In 2006, Robert Gibson, the director of the School of Music at the University of Maryland, took a 20-year-old university tradition and gave it a makeover.
Formerly the Scholarship Benefit Series, the Music in Mind Series had its inaugural concert in 2008 with the program “Channeling Glenn Gould.”
“I wanted to create a concert series that would be, in a way, a signature series,” says Gibson. “I wanted to create concerts where the content of the concerts was more driven by decisions about pieces and themes and ideas; hence the name, ‘Music in Mind.’”
Just like the original Scholarship Benefit Series, all proceeds from the Music in Mind Series go toward scholarships for music students. But the content of the Music in Mind programming has a greater purpose.
“Every program is sort of designed to not only uplift this beautiful music, but to get the musical community ... to engage in the historical, [cultural] or literary significance of music,” says James Stern, associate professor of violin at the university.
Now in its fifth year, the series, which typically features between four and six concerts a year, includes programming with a single focus. The Festive Baroque concert this Sunday has become somewhat of a holiday tradition and centers around the Christmas season and a new perspective on Bach’s work.
“The overall idea is the orient to the season and baroque music,” says Gibson. “It works appropriately for the holidays.
“Every program is lovingly worked out like the menu of a fine restaurant,” adds Stern. “[It] has a very on-purpose kind of projectory instead of ‘let’s play this’ and ‘so-and-so wants to play this.’”
Stern will perform Bach’s “Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D minor” along with his colleague Mark Hill.
While Hill, Stern and other members of the faculty will play in the concert — even Gibson is set to play double bass — it was always Gibson’s intention to have the Music in Mind Series be a collaboration between faculty and students.
“Another way this series becomes a signature series is the involvement of students playing side by side with faculty,” says Gibson.
“It’s nice to have that collaboration between faculty and students,” adds senior Mairin Srygley. “[We] collaborate rather than them just feeding us information. It’s a different kind of learning experience.”
Srygley is studying voice in the university’s school of music and is taking part in her second Music in Mind Series. She, along with other choral students, will join faculty members and conductor Kenneth Slowik to perform Bach’s “Magnificat,” also known as “The Song of Mary” or “Canticle of Mary.”
Though the more well-known version of the piece was written in 1733 for the Feast of Visitation, the version students and faculty will perform on Sunday is the original song, composed in 1723 specifically for Christmas.
“[We’re] doing a less well-known version of it, but appropriate for this time of year,” says Stern.
Srygley says a graduate student has been working with the chorus over the course of the semester to prepare them for the concerts; another opportunity born out of the Music in Mind Series.
“Music in Mind turns [the concert] into a project for graduate students,” says Srygley. “Another educational benefit ...“
On Sunday, Slowik, a professional conductor, will take over the direction of the chorus and accompanying orchestra. Slowik is an adjunct professor at the university as well as the curator of musical instruments at the Smithsonian and artistic director of the Smithsonian’s Chamber Music Society.
Slowik says playing this version of “Magnificat” will allow students to “hear it in a way you don’t normally get to hear it.”
“For students, the world of classical music is vast,” says Slowik. “There is always more out there to discover.”