Emory Report

 October 13, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 8


Emory pianist balances
teaching with performance

Will Ransom's new office is a roomy little space on the third floor of the Burlington Building, right next to the new Emory Performing Arts Studio. Furnished with an orange and brown shag throw rug and a dart board, it looks like many other faculty offices, except for, maybe, the two baby grand pianos sitting side by side by the windows.

Ransom's eyes light up as he surveys his spacious surroundings. "One thing I hope you'll put in the article is that a lot of people don't realize what a wonderful thing we have going here in the music department," he said. His voice brims with enthusiasm as he talks about his office, the building, the space, the new Performing Arts Studio next door, all renovated and unveiled this fall after a previous life as the Emory Baptist Church.

"We can offer the students who come here conservatory-quality training even though they're not going into music," Ransom said. "If you've only studied for a few years, you can study here; if you've studied since you were 4 or 5 years old and were considering going to a music school, we can accommodate that as well."

Indeed, Ransom is one of those music prodigies who's spent much of his life sitting on a piano bench. Trained at the Juilliard School of Music, he's a highly renowned concert pianist , having performed in several international tours and with major orchestras around the United States. But instead of dedicating his life full time to performance, Ransom has been Emory's pianist-in-residence for several years, tutoring a dozen or so students every semester and running the Emory Chamber Music Society, which he founded.

In fact, working with students gives Ransom as much satisfaction as dazzling a concert hall of thousands. "When you play for an audience, you hope you move some people, and you know you're not going to move some people. But with a student, you can really see what you've done. Although whatever I can do for a student, whether it's musically or helping them get into graduate school with a letter of recommendation, I feel as good about that as I do about the good performances they give."

But sometimes working with the students can be frustrating. Emory's music department is not a full-fledged conservatory, and those students in the program are not planning on a career in music nine times out of 10. So their musical training-and the time they have to devote to it-is not as extensive as that of serious pupils. Often Ransom can see latent talent in a student, but it is simply too late to develop that gift to its fullest potential.

"You really have to start young in this business; it's much easier to become a doctor than it is to become someone who makes a living in music," Ransom said. "It's a challenge [for me], but it's a delight because they're brilliant kids. Maybe pianists are smarter than others-I'll put a plug in for pianists-but I seem to have a large percentage of Woodruff and Emory scholars every year in my class."

And despite his devotion to teaching, Ransom does do a good bit of performing. He plays roughly 40 concerts a year, anything from solo recitals to his work with the Chamber Music Society. He also explores new opportunities for performance, as he did recently with "The Poet and the Pianist," a two-man show with John Stone of the medical school.

An accomplished cardiologist as well as dean of admissions for the medical school, Stone is also an acclaimed poet. "I went to a poetry reading he was giving," Ransom said, "and I was just overcome by his art. I came up with this idea of doing the program together, and it's just been a real treasure. It was special because of the marriage of music and words. It was a very meaningful evening for all of us."

The Chamber Music Society also plays about a dozen concerts a year. Ransom started the society five years ago to perform and interact with other musicians, to bring a group dynamic and interpretation to the audience.

"It's taken on a wonderful life of its own," Ransom said of the society, which is currently performing a series of Brahms chamber concerts. Seven members strong, the group is loaded with talented musicians, not the least of whom is Ransom's wife and fellow pianist, Keiko, whom he met at Juilliard.

"[The group] is a real presence here at Emory," Ransom said. "Not only do we do a couple of concert series every year, but six members are faculty members as well. I'm really delighted with the direction that has taken. It will be a part of Emory forever now, whether I'm here or not."

-Michael Terrazas

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