Gestures of Congratulations

Over the course of the April festivities we noted several special efforts to welcome President Bacow and to mark Tufts' 150th anniversary. Here is a look at four expressions of congratulations.

Uncommon Augury

When composer John McDonald decided to write a piece for the Inauguration concert, he began by listening to Larry and Adele Bacow - specifically to the sound of their names.

The exercise resulted in a piano solo that spells out a musical theme using the letters that match-or approximate-a musical scale.

Some letters are easier than others. L is "La" or "A," A is simply "A," Re is "D." As for Y and W, says McDonald, "you have to make them up-I chose G-sharp for W and F-sharp for Y."

Personalizing the piece with names of the new president and his wife, adds McDonald, allowed him to play with how a name actually sounds when spoken, noting that any person's name typically takes on a musical profile that is inseparable from a character or personality. Blend that layer of meaning with two words with common roots, augury and inauguration, and the piece moves into a deeper, more complex narrative concerned with the nature of being a university president.

For while the piece is at once a proclamation, a greeting and a congratulatory offering, there are reflective moments in the middle, especially around the presence of Larry's name, says McDonald. "This middle passage suggests one doesn't know in what direction to proceed; unexpected things have happened-but one still has to decide. I think that is what you have to do in a leadership role. You might not always know exactly what to do, but you have to make a choice."

McDonald, well known in new-music circles and a prodigious composer with hundreds of works to his name, also liked the common root of inauguration and augury. By definition, augury is a prediction, or an omen, and there's an aspect of McDonald's inauguration message that is cautionary, suggestive of challenges to come. "To me the second word has overtones that this job will be hard work," says McDonald, "so I'm also making a gesture toward the fact that Larry Bacow has taken on a mightily difficult job."

A Video Surprise

Jeremy Wang-Iverson, A02, and Tom Keefe, A/Museum 03, didn't have much time to craft their congratulations for President Bacow. But in two short weeks of working in "fifth gear," they are pleased with the result: a very warm, funny video.

The video, which debuted at the end of the Thursday night concert, was an instant hit, bringing levity and quirky humor to the inaugural ceremonies, as sometimes only students can do.

"It has a lightness that allows people to laugh, but it also has something to say about President Bacow and his leadership, his academic credentials, his esteem," said Wang-Iverson.

Some 25 people-students, faculty, administrators, staff, trustees, family, among others-agreed to share their impressions of Bacow. Allan Rice, A03, director of the improv group Cheap Sox, pulled an all-nighter with Wang-Iverson in the TUTV studio to edit four hours of footage down to a seven-minute perspective on a person who is at once president, scholar, academic leader, parent, husband, advisor, sailor and all-round regular guy.

The students made the video based on the appeal of the documentary-style film shown during the Academy Awards ceremony, in which people, both on the street and famous, talked about their love of movies. Wang-Iverson convinced Keefe to create something for the inauguration that would weave together anecdotes and accolades to create a respectful, but slightly irreverent, gift for the new president.

That ambition brought together unlikely compatriots: Trustee Alan Solomont, A70, talking about Bacow's strengths as a leader, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers ("It's good to have another Larry make good"), the freshman who recalls following her advisor on a cookie quest in Ballou, Provost Sol Gittleman, who admires Bacow as the disciplined athlete devoted to his early morning run ("I drive to the gym!"), the Beelzebubs' Greg Binstock, who says: "He's what my mother would call a 'good Jewish boy,'" to MIT senior Jay Bacow, who cheerfully relates a childhood sailing adventure involving an unfavorable shift in the tide, and what his father does to rescue the stranded family. The video is capped off marvelously by President Emeritus John DiBiaggio.

"People have been blown away by President Bacow in his first year," said Keefe, "and combining their sentiments with those of Adele and Jay created something magical. The video would have been nothing without the participants' candor and trust."

Wang-Iverson and Keefe had only one previous project together. For Ken Olum's Astronomy 10, they produced "In Vesto's Legacy," a fictionalized account about Vesto Slipher (he discovered, among other things, reflection nebulae). Encouraged by their success-everyone earned an A-they formed a film production company, Vesto Productions, and secured a $5,000 grant from the Provost's Office for its first film, which will be shot this fall.

Both students agree the inauguration video was a wild card. They wrapped up only minutes before the concert began, and while Bacow initially approved the project, the results would remain a surprise to him until its first public showing. "We were honored President Bacow had the faith in us to pull off the project on such short notice, and we're relieved he enjoyed it," said Wang-Iverson. "We hope our film next year can similarly be a credit to our abilities, and to the University that has nurtured them."

For more information, visit their website:

An Ode for the Occasion

In addition to an early fondness for 18th-century poetry, Barbara W. Grossman, associate professor of drama, credits her dog Charlie with disciplining her poetic musings into a gift for President Bacow.

It was while she walked the springer spaniel early one morning that verses and stanzas came together in an inaugural ode.

"You can hold a leash and hold a notebook" at the same time, she says, demonstrating with her left hand. Granted, "If a line was complicated, I would have to stop, and Charlie would look at me quizzically. This meant the normal one-hour, four-mile walk took more like an hour and 45 minutes."

Grossman, who has written odes before for special occasions, says the inauguration seemed to provide another ideal opportunity for poetry.

"When I heard how many speakers there were, I wanted to do something appropriate but a little different," she says. "I thought this would be a form that had the suitable level of elevation but with a more entertaining manner. The verse framed what I wanted to say in a way that distinguished it and caught people's attention."

Indeed, the rhythm of the ode signified importance as it also engaged listeners. "I come today to sing the praises/of someone who might give us raises," she recited, as a ripple of laughter ran across the audience. "A man of vision, passion, skill/who's pure of heart and strong of will/forceful and bold, yet humane and just/a leader we can surely trust/a brilliant scholar, whose inquiring mind/has won him plaudits of ev'ry kind."

"The part: 'I sing the praises," "says Grossman, "goes back to the opening of Virgil's Aeneid, 'Of arms and the man I sing.' So I borrowed from the epic tradition, as well as the mock epic. I was conscious of being respectful and I also wanted to write a good poem!"

Grossman, who earned her Ph.D. from Tufts in 1984, and who teaches a popular course on the American musical, also wanted to speak for all faculty, and their commitment to teaching.

"We are delighted the soul of Tufts is the faculty. Their commitment to students is also a commitment to working with him. What's important is not just the way I chose to welcome him, but the message I conveyed. I wanted to acknowledge what Larry's special qualities mean to us as a faculty and to let him know that we look forward to working productively with him."

A New Song for a New Era

There's a new light on the hill, and it's "lighting a path for the world to see/letting the light of my Tufts/shine through me."

So goes the chorus of a new Tufts song, the gift of Overseer Rysia de Ravel, J71, P94, on the occasion of Tufts' 150th anniversary.

For de Ravel, the song, called "The Light on the Hill," gets the balance of message and melody just right, and should become popular with a cappella groups, taking its place alongside old favorites such as "Tuftonia's Day" and "Alma Mater."

"It has a big sound," said de Ravel, founder and president of DeraCom Conference Call Services. "I hope many different University constituents will relate to the song and find its hip, contemporary sound strikes a responsive chord which captures the spirit of Tufts today."

De Ravel commissioned award- winning singer and songwriter David Buskin, whose previous clients have included Judy Collins, Tom Rush and Roberta Flack. Buskin then teamed up with writer/producer Susan Hamilton; the duo, with more than 100 CLIOs between them, have written famous jingles such as "All Aboard America" for Amtrak and "Be All That You Can Be" for the Army. They've also worked with Cher, Madonna, Elton John and Peter, Paul and Mary, among others. From this creative pair emerged "The Light on the Hill," taking its name from the legendary words of founder Charles Tufts, who envisioned the college as a place of illumination. Tufts fans will recognize that they did their homework, blending in lyrical references to Talloires, Barnum, Ballou and, of course, "Jumbo, who never forgets."

"I knew David Buskin as a world-class songwriter, and with Susan's vast experience producing theme songs, they really did a terrific job," said de Ravel. A recording was made of the song featuring Phoebe Snow, but she was unable to perform the song at the Tufts' party due to illness. Still, the song was a hit Saturday night, thanks to a knock-out performance by Pattie Darcy Jones, a Grammy-award-winning Broadway performer who recently starred in "Smokey Joe's Café."

"The tune is so catchy," said de Ravel. "that while we were rehearsing with Patti in Gantcher gym, a whole group of Tufts coeds who were practicing for their sports team spontaneously stopped what they were doing and started dancing to the song." The 'Bubs, who sang backup to Patti on Saturday night, said they would love to add the song to their program of Tufts music. "Now, all that is left to make this song truly part of the Tufts repertoire,"says de Ravel, "is to solve some of the legal and financial details so the song can belong to the school in perpetuity."


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