More than music: The Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series

by Jennifer Johnson,

Series connects students at Willamette and beyond to exceptional learning experience.

The musicians might not be household names, but dozens of Hollywood’s biggest movies feature their work.

From “A Beautiful Mind” to “Toy Story,” the combined soundtrack credits of renowned jazz flutist James Walker and crossover pianist and composer Bryan Pezzone read like a movie database. But the diversity of their talent extends beyond television and film, which is exactly why they were selected for this year’s Willamette’s Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series (DAS).

Every year, the series draws world-famous musicians to Salem to perform and interact with students through master classes, student composers’ readings and classroom presentations. It’s a rare opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience working with musicians who model a high standard of excellence.

While the series is geared toward the Willamette community, it extends to the broader one as well. In addition to a public concert, the series also includes outreach to high school music students and other performing arts organizations throughout the state.

Professor emerita of music Anita King revived what was known as the Distinguished Artists Series in 1983. For the next 31 years, she brought in more than 75 guest artists from a wide range of genres, including pianist Yefim Bronfman, a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 and the Tokyo and Guarneri string quartets. Current director Jean-David Coen took over in 2015.

In the late 1990s, The Collins Foundation established an endowment for the series. The gift honored the late Grace Goudy, one of the foundation’s original trustees, and her name was added to the series title.

This year, students will learn from Walker, who for years was principal flutist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in 2002 performed with Paul McCartney at the Academy Awards. Pezzone has played piano for several major symphony orchestra associations, including ones located in Atlanta and Colorado, and is known for mastering classical, contemporary, jazz and experimental genres. Both musicians are members of the band Free Flight, a crossover classical/jazz quartet.

DAS selects musicians not only for their overall excellence. Coen says the mission is to bring in artists “who not only stir spirits during a performance, but who do the same during their residencies — ones who work, discuss and share what they cherish with our students.”

The series often features an interdisciplinary element, too, as past concerts have complemented classes in the university’s history, foreign language and Asian studies departments. Next year’s first concert will be devoted to Jane Austen.

The only way to truly discover the exceptional talent of these musicians is to attend the concerts.

“Music has a visceral power,” says King. “It speaks to us in a way we can’t expect until we’re in the room.”

If you go:

James Walker and Bryan Pezzone will perform April 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Hudson Hall in Rogers Music Center. A pre-concert talk will be held at 6:45 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for students with an ID, $12 for ICL students with an ID and $18 for faculty and staff with an ID. Purchase online here.

Master classes for flute and piano with WU music students are April 7 from 1–4 p.m. at Hudson Hall. Admission is free and open to the public. 

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