Interview: Cristle Collins Judd, Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Music
The slight Texas twang in her voice reveals immediately that the dean is a long way from home. Cristle Collins Judd arrived in Brunswick last summer—along with her husband, Robert, and their three daughters—to lead Bowdoin's academic program as dean for academic affairs. Cristle Judd is a musicologist whose career has taken her from Rice University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in music performance and her master's degree in musicology, to King's College at the University of London where she earned a second master's degree and her doctorate (both in music theory and analysis), to teaching posts at Penn, Cal State Fresno, the University of London, and the University of Melbourne in Australia. But Dean Judd's journey to Bowdoin originally began in Mineola, Texas, a town ninety miles east of Dallas that likes to be known as "The Birding Capital of East Texas"—population: 5,600.
Cristle Judd's parents still live in Mineola in the house they built in 1947. Her father owned a clothing store there - a family business. Her mother spent her days raising Cristle and her three brothers and helping out in the family business. It was in Mineola that Bowdoin's new dean began to develop a lifelong love and special appreciation for music and the arts that would shape her career as a scholar and teacher. It is an appreciation that is now guiding something of a renaissance for the arts and culture at Bowdoin as the College prepares to open a new recital hall in May and to re-open a completely renovated and expanded Walker Art Building next fall.
With her first New England winter well underway, Bowdoin Magazine invited the only woman to serve as dean for academic affairs at the College to sit down for a chat about her life, her career, and why working at this liberal arts college in Maine is a dream come true.
Bowdoin: You were the only girl in a Texas family with three brothers. How did they treat you?
Judd: My brothers? Oh, they used to pull me off the piano bench by my ponytail. I started piano very young. We all did the dreaded piano lessons.
Bowdoin: "Dreaded?" I guess that means the piano wasn't a passion. So where did this career of yours come from?
Judd: I was in Texas, so it was band—marching band for Friday night football games. That movie is true! I got to 6th grade, signed up for beginner band, and things went from there. My oldest brother was a very talented musician. He pushed a little bit, and sometimes the instrument would interest me and sometimes it would not. I played in the band, and then I played in a nearby community orchestra. I had lessons in Dallas and stuff like that. By the time I was in high school, music was a big part of my life. I wasn't a prodigy. But by my junior year in high school, I was practicing pretty seriously, going to summer camps, and things like that.
Bowdoin: What musical instrument do you play?
Judd: I'm an oboist. That's my serious instrument; piano, singing, the recorder have also figured into the music-making over the years.
Bowdoin: Were you a musician in college at Rice?
Judd: I was a performance major at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Music degree in oboe performance.
Bowdoin: That seems like a fairly specialized education. Not necessarily the kind of background that would lead someone into a leadership position at a liberal arts college.
Judd: Not really. But Rice is actually a small and quite intimate university and I took a lot of other classes outside the school of music in other areas, languages, art history. We had regular requirements to meet, so it wasn't like being at a stand-alone conservatory. And along the way I realized that while I loved playing what I really wanted to do was think about music.
Bowdoin: "Think" about music?
Judd: Yes. The example I give is that after twenty-one performances or so of Nutcracker in two-and-a-half weeks - Houston Ballet matinees, evenings, the whole bit—I realized that was not how I wanted to engage in music for the long haul. I learned that I wanted to understand how it worked, I wanted to understand what it meant, and I wanted to understand the way it changed people's lives.
Bowdoin: So, music as science.
Judd: Well, I'm a music theorist, so what I ultimately got into was a version of the science and music—not acoustics —but the questions about how music works, how it's put together, what its vocabulary is, what its order is. The kinds of historical books I study from the 16th century include philosophy, theology, mathematics—how music works, and how music can explain the universe.
Bowdoin: After earning your undergraduate degree and master's degree at Rice, you left Texas for London.
Judd: I started at Rice in a combined degree program, that included a sub-matriculation option, so in five years I completed a bachelors and master's degree. I switched my concentration so that the master's was in musicology and not performance. By that point I knew that music theory was what I was interested in and moved to do a Ph.D. at the University of London. I originally went to London thinking it was one year, I was going to do a master's degree because Rice hadn't really offered a theory program, and then I would go to Yale for a Ph.D. But I really liked the program I was in London. It made sense, I had a good grant, it was a good fit, and I'm glad I stayed.
Bowdoin: Was that the first time you had been out of Texas?
Judd: No, but nearly the first time. I had a summer fellowship at Rice between my fourth and fifth year that was like a mini-Watson, and I used it to spend time in Europe playing in Salzburg around the festival, seeing and hearing important musical landmarks. I was playing playing chamber music, and sort of really putting the focus on the things I had been immersed in terms of music history, performance and repertory. That was the first time in Europe, then it was back to Rice.
At the same time I moved to London, Bob and I got married - his Ph.D is from Oxford, we met when he was in the master's at Rice. Staying in London allowed me to do a very different program than I would have done at Yale. I knew at that point what I wanted to study. I knew I wanted to work on early music, and it kept getting earlier, so I ended up moving myself right out of the repertories I actually played.
Bowdoin: What was your first teaching job?
Judd: I had a teaching fellowship while I was in London, and then we went to the University of Melbourne.
My first teaching job was at the Conservatory at the University of Melbourne.
Bowdoin: A conservatory? So you were teaching students seeking to make a career out of musical performance?
Judd: Yes, but my own research was definitely sitting in a humanistic field of scholarship. There was no ambiguity about the kinds of work I was doing, the kinds of sources I was working with. My role was to teach the history and theory part to students who were mostly performers and who were planning to be educators. From Melbourne we went back to England and I taught at the University of Exeter. The British degree is very focused on what they are doing in terms of music, but, my own research continued to pull towards the humanistic side. Then we were in California - Cal State Fresno. I followed Bob there. He got tenure at Fresno the semester I was offered a job at Penn. We headed off to Penn where I spent thirteen years. It was at Penn that I moved squarely into a liberal arts college environment - of course, in the context of a research university.
Bowdoin: Thirteen years? It must have appealed to you.
Judd: Yeah, it did. It's a wonderful institution. I ended up working on a number of issues and initiatives across the university that were about arts and the liberal arts. Students who were double majors in biology and chemistry who happened to be terrific performers intrigued me. How did they keep playing? What did it mean to them? I was also really concentrating on where I wanted my own work to connect and what kind of teaching I was doing. I often talked to students who were non-majors, and I talked to them about music as one way of knowing. In the courses I was working in, it became clear to me what I really valued—where my own work had evolved—was with my colleagues in the humanities and seeing my own work very much in the midst of that.
Bowdoin: Your husband, Bob, is also a musicologists and the executive director of the American Musicological Society. How does he spend his day?
Judd: The American Musicological Society has about 3,500 individuals and 1,500 institutions that are members of the society. His day-to-day life is a year long cycle that's really focused on an annual meeting in which about 2,000 musicologists converge on a hotel and have four really intensive days of academic conversation about every aspect of music.
Bowdoin: Including you?
Judd: Including me—that's one of my professional societies. People say, "That's great, you and Bob get to go away together." Actually, we both work the whole time and we hardly see each other. In addition to the annual meeting, the Society provides graduate fellowships, that Bob administers and runs the competitions for. The Society also supports publications. He's active in the American Council of Learned Societies, on behalf of the AMS, and he's involved in a number of humanities and arts initiatives. It's a small organization, in terms of staff—two other people are in the office—but with an international reach.
Bowdoin: And now the American Musicological Society is based at Bowdoin.
Judd: Yes, it's here at Bowdoin. So, what does that mean? That was an interesting conversation for the board of the Society to have—what it meant for the office of AMS to move, what it meant for the society to not be located at a research institution, given that they are supporting people who have come out of Ph.D. programs. But the reality is, the office can do its business from anywhere these days and Bowdoin offered a warm welcome. The Society has a strong interest in outreach, so I honestly think coming to Maine has given Bob more chances to look at the possibilities. He spoke recently at the Bowdoin Breakfast, our periodic breakfast meeting with local alumni and members of the Brunswick and surrounding communities. How often do you get a couple hundred people turning out to hear and ask questions about what musicology is doing? The musicologists from the Bowdoin faculty were people we have known—people who are very active in the Musicological Society along with colleagues at Bates and Colby who have been long active and very prominent in the Society. In many ways, the move from a research institution to a smaller place reflects the life of many members of the Society and for their work and teaching.
Bowdoin: Let me ask you about your impressions of Bowdoin. You've been here for six months, or so, now. For people you knew "from away"—colleagues, friends, and family—how do you describe Bowdoin to them?
Judd: Of course, Bowdoin is very well known in many places. When I accepted this job, the announcement ran in the Mineola paper. I'm sure my dad had something to do with that—the proud father! But as word got out, I heard from a lot of people who knew that Bowdoin was a wonderful institution with a terrific history. Bowdoin provides a tremendous liberal arts education, but also a commitment to the common good that is real and meaningful and distinguishes this College in important ways from its peers. And we are fortunate in having a faculty who are gifted scholars and artists and truly excellent teachers, faculty who really strive to get the proper balance between research and teaching.
I describe Bowdoin as an institution in a beautiful part of the world, that takes seriously where it lives and its obligations to this state and its obligations institutionally to its buildings and surroundings. And the food is the best food in the country, that word does make it out there too!
I'm very impressed with the historic continuity of Bowdoin represented by Hyde's "Offer of the College," represented by the commitment to the common good and by the way that commitment has been constantly renewed and reinterpreted and invigorated as Bowdoin has gone forward.
Bowdoin: All very true, but let's face it, given where you've been, Bowdoin is a much smaller college and Brunswick is a much smaller community. In your short time here, what are the most obvious differences between Bowdoin and say, a place like Penn?
Judd: One of the biggest differences is that at a place like Bowdoin, when there's an opportunity to do something, it's possible to actually do it. So, part of the appeal for me is a to be part of a small group actually working together with the possibility of doing some very interesting and innovative things, being able to place value and make changes where changes are needed. That's very hard at a place like Penn.
Bowdoin: Just because of scale?
Judd: Both scale and mission. Undergraduate education is not at the core mission of a research university. Its part of what they do and they do it very well, but I found myself at Penn moving towards initiatives that were across the curriculum, because that's what I was very interested in. I was interested in working on and thinking about those things, and it's just easier to move things a little more quickly and in more creative ways at Bowdoin. It is a place where people know each other, but also the size means there is a necessity for relationships beyond Bowdoin and for the faculty to connect out to people in their fields. In a way, that was important at Penn, but not necessary in the same way.
Bowdoin: We live in a society where some people might believe that Penn or Harvard or Stanford or Duke are places where a serious student goes to get a serious education—that one cannot possibly achieve as good an education at a Bowdoin or Williams or Amherst, simply because of the scale at these places. Of course, we don't believe that's true but you've been at many larger research universities. How do you see that argument?
Judd: It's a different education, and I don't think you put it in the terms of 'as good.' I was very involved in the graduate programs at Penn as well, and often the best students at Penn were students who came out of small liberal arts colleges like Bowdoin, Williams, Amherst. These students had had the chance to work directly with faculty. There are all kinds of statistics about liberal arts college graduates who have gone into the sciences. Per capita, liberal arts colleges send far more students into graduate work in science. I had wonderful relationships with my undergraduate students at Penn. For many of them, though, it was easy to be lost. I don't think you can be invisible or lost at a place like Bowdoin. You can't choose anonymity.
Our students at Bowdoin have a chance for terrific relationships with faculty and, in the advanced seminars and classes, to do work that is just not pre-graduate work, but often at the graduate level. What they don't have is the larger institutional resources available to them directly. And so we make those larger opportunities available to them: by the kinds of summer research they do, through study away programs or through direct collaborations with faculty. But at Bowdoin, what can happen more easily is the chance for students to be truly engaged in parts of the community, to be engaged in the museums or in athletics, across the range - to be in an intimate community, to be known for their strengths, and to be pushed and constantly challenged.
Bowdoin: You've been at it here now for a bit over six months. Can you tell us about your priorities for the Bowdoin academic program?
Judd: I have three that are part of my "stump speech"—the priorities that I've been talking about around campus and to alumni. Number one, support an environment in which engaged and productive scholars and artists are creative and inspiring teachers. Second, foster a culture of intellectual inquiry among students, and third, promote arts and culture at the College: the "arts" part of the liberal arts.
Bowdoin: Does the fact that these are the priorities of a new dean suggest that these are areas that have been neglected at Bowdoin?
Judd: No. I'm fortunate to follow in the footsteps of Craig McEwen, who teed things up wonderfully. Supporting our faculty as scholars and teachers has to be a dean's top priority. My job is to be the scholar-leader and the standardbearer of the faculty. One of the great joys of this year has been learning about the accomplishments of the Bowdoin faculty and getting to know the faculty here. We have tremendously high expectations for our faculty, and it's my job to facilitate their achievement. But there are also specific challenges that are particular to this moment as we explore programs that cross disciplinary boundaries, as we understand new kinds of knowledge, as we think about the directions fields are going.
The implementation of a new curriculum naturally poses a moment for focus on the kind of intellectual community we believe Bowdoin is, not just for faculty, but also for our students and how we interact with them.
And the arts part. This moment for the arts at Bowdoin was a strong attraction to me for coming, and an area to which I bring some special experience and commitment.
Bowdoin: Before you came to Bowdoin, some of your former colleagues described you as "...an inspired and passionate teacher." What do you get out of being a teacher?
Judd: There is a real energy and joy for me in teaching. For me, there are two levels. One is the moment when I am able to share with students something that is really important to me. What an enormous and selfish privilege! The other is to be able to watch how something makes a difference - to watch how a student kind of flips and thinks about something differently than they have before. It doesn't mean that they agree with what I'm saying, but it means they are open to thinking in a different way, and that will change the way they go through life.
Being with students and trying to articulate what I'm trying to do with students always changes my own thinking. So at the same time I was writing about 16th century theory and the ways writers used music as an example, I was grappling with trying to put stuff on the Web for students and to think about music literacy and examples and publications. Only when the book was finished and the Web project was finished was it obvious to me that those two things were coming from the same impulse and that one was driving the other.
Students push you and keep you fresh. I don't think any of us teach the same course the same way every time - we are always thinking about ways we can change how we teach. How do I want to explain this differently, for instance, especially in the most introductory class? The introductory classes are the ones where you really have to think about what you do to teach well. They are the hardest to teach well. To be able to articulate assumptions and to be able to bring somebody on board who doesn't have the vocabulary, who doesn't have the experience, ultimately can profoundly shape one's thinking about the hard questions.
Bowdoin: Have you gotten a lot of feedback from your students over the years?
Judd: You get feedback in a variety of ways, not always directly. Teaching intro classes was something I made a commitment to at Penn, but those were the students I wouldn't necessarily see in class again - they were students who might never take another music class. But in one way or another though, many would stay engaged. I would see them at concerts. I'd see them when they came back for reunions and they would tell that the classes had made a difference or were favorite memory. It was always a wonderful surprise to be asked to write recommendation letters for graduate school because these were students that I might never have anticipated in the intro course would end up heading to graduate school for music or on a career path related to music.
Bowdoin: How about feedback from your family? As we speak, it is well below freezing outside and you're preparing to walk the three-quarters of a mile back home (which I understand you do every day). How are you and your family adjusting to this less-than mild winter here on the coast of Maine?
Judd: We're all doing really well. It was a very mild autumn—that probably helped the transition. But our daughters have been ice skating on the green. Our youngest was taking skiing lessons once a week. All in all, the adjustment has been as smooth as we could ask for.
Bowdoin: Your oldest is a senior in high school. A pretty difficult time to move into a new community.
Judd: And, she's done it, she's really done it. She was a counselor at the Bowdoin Day Camp last summer and met some kids and that helped smooth the way. Then she spent time in Bolivia and came back approaching her senior year differently. And for her, seeing herself as a city kid, being here has actually been something she has really thought through and I'm really proud of her for tackling the challenges. The kids at the high school here have also been great. I must say she's a little ticked off that Bowdoin is not an option for her anymore if she wants to "go away to school."
Bowdoin: On the other hand, she could be something of a celebrity here with her classmates—the dean's daughter! Speaking of celebrity, let's see: you're a musical family from the South with the last name of Judd. Can't you use that to get a great table at a fancy restaurant?
Judd: Afraid not. We're the other musical Judd family, the other Judds.