COLA Connections Newsletter: March 2014

Faculty Profile - Dr. Michael Ruhling, Department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture

Dr. Michael Ruhling is a professor in RIT’s department of Performing Arts and Visual Culture where he conducts the RIT Orchestra and teaches numerous courses in music history. Passionate about his work, he brings a rich background in music studies to RIT, offering his students a unique learning experience. Dr. Ruhling tells us about his background in music, his thoughts on music at RIT, and his experience conducting a “period” orchestra in Boston and New York City.

What is your background in the music field?

I started out as a trumpet major at Goshen College, and added voice and conducting to my concentration while there. In 1988 I received a performers scholarship for the Master's program at Notre Dame, where I was a graduate assistant with the bands. I went on to study orchestral conducting and musicology, continuing to intertwine academic research with performance, in particular music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My studies in this area began to take focus in the music of Joseph Haydn. In 2004 I published a book on four of the symphonies of Haydn, and in 2006 I founded the Haydn Society of North America (HSNA), for which I still serve as president. I am also the editorial director of HAYDN: Online Journal of the Haydn Society of North America, published by RIT Press. My work in Haydn research and publication led to my being named to the Haydn Society of Great Britain's Committee of Honour in 2010, which is comprised of ten international Haydn scholars.

How did you come to be a professor at RIT?

In 1998 RIT's College of Liberal Arts was in need of a person to conduct its orchestra and to teach music history and appreciation courses. As I had graduate degrees in both areas, it seemed a logical fit.

What is one of your favorite classes to teach?

RIT Orchestra is my most involved course, taking up the majority of my time. Other than that, I enjoy teaching all of my classes, in particular those that allow me to team-teach with colleagues in other subjects, such as Music and the Stage, and 19th Century Philosophy and Music. Such experiences allow me to keep learning.

What do you think the difference between a musical education at RIT is compared to one at a more "traditional" university?

The general education focus here means that there has to be less in-depth music teaching than at a more traditional university, which would have a music degree program. Here we tend to aim to make audience members and expand students' knowledge of the humanities in a more general way, rather than to aim at a depth of knowledge required by those pursuing music as a career or vocation. In a sense, we merely scratch the surface of music at RIT. (Author note: Currently studying “Music of the Romantic Era” under the direction of Dr. Ruhling, I can say that while “scratching the surface” may be a common characteristic of some music courses at RIT, Dr. Ruhling takes his students deep into the core of musical pieces. We learn characteristics of structure, unique traits of composers, and go well beyond the “surface” of a piece. It’s a truly enjoyable and unique experience.)

During your time with the RIT Orchestra, what have been your favorite pieces that the students have played?

I don't think I have any favorites, per se, but each year we perform at least one work that is either a world première (brand new, never performed), or give a modern première (not performed in modern times) of a piece from the 18th or early 19th centuries. Thus, we bring into the modern repertoire things that others have not done at all, or at least for a couple of centuries. In March we will be performing an exciting "storm" movement from a symphony by Paul Wranitzky, which hasn't been performed in about 200 years.

You recently conducted a professional orchestra in Boston, please tell us about this experience.

The ensemble Grand Harmonie is a "period" ensemble that is comprised of players who are specialists in music of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The pieces are performed on instruments modeled after those from that time, reflecting period performing practices rather than played on modern instruments in modern ways. This is what my own research deals with: historical performing practices. One of my former students here at RIT plays in the ensemble and was the featured soloist in a horn concerto by Edouard DuPuy that has never before been recorded, and only performed once in modern times by the RIT Orchestra last February. It was a great pleasure for me to conduct this fine period ensemble in the Dupuy, as well as Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 and a short symphony by Michael Haydn that is rarely heard. The concerts took place in Cambridge, MA, and New York City.