This entry in a series of profiles of Juilliard Commencement experiences is by third-year undergrad jazz pianist Sean Mason; a recording of the school’s Dave Brubeck Ensemble playing his arrangement of Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul of a Man” was part of the main ceremony.
May 2020—What does it mean to be a part of a community? It seems to mean everything to those longing to be a part of one, and can mean almost nothing to those who already are—until it’s all taken away and all that was taken for granted is blindly exposed, demanding a response and a reevaluation of the fundamental. I left my last class on Friday, February 28, at 6pm, complaining about how bad my student presentation was, laughing and joking with my colleagues, enjoying each other’s company, and discussing our Friday night plans to celebrate the start of spring break, not realizing that this would be our last time inside the Juilliard building together for the rest of the semester.
Art is loving, art is healing, art is alive
The social impact of COVID-19 brought positive change to Juilliard, with everyone contributing to finish the semester strong. Students, teachers, and staff were reaching out to one another like never before, ensuring our individual well-being, and upholding the values of our community. The resilience of the Juilliard community has been evident during the past three months, and to wake up on May 22 to virtually celebrate my colleagues, the graduating class of 2020, was the culmination of all we’ve worked hard for. It was truly an honor to hear and see my arrangement featured at the end of the program. The song was quite fitting for our time—with the original version recorded in 1930, during the Great Depression, by Blind Willie Johnson. The chorus is,
“Well, I want somebody tell me, answer if you can!
I want somebody tell me, just what is the soul of a man?”
Those words are a quest for meaning and an inquiry about the universal feeling that we all relate to but find difficult to put in words. Art is alive, and art contains the power to break through all barriers and travel right into the depths of the human soul, with the overwhelming feeling of joy requiring no explanation, allowing us to feel more alive and more interconnected with each other. Art is loving, art is healing, art is cleansing, art is empowering, but most importantly—ART IS ALIVE, right here, right now, and the Juilliard 2020 Commencement was evidence of that.
Thank you, Juilliard. Thank you to the wonderful production team for putting together a wonderful commencement program, and congratulations class of 2020.