Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

The masterful maestro

Professor Delvyn CaseMusic has always worked its magic in Professor Delvyn Case’s life.

He began taking piano lessons when he was 6, after hearing a friend play at a recital. At a concert, when he heard a “big kid” play the ragtime classic “The Entertainer,” he immediately knew he wanted to be a pianist. And then in high school at age 15, after hearing Aaron Copland’s score to the ballet Rodeo, he knew he wanted to become a composer. “That made me realize that classical music didn’t have to be ‘boring,’” he said.

Today it is Case who is working magic through music—in the classroom, in concert halls, and in public libraries full of children gathered for his exploration of classical music styles and trends. And nothing he does is ever boring.

Take, for instance, the evening of March 10, at Weber Theatre. Case was kickin’ it new school with contemporary musician DJ  Spooky (Paul Miller), conducting the Great Woods Chamber Orchestra in a performance that challenged genre boundaries with an innovative fusion of multimedia, hip-hop and classical music. It’s not every day that an iPad and a cello share the same performance stage.

Performing with DJ Spooky“I thought it went very well,” said Case. “It was a complex show to pull off. But it was worth it. It really showed how music can provide a living example of multiculturalism in contemporary society. I hope we can do more events like this in the future.”

The new tenure-track assistant professor of music also is the mastermind of The Prioress’s Tale, a 75-minute chamber opera inspired by Chaucer. The production, which deals with issues of inter-religious dialogue and anti-Semitism, tours throughout New England each winter, supported by institutions wishing to explore issues of interfaith dialogue and peacemaking in a unique way. The December issue of the National Opera Association’s Sacred in Opera journal included his extensive essay “Punk Opera as Spiritual Vocation,” describing The Prioress’s Tale.

“It’s the most important project I’ve been involved with, because it allows me to create a work of art that promotes a message of high importance to contemporary society,” said the composer, who has a bachelor’s degree in music from Yale and a doctorate in music composition from the University of Pennsylvania, which he completed at age 26.

His music, including his Christmas overture “Rocket Sleigh,” has been performed by more than 20 orchestras nationwide. (Interestingly, “Rocket Sleigh” is the outgrowth of a little piece he started writing as a child.)

What he enjoys most about being a composer overlaps with what he enjoys most about being a professor. “I love working with the nitty-gritty details of music: for example, taking two melodies and figuring out how to make them work together. It reminds me of what it might be like to be a potter, slowly and painstakingly forming something beautiful out of the most basic materials. Instead of clay, we have twelve notes—the same twelve notes Bach had. And we use our skills to create something meaningful out of them,” he said. “I also love the social context of musical performance. I love creating a piece of music that an ensemble of performers works on collaboratively and then presents to an audience. Composing is a solitary process, but at a live concert you get to see your creation come alive and touch many people.

“I feel the same way about teaching. It requires a lot of intensely focused preparation—researching, thinking, writing lectures, organizing material, but it is worth it when the material comes alive in front of students and they join me in a collaborative learning process.”

Check out all of his accomplishments at delvyncase.com.

Top photo / Nicki Pardo

Other photo / Jessica Kuszaj

 

About Sandy Coleman

Sandy Coleman is the editor of the Wheaton Quarterly and Senior Associate Director in the Communications Office.