Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, January 3, 2005
From This Issue
Volume 82 • Number 3
Winter 2005

On the Upbeat
Robert Pound teaches, conducts and composes with aplomb
By Sherri Kimmel
It isn’t hard to spot Robert Pound on an airplane. He’s the handsome, young, well-dressed man composing music. He’s quiet about it, though. All of the parts are swirling in his head, which is bowed to scrutinize black notes he is penciling on white manuscript paper laid before him on the plastic tray table.

With a schedule jammed with teaching, conducting and composing, Pound makes use of every precious second. But don’t suspect that he’s out of balance. He loves the juggling act.

If It’s Thursday He Must Be Teaching
Robert Pound is meeting with three of his advanced-composition students: Jamie Greenberg ’06, Rob Isaacs ’06 and Scott Nowicki ’06. Under discussion is Isaacs’ progress on what will eventually be a seven-minute composition for five instruments that will be “read” by the college’s resident group, Alarm Will Sound. Pound moves back and forth between blackboard, where he dissects scales on the board, and piano, where he plays snatches of Isaacs’ work.

“What does it mean if you have five instruments [and only four notes in a chord]?” Pound asks.

“Something gets doubled?” responds Isaacs.

“What do we want to double?” he shoots back.

“I think I’d like to double the F because it comes back later,” replies Isaacs a bit hesitantly.

“Doubling a note gives it more presence [or emphasis],” affirms Pound. “If you have an F that comes back later that’s a great reason for doubling. Now let’s go back to doubling the F and try to make it work.”

Pound’s own experience as a composer informs the class discussion a little later. “I wrote a whole piece this way. Rob, you tapped into my past imagination.”

In a few minutes he cautions, “If you omit these two notes you will get rid of the dissonance. But I’m not trying to get you to write like I do.”

Though this is the day before his deadline for a composition he was commissioned to write, he conducts the class with ease and good humor and dressed in his usual teaching attire—starched shirt with French cuffs, tie and jacket. He makes occasional references to Cover to Cover, the piece he’s composing for the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus, Ga., to perform at a library opening in his hometown.

The request came in August when Pound was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for two weeks attending a conducting workshop with the New Symphony of Bulgaria, funded by a college research and development grant.

It was a busy time for the associate professor. “I had to get my classes ready before I left for Bulgaria—my syllabus ready and my private lessons [scheduled]. On my flight back I got a lot of composing done.”

And some curious glances. One passenger asked him, “Can you hear all of that in your head?”

“Making connections through music to people in strange places can be pleasant or awkward,” Pound says with a smile.

When he landed in Harrisburg, he kept on charging.

“I got back, got my students going, and then I went to New Mexico.” Pound spent a few early September days in Albuquerque as assistant conductor for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra’s performance of music from The Lord of the Rings films. Pound also serves as conductor for Dickinson’s 55-person orchestra, which has a blend of community members and students.

In late October, he began work on an overture-length piece commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for a November 2005 performance. He’s titled it Irrational Exuberance.

And the Beat Goes on
Despite the hectic pace, Pound says, “I’m really happiest when I’m doing all of these things, I love the hyper-stimulation of my work. I would rather be too busy than not at all.”

Pound has been immersed in music since he was 14. This was a bit of a mystery to his parents, a Realtor and a salesman.

He begged his parents to let him take band, then started playing the trumpet and composing. His teacher took note, asked Pound to write a piece for the band and to conduct it in the spring concert. “And so I became a composer and a conductor at the same time. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Pound majored in music at the University of North Texas, then earned a master’s and doctorate at The Julliard School, where he studied with contemporary composer Milton Babbitt. Pound came to Dickinson in 1998.

“Here I get to teach composition and theory and conduct—doing all the things I want to do. It’s the right sized department. And I can make my schedule fit so I can take assistant conducting jobs. It’s a primo situation, especially for a composer.”

And also for students of music.

Program is Sweet Music for Students
“Where I went I would not have had a professor for composing until my junior year,” Pound contends. “I would have had a graduate student. Here, as soon as a student begins to study composing, they have me. If I had known about a program like this, I would have been happy to go to Dickinson.”

At Dickinson, he says, students needn’t be lifelong aficionados to study music.

“For students who got a late start, we have a lot to offer. We’ve sent some students to really fine graduate programs. We’ve heard from those programs that our students are well prepared. We can do a lot for motivated students.”

Even for those who don’t pursue a career in music, there is great value to be gained, he says. “They will be better-informed audience members and patrons.”

Pound and other members of his department foster this interest by taking students in the college’s Music Society to New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to hear professional groups.

Going beyond Carlisle, whether to Bulgaria or Albuquerque or elsewhere, is important for Pound and all members of the campus community, he says.

“[President] Bill [Durden] looks for engagement in the field beyond the walls of the school. This is a place that is not just a shelter. It’s a place that benefits from what we do everywhere else.


Dickinson College, PO Box 1773, Carlisle, PA 17013, 717-243-5121