Welcome from the Dean

Music has been at the heart of human experience for roughly 40,000 years. It’s hard to be more exact because music is both prehistoric and preliterate. Fossil evidence suggests we were building musical instruments long before we had written language to record and describe them. Examine the artifacts of any ancient culture, religious practice, or community, and, without fail, you will find music as a central, sustaining practice within it.

In that sense, times have not changed. We use music to carry us through our lives every day, perhaps in ways that go unnoticed. When we are born, when we graduate, when we are married, when we die, almost inevitably, we need music. Consider the simplest of birthday celebrations—cake, candles, and that old, familiar song–and there you have it, the essential nourishments of a human life: food, fire, and music.

In crisis, we turn to music instinctively, reflexively. In response to the tragic events surrounding the Boston Marathon this past April, our leaders called us to an interfaith service of commemoration and prayer. Who were those essential leaders; to whom did we turn? The President of the United States, clerics of many representative faiths, and cellist Yo Yo Ma, one of our nation’s most celebrated musical leaders. Once again, there you have it: state, church, and music, used to establish order and meaning in our lives. 

Millennia before science helped us understand our existence or languages helped us share it, music was one of the primary ways we gathered and created community with one another. So it is beautifully symbolic that this community—Ithaca College—first gathered in 1892 as a group of musicians, founding the Ithaca Conservatory of Music. In time, other communities of learners joined us—men and women equally devoted to their respective practices, connected by music. When we outgrew our historical, downtown location, we moved up the hill together to become the comprehensive liberal arts college you see today.

In many ways, music is an unchanging and unchangeable practice. The bones of the original conservatory can be felt in our School of Music 130 years later. Our full-time resident faculty still train young musicians in the ancient way—patiently, carefully, one at a time, apprentice and master teacher—passing along knowledge and skill which has taken us thousands of years to acquire. 

While we carry an ancient practice, we constantly seek new ways to bring music to all those who need it to carry their lives. We honor the tradition of the concert hall and stage while forging new frontiers, bringing music to the sick and dying, to the poor, to those whose brains work differently, to the very young and the very old. Music, like food and water, is a basic requirement for life that no one should have to live without.  And today, many go hungry and thirsty, and the need is great.

As a traditional conservatory nestled within a comprehensive liberal arts college, Ithaca graduates are broadly equipped to be of service to humanity in response to this need—the need for music, of every kind, in every life, every day. Understanding what is at stake, our faculty and staff are devoted to that mission. Perhaps you, too, feel called by this mission. If so, we welcome you to become a part of this exceptional community of devotion, practice, and exploration.

Karl Paulnack
Dean, School of Music 

School of Music  ·  3322 Whalen Center  ·  Ithaca College  ·  Ithaca, NY 14850  ·  (607) 274-3171  ·  Full Directory Listing