Harris reflects on first months as director of CSU's Schwob School of Music

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 18, 2013 

MIKE HASKEY/mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.comScott Harris is the new director of the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Scott Harris didn't just step into his office July 1. He jumped right into his position as director of the Columbus State University's Schwob School of Music.

He'd been at the University of Southern Maine since 1992 and was the founding director when the university's music school was formed in 2002.

Harris was first introduced as the director in April, but finished the school year in Maine before moving here.

"I made a couple of trips down here to meet people and find a house," he said.

Since he started his job in the summer, many of the music faculty were out of town teaching or performing at various music festivals or on vacation.

"I tried to catch them when they were here," he said.

What the faculty thinks of him

Before meeting the faculty, Harris still had to impress Richard Baxter, the dean of the College of the Arts.

"Scott distinguished himself in Maine as a music administrator at a school with an outstanding record of achievement," Baxter said. "He brings the perfect levels of experience and temperament to lead our Schwob School of Music and will be a major contributor to our College of the Arts administrative team."

Among the first faculty members he met was collaborative pianist Yien Wang.

"The first time I met him, I felt very at ease to talk to him," Wang said. "He is very kind and listens to you very well. He is knowledgeable and intelligent. He comes backstage to our faculty recitals and always positive and with an enthusiastic smile. I am looking forward to working with him more and to his further leadership at the Schwob School of Music."

Lisa Oberlander, who teaches clarinet in the school, is also impressed so far.

"Scott hasn't been here very long, but he has already made a very positive impact on the Schwob School of Music," Oberlander said. "He is steadily getting to know all of us, and he's very thorough -- he takes his time and considers everything before he makes a decision. I'm really excited about the future of Schwob because of him -- I think he has the character and leadership skills to help keep us at the top of our game."

What he thinks of the faculty

Faculty members at CSU teach and perform, and many travel around the country -- and the world -- to do the same. Some put together symposia in their fields for students from around the world.

"It is amazing to think about how active the music faculty members are," Harris said. "The performance schedules outside of Columbus -- really around the country and around the world -- as faculty extend the Schwob reputation for excellence. The work of our faculty as mentors to student teachers in K-12 classrooms, the community engagement as our ensembles perform throughout the area. No one else sees it as comprehensively as I do, and I marvel at the level of activity.

"One of the special motivations for our faculty, unique in my experience, is the level of engagement of CSU's leadership in their performance activities on campus. It's wonderful to see President (Tim) Mescon and other CSU leaders at so many faculty concerts and ensemble performances in Legacy Hall."

Columbus and Portland, Maine, are comparable cities, Harris said. But the Schwob School is larger.

"There were two things I knew long before the position came open," he said. "One was the incredible faculty and the other is the amazing facilities."

Harris said photographs don't do the building justice, especially Legacy Hall. The Schwob School is part of RiverCenter for the Performing Arts on Broadway.

He calls the Schwob School a "model of the school" he wanted in Maine.

Harris liked that the school is partnered with a professional performing venue, RiverCenter and its Bill Heard Theatre. And he loved how the fine arts division of Columbus State University moved downtown,

He calls the faculty "forward-thinking" and that it had "laid out plans for change and growth prior to my arrival, and I'm excited about focusing our efforts on implementation. The school completed its 10-year accreditation renewal with the National Association of Schools of Music last year, a process that involved carefully examining the work of the school and thinking about how to provide the best possible education for musicians in the 21st century. The major challenge will be advancing the school's prospects for the future in a time of constrained state resources and adapting to major changes sweeping across all of higher education. We will be increasingly reliant on private support to maintain and enhance the excellence at the Schwob School of Music -- some might see that as a problem to be solved, but it's really an opportunity to make more and deeper connections with patrons, donors, and friends of the school."

Harris wouldn't change a thing.

"I would not change the high expectations our faculty hold for students, nor the nurturing environment they create to support student achievement," he said.

But already, he is thinking of expansion.

"We're discussing options that would add or expand certain areas of study, including new ways to collaborate across the disciplines in the College of the Arts," Harris said. "We're also adding new programs for student musicians through our Music Preparatory Division."

One of those new areas of study is the long-awaited musical theater track.

"We are actively exploring the idea with our colleagues in the Department of Theater," Harris said. "We're pleased that between our two areas, we can offer students right now a lot of training that will help prepare them to audition successfully for professional musical theater roles."

Now enjoying the 'good stuff'

Born in Middletown, Ohio, Harris said he "grew up on a diet of Southern food," but now is getting "the good stuff."

So he's impressed with the food in Columbus. But most of all, he's impressed with "the number and quality of performances spaces in the uptown area."

And Harris said another reason that drew him to Columbus was the support the residents give to the arts.

For the time being, he's in strategic planning sessions, defining and laying out goals for the future.

"All the assets are here," Harris said. "We have an energetic faculty. We've got it all here."

Besides graduating students who are excellent musicians, he said CSU is also graduating "the next generation of teachers."

Harris is liking the fact that while the Schwob School is attracting students from around the world, the audition process for new students is selective.

"Other schools of music are looking at us," he said. "They're saying 'Let's go see what Schwob School is doing.' We're firing on all cylinders."

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