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Dec. 10, 2014

Jere Hutcheson: Honoring the Whartons

Dec. 10, 2014

Jere Hutcheson is a professor of composition in the College of Music. He is the recipient of numerous awards and commissions, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Berkshire Music Center, and the Annual Composers Conference.

During my years at MSU, 1963-65 as a doctoral student, and 1965 to the present as a faculty member, I have served nine university presidents from John Hannah to Clifton Wharton, to Lou Anna K. Simon. Each brought well-honed leadership skills and each shaped the university.

In my opinion, our current president is absolutely brilliant in meeting the ever-changing demands for educating in the twenty-first century, for maintaining a dialogue with the community, for working effectively for the university's development and for her desire to actively communicate and engage with all the facets of a modern age mega-university.

Jere Hutcheson at piano with composition

Jere Hutcheson in 1995. Photo courtesy MSU College of Music

For those of us who were teaching at MSU in the seventies and especially for those of us who were in the arts and humanities, there has to be a special place in our hearts for Clifton and Dolores Wharton. The Wharton presidency (1970-78) covered some turbulent years in the nation's history and, quite naturally, the social unrest of the time was felt and expressed on the country's college campuses. Clifton Wharton's previous diplomatic experiences in Asia taught him well how to manage difficult situations and how to resolve conflicts through diplomacy.

Dr. Wharton arrived at MSU in early 1970 and shortly thereafter he addressed the faculty for the first time. I attended. The event was in the evening and it was in the Union Building.

Dr. Wharton had written his speech so that it would instill confidence in the faculty about the current state of MSU. It was a stirring speech. I about fell out of my seat when he said, "MSU's Departments of Art and Music are among the best in the land." I recall reading the speech in the State News the following day; I kept a copy in my files for years.

By all accounts, it was Mrs. Wharton who spurred an interest in the arts in the Lansing area. She hosted sit-down dinners at Cowles House for music lovers following performances on campus by great musical artists. I remember sitting at a table with Ralph and Tina Votapek and Van Cliburn following a Cliburn recital in the University Auditorium.

Among the dozens of advisory boards she sat on, Mrs. Wharton served on the National Council for the Arts from 1974 until 1980. I recall that when the State of Michigan was seeking an appropriate piece of outdoor art to represent the spirit of Michigan, Mrs. Wharton pushed for a Claes Oldenburg sculpture—a gigantic baseball mitt that would symbolize the state's lower peninsula's shape.

Well, no one except Mrs. Wharton knew much about the artist Claes Oldenburg, and the idea was voted down. A few years later, I read a newspaper article about a New England investor who purchased a gigantic first baseman's mitt by Oldenburg. A photo showed the mitt; it was spectacular. Michigan could have had it, had our local folks shared Mrs. Wharton's vision.

During his tenure, President Wharton served on several corporate boards; these were salaried positions. Dr. Wharton invested these salaries into a fund that eventually sparked the construction of The Clifton and Dolores Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. Thanks to the Whartons we have now enjoyed 32 years of this beautiful facility which serves the university's major performing ensembles and also sponsors one of the Midwest’s most attended venues for musicals, theater and world-class performing ensembles.

Igor Stravinsky summarized his inexplicable relation to his masterpiece “The Rite of Spring” with the declaration "I am the vessel through which “Le Sacre” passed." The Whartons constituted a culturally rich vessel, and for eight years MSU flowed through that vessel.