“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

My journey began as a self-taught accordion player from a lower middle class neighborhood near Davison Ave. and Woodrow Wilson Ave. in Detroit. I was introduced to music through the Archdiocesan Opportunity Program (AOP); federally funded/Archdiocesan supported arts program for underprivileged inner-city youth. I remember catching the bus to Canfield Ave. at St. Aubin, where I was given a perfunctory introduction to the accordion before the start of the 1967 Detroit riots, which cut short the possibility of any additional lessons. But I persevered, and continue to go to the east side of Detroit to be part of a Jazz/R&B teen band, led by Horace Sneed.

From accordion to organ, I took lessons with John F. Callaghan at Marygrove College while pursuing an undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Detroit. I came to WSU as a post bachelor student, where I studied general music courses, and organ with Ray Ferguson, while working as director of music for the Archdiocese of Detroit and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. After earning my graduate degree here, I became music director/instructor of music for the Theologate at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in addition to my responsibilities with the Archdiocese and the Cathedral. Three years after earning a doctorate from the University of Michigan, I became a lecturer in music at WSU, and rose through the ranks to assistant professor, associate professor, interim associate chair, associate chair, interim chair, and now chair. 

For some, it would seem that I took a very circuitous route to get here. For others, it is the path to opportunity for which this great institution has been known. Without Wayne, there would be no “Norah Duncan IV – Professor and Chair.” It could only happen here, where potential is keenly recognized and fostered. And this is why I am proud to be here.

Since being appointed interim chair and through the interview process for chair, I have been asked a few recurring, and poignant questions:

    1)   Why do you want to be chair?

    2)   What makes Wayne State’s Department of Music different from the other schools in Michigan?

    3)   What is your vision for the next five years?

I have been told that the department chair has the hardest job on campus. The job comes with many responsibilities, including coordinating the teaching loads of faculty and planning the schedule of classes each semester; supervising the promotion and tenure process for faculty members; with a faculty committee, evaluating faculty every year; overseeing all departmental activities on and off campus; organizing and chairing faculty meetings; being a spokesperson for the department at college, university, and community events; and “realizing” the mission of the department.

My work over the last 20 years prepared me for this new role. I have been director of music ministries for the Archdiocese of Detroit, director of music for Blessed Sacrament Cathedral and for the Cathedral Cultural Series, associate chair under Dennis J. Tini and John Vander Weg, and Interim Chair since June 2013. I am a product of this institution; I am a teacher at this institution; and I am a parent who has successfully entrusted the care and education of my children to this institution. I have been mentored by the best chairs that a music department could ever have, maintaining the Department’s professional accreditation ranking with the National Association of Schools of Music. With the administrative experience, the professional mentoring and the trust of the faculty, I feel equipped to lead them through the next five years.

The second question, “What makes Wayne State’s Department of Music different from the other schools in Michigan?” was asked by Wayne Brown, CEO of the Michigan Opera Theater during the summer of 2013. To be honest, I really did not know how to respond to it. Now, after a couple of years, I have an answer: “Location! Location! Location!” Midtown offers so many opportunities for our students: the Labor Day Jazz Festival, the Michigan Opera Theatre programs, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra programs, the contemporary music collective, New Music Detroit, to name only a few. Our site is one of the more beautiful campuses in the state, with one of the lowest crime rates, and the student body is a microcosm of a rich cultural diversity, which reflects the world which they will enter. Our faculty members are active performers, researchers and entrepreneurs, and have a record of preparing our students to be successful in the careers they chooose.

The third question, “What is your vision for the next five years?” was asked by DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin during lunch a few weeks ago. If leaders have visions; Chairs, as department leaders must have a vision. But vision is not enough; you must have action. I agree with author Joel A. Barker who wrote, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

My vision is that the Greater Detroit community sees the WSU Department of Music as a leading institution in the arts community, that is, one which prepares young musicians for successful careers in music, and as one which presents high quality musical programs for the region. Secondly, I want to create a community advisory group of representatives from the various Detroit musical organizations. Thirdly, it is my vision that the alumni become more involved in the department as concert attendees, career mentors, and as philanthropic supporters. In a few years, the Department of Music will reach its centennial milestone. It is a time not only to look to the past or present, but also to vision the future. It will be a time worth celebrating. Faculty and students change, but our commitment to artistic excellence remains constant. Reconnect to Wayne, “Re-member.”

Norah Duncan IV