A Man and His Cello

By Morgan, Joan | Black Issues in Higher Education, February 8, 1996 | Go to article overview

A Man and His Cello


Morgan, Joan, Black Issues in Higher Education


To Dr. Ronald Crutcher, musicians should do more than aim for Carnegie Hall. They should be working to "lift the human spirit" through their music, and they should be doing that in schools, nursing homes, prisons -- anywhere they can find and develop an audience.

"Every artist, musician or theater student ought to have a mission to play their role in developing audiences for the future -- not just so they will have a job but because of what art can do to lift the human spirit and to improve the human condition. And if we sit back and do nothing, there won't be any audiences for classical music," says Crutcher.

As director of the School of Music at the University o[ Texas at Austin, Crutcher is able to translate those beliefs into action.

Music students at UT-Austin are required to take liberal arts courses and a "freshman seminar" class in which they are introduced to the broad array of possibilities in the world of music and what it means to be a musician in today's world.

Crutcher also requires students to do community work or what he calls "informances." Students go to nursing homes, schools, churches and other non-traditional venues, but they are expected to do more than just play their music. They dress informally, introduce themselves and talk about the music to be performed. This is to make students as comfortable in front of a group of third-graders as they would be walking on a stage at Carnegie Hall, Crutcher explains.

"The way classical music has been packaged...such as you have to dress a certain way and have some background, is one of the biggest impediments to people -- especially minorities, but to all people."

Cello is `Soulmate'

Crutcher remembers when he first became interested in music: "Coretta Scott King came to do a recital at our church and my minister introduced me to her. And later, I saw Sanford Allen, the first Black to play in the New York Philharmonic -- and that's when I thought this [field] could be a real possibility."

Crutcher began playing the cello when he was 14.

"Until that time, I always thought I would be an architect. But when I first played the cello there was something about it that let me know immediately that I had found my soulmate," Grutcher recalls.

A music professor, Elizabeth Potteiger, took notice of Crutcher and gave him free lessons, preparing him to enter, and eventually win, competitions at age 17 that led to his admission to Yale University, where he received a doctorate in musical arts. Along the way, he has played with such well-known musicians as Aldo Parisot, Siegfried Palm and Enrico Mainardi. …

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