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Retiring Reed Professor enjoys her last ROMP

DAVID F. ASHTON - Reed College Professor of Music Virginia Hancock, retiring at the end of the current academic year, reflects on her quarter-century of teaching at the school. The whimsically named “Reediana Omnibus Musica Philosopha” – its acronym is ROMP – is an interdisciplinary symposium on music and the liberal arts and sciences, presented by Reed College in partnership with Chamber Music Northwest.

This year’s ROMP had special meaning for Reed College Professor of Music Virginia Hancock. “It’s true; this is my last academic year, here at the college.

“I’m retiring because I think it’s time,” Hancock said, with a smile and twinkle in her eye, as she helped prepare the symposium on the morning of Saturday, January 30.

“Our department has a history of working with Chamber Music Northwest over the years,” Hancock remarked. “Every couple of years, we’ve held a symposium in connection with the Chamber Music Northwest concert, during the spring semester.”

This year’s symposium, entitled “Brahms Revisited”, was an idea Hancock “cooked up” with Reed colleague David Schiff, and with the chamber music group’s clarinetist and artistic director, David Shifrin.

“My colleague suggested that since that I’ve been specializing in the music of Brahms for many years, it would be nice to do a ‘Brahms ROMP’, in connection with the orchestra’s series of concerts. It worked out well, because chamber musicians love the music of Brahms.”

Hancock then introduced the day’s two guest speakers, whose topics explored the private and public musical personas of composer Johannes Brahms.

Georgia State University Assistant Professor of Music History Dr. Marie Sumner Lott said her lecture was entitled, “Finding His Niche: Audience and Style in Brahms’s String Chamber Music”.

Yale University Assistant Professor of the School of Music Dr. Paul Berry confided that the topic of his talk was, “Consolation at the Keyboard: Brahms, Clara Schumann, and the Emotional Landscapes of Musical Borrowing”.

At the evening concert in the Kaul Auditorium, Hancock pointed out that Chamber Music Northwest gave the German composer new context – with performances of the original versions of two his best-known works, as well as with three of the timeless piano intermezzi, expanded for clarinet and string trio.

Before she became a professor at Reed, Hancock said, she’d been a Reed College student, graduating with a degree in chemistry. “I was very active in music for a long time around the college. Then I went back to school and got a doctorate in Music History. I left, and taught at a whole bunch of different schools, and then I came back here about 25 years ago.”

She added she is a proud resident of Sellwood, and that she “assiduously reads THE BEE.”

Returning to the subject of our interview, Hancock reflected that, “The best part of teaching at Reed is the students. Yeah, it’s the definitely the students.

“We don't have a terribly deep pool of music department student talent,” Hancock. “But, for performing, we do pretty well for the fact that we are not a ‘music school’. Most of my students are not music majors; most of the time I’m teaching physics or chemistry majors!”

After her academic career has come to its conclusion, later this year, Hancock says she’ll have lots of happy memories. “The students here are great. Administration gives their instructors a supportive environment. It’s a great academic environment. What more could one ask for?”