A Testimony to Influential Teachers

ADUTA winner cites mentors for shaping his pedagogy

Playing it forward

Playing it forward: Inspired by the pedagogy of his mentors, composer Anthony Kelley guides a new generation of musicians.
Jim Wallace

The soundtrack of Anthony Kelley’s life is an eclectic mix. As a child growing up in Henderson, North Carolina, he was introduced to gospel and spirituals by his mother, who sang throughout the day; to funk/rock/ soul classics by his older brothers, who grooved to groups like Parliament-Funkadelic; and to R&B by his father, who played Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” so many times, recalls Kelley, that “he played the needle right through that record.”

But Kelley was no passive listener. He and his friends sought out the most obscure records they could find in the Henderson public library’s audio collection, poring over album notes and delighting in one-upping each other over their latest musical discovery. When he left Henderson to attend Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school in Connecticut, Kelley sought to expand his education further, studying with longtime faculty member Ralph Valentine, “a brilliant musician who taught me most of what I know about music theory,” says Kelley.

Kelley ’87, A.M. ’90 continues to find inspiration in music’s many forms, from classical, ragtime, and blues to jazz and pop. An associate professor of the practice in Duke’s music department since 2000, he writes award-winning compositions and collaborates with filmmakers to create original scores. And through his undergraduate courses on theory and composition, he’s introducing a new generation to the complexities and pleasures of music.

This spring, Kelley was selected as the winner of the 2011 Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award (ADUTA). Established by the Duke Alumni Association in 1970, the award recognizes outstanding undergraduate teaching. This year, 113 students nominated more than eighty professors, and an eight-member ADUTA student committee, randomly selected from the student body, made the final determination.

Nominations from Kelley’s current and former students emphasized his passion for his subject, his patience in teaching complicated theory, and his availability outside the classroom. “This professor has shaped so much of my college career,” wrote one student. “He patiently taught me music theory as an easily frustrated freshman, encouraged me to examine my passions and pursue a music major as my academic adviser, and is currently helping me brainstorm different ways I can bring music into medicine in my future career.… I have come to know him not only as my closest mentor and teacher, but also as one of my good friends; and I am forever grateful.”

The ADUTA honor is particularly meaningful to Kelley because of the impact of influential teachers and mentors at various stages of his career. As an undergraduate, he took courses with former music department chair Alan Bone, conductor of the Duke Symphony Orchestra, and musicologist Paul Bryan, conductor of the Duke Wind Symphony, who invited Kelley to travel to Vienna with the symphony as a sophomore.

He also studied under Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Robert Ward, who opened Kelley’s eyes to the possibility of making a life’s work out of music. “He told me that if I wanted to be serious about doing this for a living not to worry so much about being haunted by the giants—Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms,” Kelly recalls.

After earning his master’s degree from Duke, Kelley taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a few years, then earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as composer- in-residence with the Richmond Symphony for three years, and his work has been performed by the American Composers Orchestra and symphony orchestras including those in Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, and San Antonio.

Whether teaching non-music majors who just want to learn the principles of musical forms or working with more advanced students who are writing original compositions, Kelley relishes his interactions with undergraduates. He mentions two projects by rising seniors that will come to fruition next spring—Martin Connor’s requiem for victims of Haiti that will be performed on the Duke Chapel carillon and Kristina Warren’s composition for voice, electronics, and chamber ensemble.

Kelley serves as a mentor in other ways, as well. Since 2001, he’s been a faculty-inresidence on East Campus, first in Southgate and, since 2006, in Brown House. His apartment— equipped with a baby grand Steinway— is a hub for planned and impromptu jam sessions.

The award includes a personal stipend of $5,000 and a gift of $1,000 to the campus library of the winner’s choice. Kelley has designated the Music Library to receive the gift. He will be presented with the award at the Founders’ Day Convocation in September.


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