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Each year, the James Ladewig Scholarship in Music History will be awarded to a music student in recognition of academic excellence and enthusiasm for music history.

 
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You might consider music history an esoteric subject, but if you’re lucky enough to have studied with Jim Ladewig, you know better. He imbues music history with a vitality that is hard to resist.

Professor Ladewig is an internationally respected scholar in the field of Italian instrumental music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. One of his crowning achievements was a decade-long project that involved bringing to press a 30-volume series of modern editions of Italian instrumental music. He was the general editor of the entire 30-volume series as well as the volume editor for 19 of the books. True to form, Ladewig also nurtured younger colleagues at the beginning of their careers by subcontracting and supervising work on the other 11 volumes.

One might suspect that a faculty member with such an illustrious publishing history might skimp a bit in the classroom. This could not be further from the truth. Ladewig combines impeccable scholarship with humor, passion, and high standards. In the classroom he will do almost anything to focus and motivate his students. “As a teacher you have to lose your inhibitions,” he says. “I like to mix serious attention to the material with high spirits and fun.”

His classroom is a colorful place —literally. He illustrates his musical examples with books, pictures, and his signature colored chalks. “I’ve always liked adding visuals, and colored chalk has become my trademark,” laughs Ladewig. “I began with blackboard chalk and then graduated to sidewalk chalk. Now my students bring me big buckets of different colored chalks as gifts.”

He also uses a variety of anecdotes to enliven his music history classes. Nearly 20 years ago when I took my first class with Professor Ladewig, he told us the story of Don Carlo Gesualdo, a feudal Italian prince of the 16th century. Gesualdo was a composer of madrigals that sound surprisingly modern with twists and turns through chromatic passages and unexpected dissonances.

But the reason I remember so much about madrigals is partly due to the lurid story Ladewig told the class. Apparently, Gesualdo’s wife was having an affair. Gesualdo led her to believe he was going off hunting, only to secretly return and viciously kill her and her lover while they lay in bed together. Thereafter, I avidly researched the lives of the composers we studied in order to bring in my own anecdotes to class. My fascination with music history had begun.

Ladewig often hears back from his students. They contact him to update him on their lives, and those who are themselves teachers share stories from their classrooms and tell him how his classes helped form their own teaching styles. “One thing I love is the number of students who contact me to tell me how glad they are that they kept their music history notes,” remarked Ladewig. “In my first lecture I always tell students, ‘keep your notes, don’t throw them away.’ So it’s nice to hear that students are still using them.”

Ladewig recently received public recognition for his impact as a teacher. A former student made an anonymous contribution to launch the James Ladewig Scholarship in Music History. “I was really touched by this gift. The scholarship was announced as I was celebrating my 20th year at URI, so it was very meaningful to me,” says Ladewig. Each year, the scholarship will be awarded to a music student in recognition of academic excellence and enthusiasm for music history. In October 2005, James Macartney, a music major working toward dual bachelor’s degrees in music history and music education, became the first recipient.

Thanks to Professor Ladewig’s efforts, the Music Department’s music history section is flourishing with a record number of students currently enrolled in classes, while the Music History Sequence has grown from two semesters to three semesters. Ladewig has expanded the offerings from the classical repertory to include world music in the first semester and jazz and popular music in the final semester.

“Western music grew out of world music, so there are a lot of traits to follow. For example monophonic single line chant is similar to some world music,” noted Ladewig. “Of course, I was never trained in this when I was in graduate school at the University of California at Berkley, so I spent a couple of summers retooling. I attended a summer workshop for music teachers at California State University at San Diego focusing on world music. I’ve had a great time learning all these new things, and our students love studying these different types of music.”

Ladewig’s attention to his students’ growth has gone hand-in-hand with his own professional growth as a musicologist. Over the years, he has received grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the URI Foundation. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University and is a member of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, and the Renaissance Society of America. He is a member of the board of directors and the treasurer of the American Musicological Society and has served as president of the New England Chapter of the AMS.

Professor Ladewig has been a major influence in my own life. I took every class he ever offered in my years at URI; as a result, when I pursued my Master of Music degree at the University of Texas at Austin, I aced the music history section of my placement exams. In my many moves from state to state, I have always carried my music history books with me, including a 10-volume series of The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. However, my most enduring lesson from Professor Ladewig was to learn to reach for excellence but never to lose sight of the human element. As he often says: “One of the most important things for a teacher is to care individually about each student.”

And, of course, 20 years later I still have all my music history notes.

By Jennifer Sherwood ’89space picturePhoto by Nora Lewis

 
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