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Illustration by Maria Fabrizio
Ever since I was a young boy, music has been at the center of my life — first as a refuge, then as a source of identity, and finally as the field in which I learned what it means to be a leader.

My collaborative leadership style began to take shape in the summer of 1977 at Chanticleer Farm in Indiana, home of George Klemperer, an amateur violinist and cousin of renowned conductor Otto Klemperer. Along with two of George’s daughters and another musician, I formed a string quartet that performed in a chamber music festival for several weeks that summer — and continued with the group for the next 16 years. The experience was a lesson not only in the art of chamber music but also in decision-making.

Unlike a symphony orchestra, which is led by a sole conductor, a chamber ensemble embodies collaborative decision-making. Each player has the opportunity to step up and lead. To avoid screeching to a cacophonous halt, however, each player must come to recognize in the performance the potential for discord and instead seek to make this potential a wellspring of creativity and artistry.

In any piece of music there may be one phrase that strikes the ear, initially, as somehow off. But if the members of a chamber ensemble stay with it, the harmonies eventually resolve into a single complex composition of many parts. The key is that each player must learn how to balance their part within multiple voices instananeously, hearing when to step forward and when to let someone else take the spotlight.

At Richmond, we are blessed to have a world-class ensemble of faculty and staff working in concert to address the impact of COVID-19 on our community. While I have strived to play my part, providing direction and reassurance for the university, other members of the ensemble have stepped forward to make enormous contributions
to our work.

Take our faculty, under the guidance of professors Sandra Joireman and Linda Boland and supported by Keith McIntosh’s information technology team. They have put in countless extra hours to redesign their courses for remote learning in such a way that delivers the exceptional education for which Richmond is so well-known.

Or look at our emergency management team, led by Brittany Schaal. She has been at the forefront of our response since Day One, providing a bird’s-eye view of our efforts through regular situation reports and making it possible for everyone to work in tandem, even from our remote work environments.

There are many other critical players instrumental to the success of our ensemble, not least of which are all of you — our dedicated alumni, Spider parents, and friends. Thanks to your continued goodwill and financial generosity, we have been able to help students meet urgent needs, from paying for unanticipated but necessary flights and train tickets to providing emergency laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots.

Today, our ensemble is being tested like never before by this unprecedented public health crisis. But through it all we have remained united, bringing together many voices and — at least to my ear — producing a single composition that reflects in beautiful, dynamic, and sometimes surprising ways, the work of a dedicated and accomplished ensemble.