Remarks by Mark Barden
Former student of Brian Alegant
2015 Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year
I graduated from Oberlin in 2003 with majors in piano performance and music composition—neither of which Brian teaches. So why am I here? For starters, I literally wouldn't be where I am today without him. I live in Berlin as a freelance composer where I have the great fortune of working with some of the world's finest musicians. The path that led me there began 12 years ago during my year on a Watson Fellowship, a prize I absolutely would not have won had it not been for the patience and brutal honesty of this man, who, over weeks, helped transform what started as a pretty terrible essay to a prize-winning one.
I don't have enough time to list all the other ways Brian has supported and encouraged me, but I would be remiss not to mention one more. He was my accompanist for a modern, atonal piano concerto I was learning for a competition. While this may not sound impressive, here's the catch: The piece was so new that there was no part for the accompanist. In fact, I had been planning to spend my entire summer composing one. Instead, Brian offered to simply read from the full orchestral score, composing his own accompaniment spontaneously at the piano. For the non-music people out there, trust me, this is just bonkers. With his help, I won the competition and played the concerto with orchestra in a concert broadcast live on my hometown radio station; it was one of the greatest nights of my life.
Mine is not an exceptional case; Brian does things like this outside of class for students all the time—and not just the best ones, but for anyone willing to work hard. When it comes to teaching inside the classroom, Brian is great with a capital G. His classes are odysseys; together, you listen to music and find moments that, for some reason you can't explain, really grab you. And then he shows you how music theory, this seemingly arcane knowledge of chords and scales and rhythmic structures, can be the absolute crux in understanding why a particular moment works so well. And it's fascinating. Watching him do this with everything from Bach to Debussy to music written yesterday, feels magical; like he's an alchemist concocting strange new elements out of everyday materials like G-sharps or four-bar phrases.
But what drives this intellectual pursuit is something far simpler and more real than magic: and that thing is love. This man loves music in a way that is infectious and inspiring. When he sings a fragment of something he's analyzing in class, it's masterful—not because he's the world's greatest singer,but because he knows the music, inside and out, and you can hear it. You can hear that he's taken it apart so thoroughly to try to understand just why it's so beautiful. And that's what's really inspiring: He forges, before your eyes and ears, a direct link between knowledge and beauty. Once he's taken you on enough of these odysseys, you start embarking on them yourself with music you love. So the next time you sit down to play that Brahms concerto or write that new string quartet, you have actual tools to make better music. You are—demonstrably and objectively—a better musician, for your lifetime.
Oberlin has cherished Brian for years and I speak for many when I say: Great choice. His teaching is, quite simply, life altering. I couldn't be happier to see him receive this prestigious honor here today. It is well deserved. Thank you for your attention and please help me in welcoming my friend and mentor, a man I've known nearly half my life, Dr. Brian Alegant.
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