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Edgewood’s Rich Musical History Revealed


BY MIKAYLA MROCHEK | February 3, 2016                                                          PHOTO BY YASIR ALHUMADIAN

Edgewood College was once temporary home to two world-famous musical giants back in the 1940s.

Nadia Boulanger and Igor Stravinsky were some of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, and both spent time teaching, performing, and conducting at Edgewood during World War II.  A renowned composition instructor and conductor, Boulanger was responsible for teaching great musicians like Aaron Copland and Quincy Jones.  Stravinsky made his career as a composer, pianist, and conductor.  Their presence at the college deepened an already rich musical history, and nobody knows more about that than Associate Professor of Music, Julie Dunbar.

Back in the fall of 2001, Dunbar charged her Music History class with an extensive, year-long research project to delve into the stays of Nadia Boulanger and Igor Stravinsky.  “We used primary source data,” Dunbar states excitedly, by way of explaining her students’ research.

Digging through the Sinsinawa Dominican Archives, located at the Sinsinawa Mound, home to Edgewood’s founding sisters, revealed actual letters written by Boulanger and records of letters by Stravinsky, though that set had been sold previously.  Dunbar’s students also interviewed the Dominican sisters who had been alive during Boulanger’s and Stravinsky’s residencies.

“My students were in awe as they worked on this project,” Dunbar recalls.  “It felt like a direct link to history to hear from people who studied with Boulanger and who encountered Igor Stravinsky.”

The project eventually made its way into publications such as Edgewood’s alumni magazine, Dunbar’s self-written undergrad textbook, Women, Music, Culture: An Introduction, and the college website.  It even went as far as the national stage when Dunbar presented at an international symposium in 2004, showcasing Edgewood’s research amongst research from colleges like Harvard and Cambridge.

What makes Edgewood so singular in all this is its unique and personal connection with Boulanger and Stravinsky.  It was Sister Edward Blackwell, then chair of the Music Department and respected composer herself, whose close friendships with Boulanger and Stravinsky were what brought them to the college.  An accolated student of music in Europe before teaching at Edgewood, Blackwell studied with both musicians and kept correspondence with them nearly all her life.

“Both Boulanger and Sister Edward were pioneers in a musical frontier that had been largely closed to women.  Both were described as teachers to be loved and feared,” Dunbar wrote in an article about the subject.

Boulanger was indeed loved and feared—her students at Edgewood reportedly called her the “tender tyrant.”  Dunbar explains, “She taught musicians like Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, and Aaron Coplan.  She conducted major orchestras.

“Our standards for the arts are high.  We push our music students very hard, and they all get jobs in music when they graduate,” she adds.

She attributes that, in part, to the college’s excellent history in musical education.

So though Boulanger’s and Stravinsky’s stays are not widely known by the college’s student body today, their impact has certainly left a mark.  “For a small school we have pretty diverse offerings,” says Dunbar, listing courses like African Drumming, Art History, and Acting.  “All of that comes from our heritage.”

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