Recently, two Hartt alumni returned the Hartt to speak with students during a panel discussion - Tales from the Front Lines - during Paranov Hour, which is the current iteration of the Musicianship class many of us attended. Michael Thornton ('79) and Mary Junda ('79) gave freely of their time, memories and advice to the students. Dean Flagg moderated the panel. After introducing Michael and Mary, Dean Flagg asked a sereis of questions to the guests for their comments and then opened up the microphone for students to ask what was on their mind about life after Hartt.
By way of introduction, Dr. Mary Junda is currently Professor of Music at the University of Connecticut teaching choral music and world music. Her work, and clearly her passion, includes studies of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. She explained that this culture was cut off from the mainland U.S. for many years, which helped preserve its rich traditions strongly influence by its ancestral roots in Africa.
Michael Thornton also attended Hartt as a music education major, but his career has taken him in a very different direction. After further study at The Acting Studio and other theaters, Michael helped found and sustain The Capitol Steps, a show of comedy and songs parodying politics and politicians. He produces his own theater productions and his experience on the stage is wonderfully varied.
As the panelists recalled the training they got at Hartt, Michael commented on the strong ear-training instruction and both alumni commented on their appreciation of Hartt's tradition and strength of its vocal and opera department.
One student asked the guests about balancing their performing and teaching roles. Both agreed that "everyone" teaches and, even if you are primarily a performer, sharing your knowledge, experience and, hopefully, wisdom is an essential part of our tradition in the arts. Mary provided some concrete insight into her ability to juggle competing demands - developing the skills to learn, absorb and memorize music quickly. Michael commented on the ability to adapt to your circumstances, the people you are working with and the drive to sustain your career as it necessarily evolves. In response to student questions, the alumni discussed the sometimes competing values of your "artistic vision" and getting/keeping a job and the changes in the business of the arts. Both agreed that artistic purity can be wonderful thing, but collaboration and compromise can lead to exciting new ideas and results.
With regard to advising students about getting the most of their time at Hartt, Michael and Mary stressed what many of us have come to understand. That is, you will never have another opportunity to interact and collaborate with this many talented and diverse artists on a daily basis - take advantage of that opportunity, experiment, takes risks, learn from each other, try new disciplines, and be willing to fail.
Michael and Mary spoke about how the community of students at Hartt during their time in school has become a community of alumni. They both keep in touch with many students with whom they learned, studied and performed. The time the spent recently at Hartt speaking with the current students was appreciated by those in attendance.