From U-M to UMD, the School of Music brought on Jason Geary as the new director, which was effective July 1. Geary came to Maryland after 12 years at the University of Michigan where he earned his master of arts and served as associate professor and associate dean for graduate studies, equity and inclusion.
The Writer’s Bloc spoke with Geary about his new environment, his plans for The Clarice and the advantages of being so close to Washington, D.C.
Q: My first question is: Why did you decide to come to the University of Maryland?
A: So, um, I decided to come here because I felt like the University of Maryland―and the School of Music, in particular ―was at a real sort of―it seemed like an opportune moment to join the School of Music because I know the school by reputation and I know it has excellent faculty and programs, and it seemed like now was a time to really capitalize on many of the strengths of the School of Music and the advances it has made over the past several years. With the right kind of leadership, and with the right inspiration, the school could really be propelled to a new level. That seemed to be a really stimulating and engaging kind of challenge, and it seemed like a real opportunity to be connected to a program that is following an upward trajectory.
Q: What kind of advances were you referring to?
A: I think that, over the last several years, the school has made some very good hires. Obviously, even though it’s not really new anymore, when the school moved into The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, that was a real pivotal moment for the school. The facilities here are really top-notch and afford real opportunities for, as they say, kind of moving the school down the path toward enhancing its reputation, both here in the state of Maryland and also nationwide, and, ultimately, internationally.
The fact that Maryland just―what is it, two, three years ago?―joined the Big Ten, I think also signaled a particular direction that the university is interested in taking; that was attractive to me, as well, having been at a Big Ten school and having been at a large research university that’s not dissimilar to the University of Maryland. All of those events, which I see as advances in one way or another, attracted me to this position.
Q: What are some of your more immediate versus long term goals?
A: One of my, I think both immediate and long term goals, is to find ways in which the school can more effectively engage with the community in which it is a part. By that, I mean both the broader university community, but also the surrounding community beginning with Prince George’s County and sort of extending outward from there to the D.C. Metro region, the state and the nation, and, ultimately, internationally, as well.
But I think that – I am interested in thinking about how that begins sort of right here at home and how we can find ways to leverage what we do as artists and as musicians and within the realm of the performing arts more broadly to have a real impact on the society that we proclaim to serve. I think that means thinking very deeply and carefully about how we might engage with Prince George’s County, whether that means our students and faculty being out in the schools and finding opportunities to bring residents nearby into The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and to the School of Music and getting a real glimpse up close of what we do, and ultimately thinking about the ways in which artists play a role that involves engaging with pressing social issues or illuminating certain issues or questions that are pertinent to certain society and debates of one kind or another. I want our students and our faculty to be front and center in those conversation that are happening across campus and across our community.
Another important goal of mine is to help our students come to terms with what is a changing arts landscape, meaning that, increasingly, students have to have the abilites and the experience to craft a career path where, perhaps, there is no obvious one. This is a result of shrinking jobs in the performing arts as a result of pressures that are being put on traditional arts organizations, and that compels us to think about how we educate our students and are we giving them the tools that they need to compete in a 21st century arts landscape.
I think that we have to look a little bit more critically at that issue and ask that question with a sort of greater sense of urgency and think about what that means for the graduate and undergraduate curriculum here at the school, think about providing opportunities for career training and entrepreneurship training for our students, and also, as I said earlier, think about ways in which they engage with the community that might then translate to establishing career paths sometime down the line.
Q: So, I guess, what is the most immediate―how do you plan to start those things? Do you think they will affect the current seniors or is it more focused on the underclassmen?
A: I think the way that I plan to accomplish those things are still somewhat yet to be determined because I have to have a better sense of what the programs already in place are, and I think some of this work — for example, community engagement that are already happening at the school — but it tends to be happening, oftentimes, on the margins, perhaps, and not in a way that is formalized or tied to the curriculum. Part of what I intend to do is really assess what is already happening and find ways that we can build on existing programs, existing aspects of the curricula, enhance those, perhaps, think about new programs, new initiatives.
To your second question, as to whether this will have an impact on, let’s say, someone who is poised to graduate at the end of this year, I would say it certainly can, in part because I hope that certainly some of these initiatives will be up and running by the end of the year, and, at the very least, that the students who are here now will have had the opportunity to take part in conversation that I hope to lead at the school around these pressing issues. Even if that really involves more creating the infrastructure or the scaffolding for a program or an initiative or curricular change that happens a year down the line or two years down the line, students now will have had the opportunity to be involved in the conversation that’s happening sort of at the ground level. I think that that alone will provide them with a useful perspective, and also will allow them to leave a sort of mark and imprint on the School of Music and the university as a whole.
Finally, there are ways in which we need to be engaged, also, with our alumni. I think that there are ways we can enhance or strengthen ties between the School of Music and its alumni. From that perspective, that would stand to benefit even students that are graduating this year.
Q: For a couple more lighthearted questions, when did you realize that music was your passion and something that you wanted to continue to do for the rest of your life?
A: I would say that I realized at a fairly young age, and certainly by the time that I began studying the piano – I was largely, at least initially, self-taught – so this would’ve been late elementary school. By that time, it was apparent to me that music was my calling, in some way, and even if it wasn’t entirely clear what that meant – whether it meant I would perform or sing or teach or conduct – all things I was interested in at the time, I knew that, even at that time, that it would be something related to music and, sort of broadly, in the performing arts field.
Q: So why did you choose education as opposed to performing?
A: Actually, I began my undergraduate as a performance major — in fact, completed my undergraduate as a piano performance major — but it was during the course of that that I actually began to take, really, for the first time in my life, music history courses – musicology courses. That opened up, really, a new world to me. I was just really intrigued by the sorts of questions that one is able to ask about music and its relationship to culture and its place in history. That suggested a new path within music for me. I decided to apply to graduate school and to musicology programs for graduate school and, ultimately, went on to get a PhD in musicology. Once I was in the PhD program, it was fairly clear to me that what I wanted to was to teach, to enter the professoriate, and to write and to research and also to teach and advise students.
Q: Which instruments can you play, and, other than the piano, which one is your favorite?
A: I really only play the piano. I started off as a percussionist in grade school, but that seems like a lifetime away at this point. I sing, also, and I’ve sung in choirs – I sang in choirs all throughout elementary and high school, and even somewhat into my college years. Apart from the piano, I’ve always wanted to learn the violin. I never had the opportunity to – but who knows? It’s never too late.
Q: Do you have a favorite ensemble? Either professional or if there’s a college group that you’ve seen perform exceptionally well?
A: I don’t know that I really have a favorite, per se. I’ve enjoyed listening to a variety of college-level ensembles — most of which are in my previous institution because that’s where I spent, really, the entirety of my academic career up until now. In terms of having a favorite ensemble in general, hard to say. I love going to the symphony, so perhaps you could say that my favorite ensemble is the symphony orchestra that I’m able to go and hear, whose concerts I’m able to attend most readily. I think it’s kind of a moving target in that sense.
Q: Being in such close proximity to D.C., do you plan to take full advantage of going out to see shows at the Kennedy Center and places like that?
A: Yes! I very much look forward to taking advantage of all the cultural riches that the D.C. Metro area has to offer, but I also look forward to getting to attend the events that are put on right here in The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. I really look forward to hearing the ensembles and attending concerts of students at the School of Music, and also in Theatre, Dance, Performance studies, and visiting artists that are brought in by The Clarice. So I imagine that I will spend a lot of my time doing that. There are only so many hours in the day, but I do certainly intend to take advantage of the professional ensembles and cultural resources that are nearby.
Q: Last question: The Clarice puts on an insane amount of performances and activities and festivals throughout the year. Limiting it to this semester, can you pinpoint one that you are most excited about?
A: I don’t know yet. I also don’t know that I want to play favorites at this point. I would want to know a little bit more. Certainly I am excited about the entire season. Part of what is so exciting about being at the School of Music is that there are so many different forms of media from choruses to orchestras to non-Western ensembles and individual solo recitals. That’s part of what is so exciting about being in an environment like this is being able to benefit from the sheer variety and riches and performances making and scholarship that happens here in this building.
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of John T. Consoli/University of Maryland.
Maya Pottiger is a senior multi-platform journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.