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Mutual Admiration

Mutual AdmirationT.J. Anderson, former chair of the music department, reflects on his career as a musician as he prepares for a university celebration honoring his success.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.28.08] At the age of 80, composer T.J. Anderson has led a life that many musicians dream about. He has composed more than 80 pieces in varying genres, played with a number of outstanding musicians, including jazz performers Jackie McLean and Dannie Richmond, and has traveled the world doing what he loves.

But despite these accomplishments, Anderson says the most important event in his musical career was the one that led him to Tufts. Equally grateful to him for his service to the university, the Department of Music will host a three-day festival of new music, Oct. 3-5, honoring Anderson's work and his 80 years on the planet.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Anderson was raised in a home that was constantly filled with music, thanks in part to his mother, who was also a musician.

"I started off playing the violin, and then I decided to switch to what we refer to as 'working instruments,'-so I started playing the trumpet, and went on the road with my music as a teenager," Anderson recalls. "That's when I decided I would always have jazz in my life, but I would not be a jazz musician-mainly because of the hardships that come with it. It was just obvious to me that it wasn't something I was going to do for the rest of my life."

Going off to college, Anderson studied music education, with thoughts of becoming a band director, until he hit graduate school, where he discovered composition.

"From there I went on to the University of Iowa and got a Ph.D. in composition," Anderson says. "It was fortunate for me to have a teacher who really wanted you to develop your own personality as opposed to teaching a system."

After earning his Ph.D., Anderson was contacted by his friend Jack Zarker, then-chair of Tufts' classics department, who informed him of an opening at the university. Upon visiting Tufts, Anderson says that his decision to take the position as chair of the music department was sealed after a 1972 meeting with then-Dean of Arts and Sciences Bernard Harleston, a fellow black scholar.

"I was fortunate that I came at the time when blacks were being integrated into white society," Anderson says. "It really impressed me when I went to the interview, and saw that Bernie Harleston was the dean. When I saw that I knew I could be the chairman of the music department with ease."

Anderson added, "I've been to a lot of places, but the most important was when I happened to come to Tufts. Tufts was really where I had the performance opportunities, I had the time to compose and was encouraged by the university. It was a very important appointment in my personal development as a composer."

Anderson taught in the Department of Music from 1972 to 1990, acting as chair during his first eight years and being appointed Austin Fletcher Professor of Music in 1978. In 1985 he received the university's Lillian and Joseph Leibner Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising, and upon his retirement in 1990 he was appointed Austin Fletcher Professor of Music Emeritus.

"My students were always introducing me to things that I would have never seen," Anderson says. "It's a give and take relationship. You have the option to say 'this is no good', 'this is great' and why, but there's a dual shared responsibility in teaching that I really enjoyed and I can honestly say I learned as much from my students as I taught."

Looking forward to what the music department has prepared in his honor, Anderson says he is "overwhelmed" by the weekend's events, which include a symposium on contemporary African-American composers, a special reception in his honor and a tribute concert by his former students, colleagues and friends.

"It's something you don't anticipate to happen in your lifetime," Anderson says, "You don't anticipate being 80, and you certainly don't know what you will have accomplished up until that time. All I know is I did the best I could with what I had."

Currently, Anderson is working on a multimedia piece called "The Wedding," slated to be performed in January of 2009. The piece was inspired by an art gallery painting in Chapel Hill, N.C., and will feature a poetry reading by poet and gallery owner Bill Hester, a narration and a musical piece that will tie in instruments seen in the painting and take advantage of the universal theme of weddings to incorporate music from all over the world.

Looking back on all of his work, Anderson says it is near impossible to choose which piece is his favorite.

"It's like asking a mother to pick her favorite child, you don't really know," Anderson laughs. "I think you have invested in each piece who you are at that particular moment in time, so that's why every piece is totally different."

So what would Anderson tell someone who is interested in a career in music?

"Most students choose a field because it is profitable, but if you do what you love to do, whether its music or physics or whatever, you will work twice as hard. Do what you love in life, not what makes money."

 Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.

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