In Memoriam: Robert Moore Trotter (1922-1994)

December 1, 1994

Robert Moore Trotter, Past President of The College Music Society and Dean Emeritus of the School of Music of the University of Oregon, died on Thursday, September 1, of complications following a bout with hepatitis contracted in Morocco in the late 1980s. He was a pianist, oboist, musicologist, master teacher, and Dean who is credited with doubling the size of the School of Music at the University of Oregon, initiating its doctoral program, and making it a nationally recognized institution.

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Trotter's musical abilities garnered him an undergraduate music scholarship in oboe at Northwestern, where he became a piano major and a member of Pi Kappa Lambda honor society. He received his M.A. in Musicology from the University of Chicago in 1947 and was the recipient of a Fulbright Grant for research in French Renaissance music in 1951-52 in Brussels. In 1957 he received his Ph.D. in Musicology and Comparative Arts from the University of Southern California.

Trotter was Music Director at KPFK, an FM educational station in Los Angeles in 1959-62, winning the Ohio State Radio Award for the best educational music program in the U.S. And Canada in 1960 with his program “Study of a Masterwork: Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.” He was a member of the Policy Committee of the Contemporary Music project sponsored by the Ford Foundation in 1963-73, the Academic Music Advisory Panel of the U.S. Department of State from 1968, the Council of the American Musicological Society in 1963-65 and 1967-69, and the NASM Commission on Undergraduate Curricula in 1971-74.

From 1963 Trotter was, as he would express it, “Deaning” at the University of Oregon after serving as Professor and Chair of the Music Department at UCLA. As Dean, he is credited with creating a learning environment in which critical thinking about the art and commitment to broadly based musicianship was as important as technical proficiency. The aura he created at the University of Oregon School of Music has set it apart, for many of us, from others in the country.

In 1966-68 he was Northwest Regional Director of the Institute for Music in Contemporary Education for the Contemporary Music project and traveled across the country as a model of a multifaceted musician-teacher. As CMP urged the utilization of an expanded repertory in musical studies, he emphasized the need to restructure what he perceived to be an “ever-expanding,” rather than newly prioritized, music curriculum in American education. As President of The College Music Society, he launched its exemplary Music in General Studies project, an effort to address the unmet needs of general education students in colleges and universities as well as the pedagogical competencies of the music faculty who taught them.

For his successess, Trotter was honored with the respect of his colleagues and special professorial appointments at Yale University, the Shanghai Conservatory, Southern Methodist University, and the position of Provost at North Carolina School of the Arts. Most of all, he was recognized as an extraordinarily effective educator of expressive, thoughtful, and multidimensional musicians.

His interaction with others was always personal, even when it was professional. He seemed to lack the need to be conscious of differences in status, whether economic, social, or related to age, gender or ethnicity. Yet, he could be as tough in his analysis of colleagues as he was of himself. As David Shrader, Dean of the University of North Texas College of Music, said recently, “Robert was a rarity in that he could always be counted on for honest, loving feedback.”

He used a number of memorable verbal descriptors in the course of wide-ranging discussions characterized by insightful analyses, brilliant ideas, reflective critiques, and wise counsel. He identified as “potentially useful” the ideas he shared. He would label unfamiliar musical examples as “sound—potentially music,” suggesting that “music” was a classification that depended upon the listener's awareness of an example's stylistic probabilities and cultural context. His dialogic style of interacting, teaching, and living drew together those who knew him. He facilitated discussion of controversial issues by reassuring those involved that he was “incapable of being offended” by anything said to him. His suggestion to “bless and release” the things that concern us, over which we have no control, represents a salient indicator of his commitment to a healthy, reflective inner life.

His musicianship demonstrated the same reflection, thoughtfulness, and care. His assiduous integrity kept him sensitive and renewed by a determined, continuing vulnerability to new musical insights. He was a glorious pianist. He knew music, was committed to it, and gloried in it. He “tweaked” computer software beyond limits on its musicality to allow, for example, the Toch piano Etudes to be heard in a way that effortlessly revealed the masterful craft of their construction. He handed out a list of musical compositions that he considered to deserve “long-range listening at a high spiritual level.” He suggested that these works “stretch the limits of our being in the Present while also stretching our capacity to respond and to reflect on the meaning of our response.” Music to which he was capable of responding, and which he recommended to students and colleagues, spanned the globe.

He lived a life filled with interests, activity, and relationships. He played many roles: musician, reciter of poetry, computer software developer, counselor, embroiderer, teacher, performer, musicologist, adherent of Martin Buber, administrator, “fellow pilgrim,” gourmet sorbet maker, and co-player. In sum, Robert Moore Trotter was a consummately generous, thoughtful, and sensitive friend, an altogether remarkable teacher and human spirit, and a beloved CMS colleague.

Barbara Reeder Lundquist

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