In a spirit of sharing true to Concord Academy, the 2018 reunion provided an opportunity for the CA alumnae/i community to celebrate the creative work of its graduates through thought-provoking discussion. Ben Stumpf ’88, who teaches computer science, film, and graphic design at CA, was celebrating his 30th class reunion. He moderated a conversation on June 9 at the Moriarty Athletic Campus field house with fellow alumnae/i who work in the arts, having kindled their creative sparks in Concord and fanned them into distinctive careers.
Most of the four panelists had left CA knowing precisely the fields they wanted to pursue. Colin Levin ’03, an opera singer celebrating his 15th reunion, recalled his senior recital with math teacher and pianist George Larivee and how together they had spent hours sight reading Schubert Lieder. He also credited the mentorship of former CA music teacher Keith Daniel for encouraging a self-described young “chorus nerd” to envision himself as a future professional baritone. “It was so incredible to have an individual I held in such a level of esteem behind me,” he said, “to have someone, at that early stage of development, believe in me.” Levin went straight into studying vocal performance at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, then interrupted his studies towards a master’s degree to apprentice before making the jump to the mainstage himself with companies such as Opera Boston, and its new incarnation, Odyssey Opera; Opera Roanoke; Fargo-Moorhead Opera; and Marble City Opera.
Grady Gund ’08, a New York-based theater director celebrating his 10th reunion, expressed similar enthusiasm for the opportunities he had in CA’s theater program to explore, as he said, “not just Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls but plays like Six Characters in Search of an Author, a lot of weird stuff.” Gund earned his bachelor’s in theater at Skidmore before moving straight on to New York, where he is now a freelance director.
Although architecture — now taught by indefatigable longtime arts faculty member Chris Rowe — wasn’t offered when Becky Seamans Egea ’93, celebrating her 25th reunion, was a student at CA, she recalled much encouragement from faculty, including former CA English teacher Stephen Teichgraeber. From before she entered her first semester at Wesleyan, Egea knew that she wanted to study architecture. She has since worked for three large architectural firms, working on projects as diverse as the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany; the Songo Residential Towers in South Korea; and the Abu Dhabi Transit Center. She co-founded a small practice with fellow CA alumna Alice von Stauffenberg ’92 before branching out into her own independent London-based company.
“We weren’t encouraged to dabble but to go deeply into our interests. CA was a wonderful place to experiment.”Meg Grasselli ’68, celebrating her 50th reunion, described a less straightforward career path. At CA, she had loved being in the painting studio but knew by her junior year that she didn’t have the “essential passion to produce art,” she said. She turned for a while to performance instead. “We weren’t encouraged to dabble but to go deeply into our interests,” she said, calling CA “a wonderful place to experiment.” Given her love of languages and antiquities, Grasselli intended to be a classical archaeologist until she began studying art history in her first year in college. With a laugh, she credited that swerve to an unexpected reason: “At Harvard, the undergraduate archeology course met at 8 a.m. The introduction to art history met at noon. It was the beginning of everything!” At a time when women weren’t expected to have careers, Grasselli began assisting at Harvard’s Fogg Museum under the mentorship of Agnes Mongan, the first woman to be a curator there. While working on her doctorate, she earned a fellowship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington that she thought would last a few months. Soon a job opened up that required exactly her expertise with old master drawings; 38 year later, she’s still at the National Gallery, putting together exhibitions, conducting scholarship, and acquiring new works for the museum.
–Meg Grasselli ’68
The panelists all had parents supportive of their entry into creative fields, even extraordinarily competitive and difficult ones. Levin said he advises young singers not to limit themselves to the apprenticeship model he suffered through, but to consider a broader range of options including professional chorus or teaching. Egea noted that as an architect, “the better you get, the more negative feedback you get.” She is still close with her cohort from architecture school, and she uses her experience of weathering criticism to work toward collaborative resolutions when disagreements with clients or contractors crop up.
All of the panelists’ careers have been reshaped by recent technological changes. Architects now work on 3D models simultaneously, Egea said, which allows for unprecedented collaboration, although ever-evolving computer-aided design and drafting software has a steep learning curve. Grasselli said that the digitization of art images has completely altered art history research — while it once took her hours to thumb through library books hoping to find the right black-and-white reproductions, she now has high-resolution photographs at her fingertips via a simple search. She applauded the free access many museums are giving to their collections online, but she hopes it won’t keep new art historians from looking at the originals. Opera too has benefitted remarkably from new technology that can help to identify and fix vocal issues, improve the way individual voices carry over instrumentation, and keep vocal chords healthy. And while the stage remains the focus for the theater, Gund said he takes advantage of the ease of research to delve deeply into history, art, and visual concepts in shaping each of his shows.
Closing the conversation, Stumpf turned to the audience and asked who else had careers in the arts. There was a significant show of hands. The community heard briefly from CA graduates in woodworking, painting, drawing, filmmaking, dance, graphic design, bookbinding, fabric arts, art installation, and other fields before rejoining the festivities and reconnecting over shared paths and interests.