My colleague Robert Labaree retired this month after 34 years at NEC. Officially, he is categorized as an ethnomusicologist and performer specializing in Turkish music, and a long-serving Music History faculty member. Exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit of #MusiciansAtWork, he founded NEC's Intercultural Institute in 1993, taking the initiative to respond to an opportunity and create something of value to his community.
I never experienced Bob in his official teaching or performing capacities. For me, he represents something else: a community-minded colleague whose thirst for questioning the status quo coupled with an appetite for collective and inclusive action for positive change. He sees NEC's campus as a public square, in which to bring together intellectually curious people for wide-ranging conversations. He appreciates that members of NEC's community may come from different places and think in divergent ways, but ultimately, each of us share a common investment in better understanding a musician's place in contemporary society in order to prepare NEC students--and the institution itself--to face an uncertain future in the 21st Century.
Several years ago, sensing global shifts with local implications, Bob wrote an essay that led him to create Music in 2050, a discussion group comprised of NEC faculty, staff, and, when possible, students. This group grew into a regularly-convening grassroots community with a mission of "exploring the role of music, musician, and music education in a drastically changing world." Being part of this informal community, and getting to spend time in conversation with Bob, has been one of the highlights of my time at NEC.
When I reflect on the time that I've had the privilege of spending with Bob over four and a half years, I'm grateful for what he modeled for me as a veteran member of the NEC community. I'm inspired by his
-deep respect and care for NEC (the institution, its culture, and its people)
-clarity of thinking (and writing) and seemingly unending curiosity to learn more
-desire to look for ideas outside of the institution's walls (figuratively and literally)
-urgency to make positive change happen, especially for future generations of musicians
-inclusive and openhearted nature exemplified in inviting students and staff join faculty in thoughtful conversation
-energized engagement with challenging ideas, his willingness to ask tough questions, and not be fazed by running into the unknowable or unanswerable
-optimism about our capacity to be better, to do good, and to adapt
-genuine excitement about ideas generated by young people, and their experimental initiatives
Bob has been the most inspiring and inspired colleague that I could ask for. I have personally benefited immensely from our relationship. Thankfully, he will continue to teach at least one Music History course next academic year. That's good news for the NEC community, because we all need him. Bob's presence on campus means that we all benefit.
Sharing student project documentation and, more recently, my own.