale you with stories about her influential career and her immeasurable contribution to campus life here at CU.
But, no, this morning is not about Hazel Barnes and it is certainly not about me. It is, in fact, all about you; you who sit there in your solemn black robes and your absurd, yet somehow charming hats, waiting to clear one last hurdle. I know that sometimes (maybe oftimes) it has seemed that you have been doing little else but facing obstacles and having to overcome them. And I imagine that it has also seemed that we, your teachers and administrators, have intentionally complicated the game by moving or raising or hiding your hurdles, and that we are on a campaign to drive you crazy. But, actually, they are just hurdles. And we have all of us had to learn to get over them. For what we all bear in common is a dedication to learning and discovery, to clearing those hurdles of skepticism and forsaken paths and the flat-out unknown that are your particular workplace. And we know that those hurdles, once cleared, will give you the ability to do the thing that cannot be taught but must be discovered; the thing that you, all of you, will discover for the rest of us.
Musicians are always dealing with a seeming paradox. Most of our time is spent alone, in a room, with our instrument, at the keyboard, before a computer screen, staring at a blank piece of paper or staring at a piece of paper with a frightening amount of notes on it – working things out.
But, then, musicians are also chronically dependent on real-time interactions with other performers and composers, with audiences, with those who spend their time finding out why things and people and especially MUSIC work the way they do. And these interactions demand a high degree of a thing my dear friend, Professor Emeritus Robert Spillman calls ‘comity’. No, not comedy – though we all need lots of that to get along as musicians and as humans. No, the word is ‘comity’ and it means ‘mutual civilty’ or courtesy. Now, I know that courteous is not the first word that comes to mind when we think of many musicians, right? But it is something that we have learned to practice. In fact, it has been one of the hurdles that you have learned to clear fairly easily. You all have had to rely on the mutual civility and good humor of your friends and peers and parents and spouses and even your teachers. Because it is one hurdle that you will have to keep jumping over as your professional lives proceed. Working with others to achieve a mutually enriching goal.
And why do we do this? Well, I suppose there are many reasons. But I think one of them is that when we generously give ourselves to a common goal, the ‘comity’ or mutual civility that we engage in, repays our efforts with something far greater than the sum of our individual investments. We find ourselves under the intense spell of – OK, I’m an artist and I call it beauty –beauty that knows the best of us and releases the best in us. This is what we can do. This is what we always do when we are in a posture of generosity with our work and with each other. This is what you have chosen to do. And it is of the utmost importance that you do it. The future depends on your commitment to this dance of discovery and mutual respect. I’m 62 years old and I am dizzy with the anticipation of what you are going to show me. I need you to clear the next hurdle. The world, the post-2012 world, needs you to find the new ways that we have not yet conceived, to dream the dreams that will move us to our better selves.
But, all that is for later. Right now, you are called upon to be hugged and congratulated and photographed and generally fussed over. You are elated and proud and relieved – and it’s even OK for you to be exhausted.
But then, maybe not tomorrow, but pretty soon, you see something down the road. Hmmm… you move closer. Yep, there it is. The next hurdle – and it’s a humdinger! But you can do this. You’ve learned to do this. You’ve been practicing for a while now. You have done this before – well, maybe not this one but, yeah, you’ve done this. So you pick up speed, your breathing gets a little deeper. Your mind focuses on the task. Your legs stretch out, you’re going pretty fast now. Here it is. OK. Ready…
Jump! Jump! You’re going to make it. It’s OK. We believe in you. Go ahead. Jump!