EM Summer 2004



Emory Weekend

Alumni in Africa


Alumni Authors

The University Concert Choir is filing into rehearsal on a springtime Monday afternoon, dropping their backpacks, stretching, and catching up on the day’s news as they take their places on the Schwartz Center’s Emerson Hall stage. But there’s a palpable tension in the air.

“You can probably smell the fear in the room,” confides Eric Nelson, Emory choral director and associate professor of music.

The choir will hold its year-end concert on Thursday, yet they’ve only had the sheet music for one of the central pieces for a couple of weeks. The composition, written by Nelson’s Russian colleague and friend Peter Klimov, is challenging, and this choir is not accustomed to stumbling over notes and words just days before a performance.

But a few moments later, Klimov himself, along with conductor Valery Kalinin, enters the room, just off the plane from Russia. The two have come as Nelson’s guests; Kalinin will be conducting Klimov’s piece during Thursday’s concert. Nelson embraces them warmly, then introduces the visitors to the choir. Suddenly the room is charged with more excitement than nerves; the afternoon is transformed from a routine rehearsal to an opportunity to work with Russian musicians on a complex original composition written for the Emory choir.

As Nelson puts the ensemble through its paces with a number of more familiar songs, it’s not hard to guess why he was chosen to receive a Crystal Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004 (see box, below). He conducts the students with the visible sensitivity, grace, and passion that have been remarked upon by many in the Emory community and beyond, coaxing forth their best voices. He also seeks to provide them with rich musical experiences such as working with a foreign composer and conductor.

Most of all, though, Nelson insists that his singers develop a genuine relationship with the music they are making, because that exchange is what makes music meaningful to him.

“There’s the music itself, which not only is beautiful music, but also has wonderful texts,” he says. “I get to deal every day with matters of philosophy, theology, beauty. . . . I was just talking with my seniors last night about the fact that we explore matters of life and death, love and loss, on a daily basis in a way that I don’t think your average person gets to. Day after day these texts draw you to places and make you think about things really passionate and wonderful.”

Despite the abbreviated preparation time, the choir performed the Russian piece beautifully, Nelson says–and he expected nothing less. After seven years at Emory, Nelson is known to be both a demanding and inspiring leader of the close-knit forty-member Concert Choir and the two-hundred-plus member University Chorus, as well as the various smaller ensembles he oversees.

“Dr. Nelson is an incredibly unique man who has not only taught his choir about music, but about ourselves and what is important in the world,” says senior Leah Stein, a three-year choir member. “It is no surprise that Dr. Nelson demands the best from us. . . . Concert choir has meant something incredibly special to me–it has given me opportunities and experiences in college that I would not otherwise have had.”–P.P.P.

Crystal Apple Recipients for 2004:

Excellence in Professional School Teaching: Richard Doernberg, School of Law

Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching–Seminar Class: Clifford Carrubba, Department of Political Science

Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching–Lecture Class: Matthew Weinschenk, Department of Chemistry

Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching–Performing Arts Class: Eric Nelson, Department of Music

Excellence in Graduate Teaching: Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, Department of Educational Studies

The William H. Fox Award for Emerging Excellence in Teaching and Service: Benjamin Z. Freed, Department of Anthropology

The Laura Jones Hardman Award for Excellence in Service: Sheila Teftt, Journalism Program





© 2004 Emory University