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Volume 23, No. 5       October 16, 2000

Bach Aria Group Will Inaugurate Hockett Chamber Music Series

The Bach Aria Group will give the first performance in the Shirley and Chas Hockett Chamber Music Concert Series on October 25. Named after two longtime educators, the new series will honor the Hocketts’ love of music and devotion to Ithaca College and the School of Music. The free concert, which features arias, cantatas, and instrumental chamber music by Bach, will take place at 8:15 p.m. in Ford Hall in the James J. Whalen Center for Music.

Bach Aria GroupThe Bach Aria Group is the only musical organization in the world whose sole charge is to promote the performance and study of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1946 musicologist and philanthropist William Scheide founded this nine- member ensemble of vocalists and instrumentalists to perform Bach’s cantata music and specifically the aria literature, which is the chamber music portion of the cantatas.

Bach’s arias are unique in music literature. They challenge both vocalists and instrumentalists with their rigorous, virtuosic demands, while at the same time requiring highly developed ensemble skills. Divergent vocal and instrumental capabilities are pitted against one another, necessitating just the right inflection and balance of timbres to unlock the music’s magic.

In 1980, after 34 years of leading the Bach Aria Group, William Scheide retired. The group reorganized and adopted a new programming policy. Today the Bach Aria Group juxtaposes the beautiful and varied aria repertory with complete cantatas and instrumental chamber music. By placing the arias in context with Bach’s instrumental and choral pieces, the group believes that all the works are illuminated.

Now in its sixth decade, the Bach Aria Group is one of the longest-running chamber music ensembles in the United States. In fulfilling its mission through touring, recording, and broadcasting its performances, the group has become a major force in developing Bach audiences around the world.

"It is entirely appropriate that the inaugural concert of the Hockett chamber music series will be held on October 25," says Arthur Ostrander, dean of the School of Music. "That date is the anniversary of the first time Shirley and Chas Hockett met, in a mathematics course at the University of Michigan."

Music has long played an integral part in the lives of Shirley, professor emerita of mathematics at Ithaca College, and her husband, Chas, the Goldwin Smith Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Linguistics at Cornell University. Chas has been listening to, performing, and composing music since childhood. His compositions include solo and chamber music as well as an opera, Doña Rosita. Each of the Hocketts’ five children studied music while growing up, and two of them, as well as a son-in-law, are now professional musicians.

Shirley did not herself play an instrument until the age of 57, when she started studying the clarinet. Within a year she was performing publicly as a member of the Ithaca Concert Band, alongside Chas, who plays the bass clarinet. Both have been active with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, and Shirley was president of its board of directors from 1979 to 1984. They both continue to serve on the CCO board as directors emeriti.

Shirley began teaching at Ithaca College in 1966 and retired in 1991. She won several teaching awards and wrote six mathematics textbooks. The seventh edition of her first book, How to Prepare for Advanced Placement Examinations in Mathematics, is scheduled for release in December 2001.

Chas taught at Cornell from 1946 to 1982. He is also an adjunct professor of linguistics at Rice University and has taught at the Beijing Foreign Studies University in China. He is a member and past president of the Linguistic Society of America and has been elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

"Given the Hocketts’ love of chamber music, it seemed most appropriate to establish the Shirley and Chas Hockett Chamber Music Concert Series as a lasting testament to their support of Ithaca College," says Ostrander. The Shirley and Chas Hockett Library of Ensemble Music in the Whalen Center was also named in their honor.

For more information regarding the concert schedule at Ithaca College, visit the School of Music web page.

Photo by Nathan Randall


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Andrejs Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications. 27. Oct. 2000