Exploring Artistic Diversity: Celebrating June’s Vibrant Cultural Heritage

In my previous blog post, Donald Harris “Is Art Essential?”, I delved into the profound impact of art and creativity on our lives. Art connects people. It bridges gaps and highlights diverse narratives. As we step into June, a time of cultural celebration and recognition, we can continue to explore the arts, celebrating the vibrant heritage of this month. Let’s dive into various festivals, events, and art forms that honor and celebrate the rich heritage of June.

Celebrate Cultural Heritage Image

World Environment Day: Art as a Catalyst for Change
On June 5th, we celebrate World Environment Day, raising awareness for environmental protection. Art engages hearts and minds, inspiring sustainable action.

Juneteenth: Commemorating Freedom through Art
Juneteenth, observed on June 19th, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Through music, dance, literature, and visual arts, Juneteenth celebrations reflect the resilience and creativity of African American artists.

Indigenous Peoples Day: Honoring Indigenous Artistic Traditions
Many places observe Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st, a special day dedicated to celebrating the rich cultural heritage and contributions of Indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous art carries stories, wisdom, and a profound connection to the land.

Pride Month: Embracing LGBTQ+ Art and Activism
June is widely recognized as Pride Month. LGBTQAI+ artists and musicians make invaluable contributions, inspiring change through their work.

Caribbean American Heritage Month: Celebrating Cultural Fusion
June is designated as Caribbean American Heritage Month. Vibrant art forms from the Caribbean bring joy and unity. From Bob Marley to Rihanna, and from Monty Alexander to Gustavo Dudamel, Caribbean artists enrich American culture and help to create a more diverse and inclusive society.

The month of June can set the tone for the rest of our year to embrace diverse artistic expressions. Through World Environment Day, Juneteenth, Indigenous Peoples Day, Pride Month, and Caribbean American Heritage Month, we can honor the multiplicity of our society and appreciate the profound impact art has on shaping our collective identity. These artistic expressions shape who we are, fostering a more inclusive and culturally rich world.


Donald Harris “Is Art Essential?”

As we commence the month of April, I would like to take a moment to honor the memory of Donald Harris. He was a former music composition faculty member and Dean of the College of the Arts at Ohio State, serving from 1988 to 1997. Today, marks his birthday, and it is a fitting occasion to remember and appreciate his life and contributions to the field of music.

Donald Harris was born in 1931, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and died in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016. Harris received his education in composition from the University of Michigan, where he studied under the tutelage of Ross Lee Finney. He later continued his studies with renowned composers such as Lukas Foss, Boris Blacher, Nadia Boulanger, and Max Deutsch. Harris worked in Paris from 1954 to 1968, where he was a music consultant to the United States Information Service and produced the city’s first postwar Festival of Contemporary American Music. He also received several commissions, including from the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Radio France, and the Cleveland Orchestra, among others.

Donald Harris photoHarris served as an administrator at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, before becoming Dean of the College of the Arts at Ohio State. Following his time as dean, he rejoined the Ohio State faculty in the composition area of the School of Music. Throughout his career, Harris received several honors, including the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’ award in composition and an honorary Doctor of Music degree from The Ohio State University. He was also the co-editor of the W.W. Norton publication of the correspondence between Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg. Harris is especially remembered as a mentor and a kind-hearted person by all who knew him.

In our staff office, we have a powerful and timeless article by Harris titled “Is Art Essential?” which was originally published in the College’s Arts Advocate issue in 1998. Despite being pre-internet and not available online, a blogger has taken the initiative to transcribe the article, which we have posted here.

In summary, Harris explores the question of the role of art in a world that is riddled with socio-economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. Harris outlines that although art cannot eliminate these problems, it plays a significant role in teaching us about the feelings, emotions, and ideas of other cultures, societies, and civilizations. Art can motivate us to resolve issues of social inequality, and artists have often taken political positions that have been borne out by history. Harris believes that the value of art lies elsewhere and that it should not be viewed solely as a tool for solving socio-economic issues.

According to Harris, art has an urgency and a value that is independent of socio-economic problems. He argues that art teaches us to be tolerant and understand others by highlighting our differences and similarities, which is an important by-product of artistic expression. Further, art is not simply entertainment but is enlightening and reflective of life. Through art, we can learn more about ourselves and our societies, and we can personalize our own identities and differentiate ourselves from others. Harris concludes that art is essential because it possesses an inherent value that extends beyond socio-economic issues. Through it, we can learn important lessons about ourselves and our lived environments. We develop our own identities and differentiate ourselves from others. Through art, Harris asserts, we can learn important lessons about ourselves and our societies, and become more tolerant and empathetic towards others.

Donald Harris was a more than an administrator. He held the unique gift of combining passion, purpose, advocacy, and thoughtful governance to nurture the arts at Ohio State. We are a better school because of him.

Marching to the Beat of MIOSM

March is a special month for music education as it signifies the commencement of Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM). This is an occasion where districts throughout the United States highlight the contributions of music education in their schools. For over 30 years, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has formally designated March as MIOSM to raise awareness about the importance of music education for all children. The observance provides music teachers with an opportunity to exhibit the benefits of their programs to the school and community, and promote the value of high-quality music education.

Coincidentally, MIOSM aligns perfectly with Opus 88, the School of Music’s initiative to actively participate in all 88 counties of Ohio, whether it is in performing centers, libraries, or public schools.

As part of our effort, six percussion majors ranging from freshmen to doctoral levels, our percussion professor Dr. Susan Powell, Tanya Sparks, and I recently visited South Gallia Middle School during their Right to Read Week. We were warmly welcomed by the teachers there, particularly Mrs. Angela Cremeens, who was a gracious host.

Located in the heart of Appalachia in Gallia County, along the Ohio River, and neighboring Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the school’s stunning and winding trek set us up for an enriching day at the school. It was an incredible opportunity for us to engage with the students and teachers at South Gallia Middle School. We were thrilled to share our experiences and learn from the students’ engagement, questions, and enthusiasm. We are looking forward to future engagements across our state very soon!

Ohio State percussionists performing at South Gallia Middle School.

Renewal and Rhythm

As May arrives, we say farewell to spring and welcome the warmth and excitement of summer. The School of Music is not exempt from this seasonal change, as the Ohioan wild daffodils outside of Weigel 110 make way for the blooming of other flowers. As April is a period of heightened musical activity with a flurry of concerts and recitals taking place in our performance spaces, May provides a brief respite before the summer programming kicks off.

The transition from spring to summer is a time of renewal and growth, both in nature and in music. Just as the world around us experiences a surge of new life and energy, music has the power to refresh our minds and lift our spirits, providing a sense of newness and rejuvenation.

Spring and music are also associated with change and evolution. Spring is a period of transformation, with growth and change visible everywhere. Similarly, music inspires us to explore new ideas and try new things, encouraging personal growth and expanding horizons. As we move from spring to summer, let us continue to embrace the spirit of growth and change that both the season and music bring.

Finally, rhythm serves as another link between spring and music. The world comes alive in spring with movement and energy, and music has the power to move us both physically and emotionally. With its strong sense of rhythm and beat, music can inspire us to express ourselves in new and exciting ways, whether it’s through dancing or simply tapping our feet to a catchy tune. So as we say goodbye to spring and welcome summer, let us allow the rhythms of music to continue to inspire and uplift us in the coming months.

The Gem of Ruby Elzy

As we begin Black History Month, I wish to pay tribute to Ruby Elzy, a remarkable woman who overcame prejudice and poverty to become a star on Broadway, radio, and cinema in the 1930s as an operatic soprano. Her performance career spanned the United States, from headlining the Apollo Theatre to performing before First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House. George Gershwin chose Elzy to create the role of Serena in his masterpiece Porgy and Bess.

Elzy was born and raised in Pontotoc, Mississippi, and was one of five children raised mostly by her mother, Emma Elzy. As a young child, she learned spirituals from her grandmother and continued to develop her singing skills in church, where her unique voice earned her admiration from the congregation.

After starting her college studies at Rust College, a historically black college in Mississippi, Elzy’s life changed when Charles Chester “C.C.” McCracken, a professor and administrator at The Ohio State University, heard her sing and recruited her to the School of Music at Ohio State. Despite facing discrimination and prejudice as a student, Elzy persevered and went on to graduate at the top of her class, with the ability to read music and speak four languages.

Elzy then moved to New York City to pursue her professional career and continued her studies at the Juilliard School of Music. Her performances on Broadway and beyond earned her high praise from George Gershwin and others, establishing her as one of the most celebrated voices of her time.

Elzy also used her voice to speak publicly about race and prejudice, advocating for understanding and the right of black people to be treated with respect and dignity. She passed away at just 35 years old, as her career was reaching new heights.

Ruby Elzy left behind an inspiring legacy that deserves recognition and celebration, and she remains an important figure in the history of our School and University. In honor of her life and talent, I encourage you to read David Weaver’s book Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy and listen to an interview and performance of Ms. Elzy, which can be found at

Finally, let us remember that February 20th marks the birthday of Ruby Elzy, which is another reason to celebrate her remarkable life and achievements.

Ruby Elzy


The Happy and Thoughtful Farmer

The beginning of a new year is a time to reflect and plan. A time to think how we might take on new goals, ambitions, and resolutions — to refine and achieve. 

One passage that I revisit each year is by John Watrous Beckwith (1831-1890) published in 1885:

Plant a thought and reap a word;
plant a word and reap an action;
plant an action and reap a habit;
plant a habit and reap a character;
plant a character and reap a destiny.

You may have heard this statement before in different iterations, but the over-arching themes of self-awareness and the sequential structure usually remain constant.

I have been drawn to this statement for multiple reasons, but most importantly, the metaphor that our thoughts are like seeds which may grow if the conditions to flourish are present. As we ring in the new year, I reflect upon how our habits are one of the key conditions for a thought to become embedded into our character and our future. Intentional habit forming is a key stage that links our aspirational thoughts to our destiny.

Wishing you a fresh start to the new year with renewed energy. May 2023 bring you happiness, health, and the fulfillment of your hopes and goals.

The Seasons Pass

The first public performance of Carmen Ohio took place in the month of December in 1903. As such, I wish to dedicate this month’s post to Carmen Ohio — a brief overview of how The Ohio State University’s alma mater came to be.

In 1902 or 1903, the song was set by Ohio State freshman athlete and Men’s Glee Club member, Fred Cornell, to the tune and harmonies of the Methodist hymn “Spanish Chant.” This Spanish melody was used as a basis for “Come Christians, Join To Sing” with text by Christian H. Bateman (1843).

According to some, Cornell wrote the lyrics on a train trip returning to Columbus from Ann Arbor, Michigan, after the Buckeyes suffered a 86-0 loss in football to the Wolverines. Additionally, there are accounts that Cornell was simply invited to set the song by the Men’s Glee Club, and that he did so without the good-for-storytelling drama of a post-defeat train ride. The title translates from Latin as “Song of Ohio.”

The Men’s Glee Club first performed Carmen Ohio in 1903. Shortly thereafter, Carmen Ohio would be performed and included in the programs of commencement ceremonies, athletic events, and other celebrations. In 1955, Carmen Ohio was adapted for the all brass marching band by director Jack Evans and arranger Richard Heine. In this instrumental setting, the sound of the Orton Hall chime bells were added as a musical introduction.

Carmen Ohio has grown to become more than a school song, more than a Buckeye anthem. It has become a ritual and a celebration where a community is bonded together as one in friendship. Just as this piece of music gives us pause to reflect on both our past Ohio State experiences and to dream about what our University will become, this time of year provides us with the same reflective opportunity across all aspects of our lives. Wishing you a peaceful Holiday, and an energized and prosperous New Year.

How Firm Thy Friendship,


A Tribute to Youth

With November 1 marking the first day of National Gratitude Month, I want to take a moment of reflection and share with you an important group of people for which I am grateful – our youth. Youth in many facets. Young people with ideas, curiosity, questions, and vigor. 

For those of us in mid-career and mid-life, we can reflect on our own past youth in the form of memories, lived experiences, many firsts, and early inspirations. In addition, the ways in which we all have an eternal youthful spirit, a curiosity for something new, and a youthful zest for life.

In our shared  youth, our values, experiences, challenges and aspirations connect us. We rely on our youth in ways too often understated.

“The Fountain of Youth is life on a college campus! It’s hanging around with young people who are standing at the edge of the diving board, waiting for their chance to dive into the deep end of the pool.” – Robert J. Ward


Later this month, The Ohio State University Marching Band will host their annual Hometown Concert at Mershon Auditorium on Ohio State’s campus on Sunday, November 20.  A very special concert specifically for youth will take place Friday, November 18, 2022, at 10 a.m. at Mershon Auditorium. The Best Damn Band in the Land will entertain its audience with selections from some of their most popular halftime shows, fan favorites and traditional Ohio State tunes.

Large Ensemble

Finally, our Music Celebration Youth Concert for student groups in grades 4-12 will take place Friday, December 2, 2022 at 10 a.m. at Mershon Auditorium. Led by our most cherished ensembles, the concert is a fast-paced musical adventure through a wide ranges of styles and traditions. Our non-stop collage style concert includes jazz, orchestral, choral, chamber, wind band, solo, percussion and piano offerings showcasing the remarkable artistry of students and faculty from across the School 

“This concert provides the confidence to my students that there is a bright future in band for them, and the knowledge that band can continue after middle school, and it builds their passion for learning more music in my class. This event is by the far the most popular school trip my students attend all year. They talk about it for months and months after we attend. It is so well done, I would take students to this multiple times a year if we could.” – Ryan Alexis, Kilbourne Middle School, Worthington Schools


Hope to see you there with your youthful smiles!

A New Day is Here

October 2022 marks the month where the School of Music will celebrate the culmination of an effort, an initiative, and a campaign known as a “New Day.”  In April 2012, more than 150 community members, alumni, and friends of the School of Music helped celebrate a “New Day” at a gathering in Ohio Union’s Performance Hall. The then Director of the School of Music, Richard Blatti, Executive Dean and Vice Provost, Joseph Steinmetz, Division Dean, Mark Shanda, and President E. Gordon Gee shared a vision to develop a vibrant arts district on campus with world class performance and teaching spaces. And now, since the beginning of this Autumn semester, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff have been experiencing and celebrating the realization of that vision on a daily basis.

Thank you to President Johnson, Past Presidents Drake and Gee, and the upper administration for their vision to see through a thriving Arts District; to the College of Arts and Sciences, Deans David Horn, Dana Renga, and Sergio Souve, for their commitment, support, and collaboration to make this happen; to previous Directors of the School of Music, William Ballenger and Eugenia Costa-Giomi for their steady leadership in helping to ensure this incredible project moved forward during unprecedented times; to Holder Construction, AE/Design, and A.M. Stern Architects for their state-of-the-art design and expertise; to our alumni and benefactors, and to those across the Columbus community and Ohio, who value and support the arts. And lastly, to The Timashev Family. Your generous gift is a bright future ahead for the School of Music.

I hope you might join the School of Music in sharing our enthusiasm and appreciation at the Timashev Family Music Building Celebration & Dedication event on October 23. Our special concert at 3 p.m. features music which has never been performed before. Music that is creative, expressive, and in the same essence as our new home, completely new.

Event information:

Opus 88

With almost two weeks of the semester behind us, I am continually lifted by those around me, those placing people at the center of all we do. Faculty are quick to point out that they don’t teach music, they teach people. Staff continue to problem-solve the unsolvable. There is a palpable spirit that seeks to make connections among people and ideas. As a result, an observation and an inspiration has been found.

Ohio, the Buckeye State, is home to 88 counties. The piano has 88 keys. This coincidence has sparked the curiosity of the School of Music to sound each unique key, to trek the state, and to engage with individuals and communities of each county. We are naming our project Opus 88.

County Map and Keyboard

88 Counties, 88 Keys

Some of the most important and exciting work an institution embarks upon seems to question the lines which define research, teaching, and service. I believe we can find shared space among all three. How can we both show and tell the importance of music education? How can we reconnect with alumni and Buckeyes across the state? And so, we are hitting the road!

We hope to support the University’s beautiful vision, “The Ohio State University is the model 21st-century public, land grant, research, urban, community-engaged institution.” We look forward to reconnecting with the Buckeyes in every corner of the state. Together, as a school, we share music, we share the journey, we share the joy.