by Julia Sommer
"Absurdly different" is how Professor Wendy Allanbrook compares St. John's College, where she taught for 25 years, to Berkeley, where she is the new chair of the music department, succeeding Olly Wilson.
St. John's, in Annapolis, Md., has just 400 students. There, teachers are not professors but tutors, signifying that they are learning along with the students.
St. John's tutors are expected to work in all areas of a classical curriculum. Allanbrook taught Greek, French, music theory and analysis, ancient and modern mathematics, philosophy, theology, political theory and literature.
At Berkeley, she confines herself to her specialty: the music of Mozart and Haydn and the dance forms much of it is based on. "I like to think my work supports performance," she says.
Opera director Peter Sellars relied heavily on her book, "Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart," in his filmed productions of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Don Giovanni."
"It's gratifying to be able now to focus on my work in music exclusively, and in the company of so many stimulating colleagues," says Allanbrook. "I must say it was a little difficult getting used to being called professor."
Allanbrook came to Berkeley in 1994 as the Ernest Bloch Visiting Professor of Music. Last year, supported by Guggenheim and President's Research fellowships, she worked on a book of her Bloch lectures, entitled "The Secular Commedia: Comic Mimesis in Late Eighteenth-Century Music," to be published by UC Press.
Then she was asked to chair the music department. "The extremely skilled and experienced staff are a great part of what makes the job doable," she says.
This semester Allanbrook is teaching a graduate seminar on mimesis (the concept that art imitates life), starting with writings by Plato and Aristotle about music imitating states of the soul.
She has also taught two freshman seminars on opera-reminiscent of the St. John's intimacy between student and teacher.
Allanbrook was born and raised in Hagerstown, Md., where she remains chair of the board of Jamison Door Co., the company her great-great-grandfather founded in 1906. It makes insulated doors, including those for the Alaska pipeline, meat-packing plants, rail cars, and even a backstage door for the Houston Opera. "It's a reality check," she says.
She received her BA from Vassar and her MA and PhD from Stanford.
Allanbrook has her plate full as the new chair of music. First, there's the $10 million fund-raising campaign for the department, to include a new music library and renovation of the powerhouse as a rehearsal and performance space.
Then there's the hiring and welcoming of new faculty. The new carillonist, Geert D'hollander, has just arrived from Belgium. This summer the campus will host an international carillon festival.
Kate Van Orden, a musicologist and professional baroque bassoonist, is the new faculty member in Renaissance and 17th-century music. David Milnes is beginning his second year as university orchestra conductor.
On April 25 and 26, the department will present performances of Haydn's "The Creation" to celebrate the 40th anniversaries of Hertz and Morrison halls and the 200th anniversary of that work, followed by a symposium on "The Creation."
Also in the spring will be a series of lectures by Izaly Zemtsovsky, visiting Bloch Professor, on Russian-Jewish musicians of the early 20th century.
Allanbrook sees her main role as advocate for the music faculty-"a happy responsibility." She also wants the department to take a look at the curriculum, especially the undergraduate major, and the role of performance.