A quarter century ago Music Professor Anita King decided Willamette was worthy of truly great visiting artists. She was thinking three concerts a year — scheduling a hotel, arranging some campus logistics. How hard could it be?
In founding what has since become the Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series, what King didn’t realize was that the job would include frantically hemming sleeves backstage, speeding a sick musician to the emergency room, and turning her office into a kennel for a visiting artist’s pooch. “I once retrieved a tuxedo from a hotel room 15 minutes before a concert,” King says. “I do it with a smile. That’s my job.”
King has been bringing the world’s most renowned artists to campus — traditional folk musicians from Afghanistan, a rhythm-wild pianist from Ghana, a Latin-influenced cello octet, dazzling classical ensembles — offering a breadth and depth of music we may not otherwise experience.
“I started with a zero budget in 1982,” King says. The next year she made a deal with Willamette President Jerry Hudson. In exchange for $3,000, she agreed to rebuild and administer Willamette’s artists series with three concerts each year — and quickly discovered $3,000 didn’t go very far. She ran the series on a shoestring for a decade; it now operates with support from an endowment fund established by The Collins Foundation in the 1990s to honor the late Grace Goudy ’22, one of the original trustees of the foundation.
“Scheduling a hotel, arranging some campus logistics. How hard could it be?”
King coordinates concerts, master classes, lectures, youth clinics, and Q and A sessions with students. She spends many hours listening to artist recordings and reviewing press packets, negotiates contracts and arranges hotels, transportation, meals, rehearsal schedules, rooms, mailers, posters, press releases, programs and tickets.
The series, and King’s music career, almost didn’t happen. King went to a music camp at age 16 in order to abandon music. Her parents told her she could quit piano lessons after she attended the two-week camp. Instead, she came back on fire and threw herself into four hours a day of practice.
Her efforts paid off. King has performed throughout the U.S., as well as in Europe and South America, playing chamber music, solo recitals and concertos with orchestras. “Playing makes me feel alive,” King says.“I love bringing the audience on a journey. My job as a performer is to reveal the emotion the composer intended and allow that emotion to come through in an authentic way. It can be tempting to force or exaggerate when you’re playing in a large hall for a large audience, but performances are most poignant and powerful when a performer finds a way to give the music a natural expression. There’s an important process of trusting the innate wisdom of the composer.”
The 25th anniversary season of the Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series opened Friday, Dec. 5, with musicians who are celebrated for their own natural, authentic sound. Anonymous 4, an a cappella quartet that has garnered critical international acclaim, performs haunting medieval chant and explores the interweaving melodies of polyphony. Billboard magazine wrote, “For sheer radiance … no one else comes close,” and CD Review wrote, “Whatever these four women sing, you’re promised a sound as beautiful and pure and clear as the human voice can make.”
King may be backstage during performances, hemming sleeves or rustling up odd last-minute requests, but she’ll never be far away. After 25 years, she’s got this gig down to an art form.