Opening Doors, Inspiring Artists

School of Music

As Baylor University’s School of Music planned their 100th anniversary celebrations for 2021, they had one unique factor for which they had to adjust: a global pandemic. But, for School of Music Dean Gary Mortenson, Ph.D., when a physical door shut, he and his faculty opened virtual doors instead.

In honor of the 100-year anniversary, the School hosted a virtual Meadows Foundation Lyceum Series for the 2020-2021 academic year that connected students and alumni with world-renowned artists, conductors and health experts. For the School’s faculty, this potential challenge became an exciting opportunity to think creatively about the scope and impact of the Series.

“We're just beginning to scratch the surface of the realm of possibilities,” said Dean Mortenson. “We’re just at the front end of walking toward the full range of possibilities with virtual events. The Meadows Foundation Lyceum Series brought tremendous value when we held the event in the traditional (in-person) way, but the potential value in doing hybrid events, alongside our traditional in-person events, is exciting. We don’t yet know how transformational that will be.”

Established in 1982, this year marks the 39th anniversary of the Meadows Foundation Lyceum Series. The series was started as a way to funnel internationally-respected artists to Waco, giving students the opportunity to interact with foremost musical artists and authorities. This is the first year the event has been virtual, and Dean Mortenson says that shift allowed the School to engage artists and professionals who otherwise would have been hampered by scheduling or travel.

“The Lyceum allows us to contact people who are the absolute height of their field beyond Baylor, for example, we featured the principal percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is one of the major orchestras worldwide,” Dean Mortenson said. “These artists know about the Baylor School of Music, and they want to work with our students because they hear what we already know, which is that Baylor students are special. They hear how special they are from their colleagues – they hear how respectful they are, how carefully they listen, how they make the most out of any opportunity that comes their way, they’re open to a larger world. This resonates with artists, and the Meadows Foundation’s gift has helped decade after decade to make the Lyceum Series possible.”

Dean Mortenson said endowments such as these help administrators have the tools to create high-quality experiences and opportunities for students. As he looks to the future, with improving virtual platforms opening even more doors for engaging renowned artists, funds such as the Meadows Foundation Endowment will continue to provide the experiences that set the Baylor School of Music apart as an elite program.

“My job is, number one, to be a cheerleader for the School of Music, but, number two, it’s also to be a facilitator,” Dean Mortenson said. “To be either a cheerleader or a facilitator, you have to have tools in your toolbox to build a dwelling that’s worthy of the quality of our students, the quality of our faculty and the quality of our university. Endowment is a priceless tool in the toolbox that allows me to bring added value to everything that we do. Having this money and being able to pull from that to enhance opportunities as they come up, to create very high-quality experiences for our students is one of the most valuable tools we have.”