William Blake and all his magic
All those that have had the privilege of being in Dr Pagano’s classroom will attest to it being one of the most exhilarating spaces on the planet. A sanctuary in conservatory life and a lifeline to many. Dr Pagano wrote this letter when I graduated. My debut album opens with Marianne Faithfull reading plates of William Blake over John Adams that I curated to set the listener up for the journey of Blakean Innocence, to experience, and then to higher innocence through The Doors Of Perception. For those few who innocently asked “why Blake?” this is a very organic insight into the birth of this project and explanation as to why it could not have been anything else. Without this vocation I could not have made my album or survived the worst harrowing moments in my life. Dr Pagano, I am eternally grateful and humbled by your genius.
LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION28 April 2012
My name is John Pagano, and I teach in both the English Department at Barnard College (since 1988) and the Humanities Department at Manhattan School of Music (since 1993), where I also serve as Chair. I am writing to enthusiastically recommend Harriet Stubbs, a first year graduate student enrolled in my “Genius, Madness, Vocation: The Artist as Eccentric” course that premiered this Spring 2012 as a Humanities elective at Manhattan School of Music.
Harriet has distinguished herself as one of the most exuberant and appreciative participants in the class, consistently impressing her teacher and her peers by the unparalleled intensity of her engagement and the consistent brilliance of her commentary. Given the level of maturity and sophistication Harriet possesses, I expected her to set the highest standards of excellence for the class, and my expectations were immediately fulfilled--from the very outset of the course Harriet assumed the leadership role she sustained throughout the semester. In class discussion, in conversations outside of class, and in her written responses to the creative personalities we were studying, Harriet established herself as one of the most capable and compelling students I have had the privilege of supervising in 30 years of teaching at Columbia University and Manhattan School of Music.
The first time navigating the terrain of a new course is always a bit uncertain for a teacher, and in “Genius & Madness,” dealing with a subject—the psychology of creativity--so close to home for the aspiring artists at MSM, it was undoubtedly important to set the right tone for our collective inquiry. The course began with William Blake, the Romantic visionary, for whom Harriet had an especial affinity, on display quite spectacularly during the weeks set aside for discussion of Blake’s life and work. Harriet was clearly familiar with the intricate details of Blake’s remarkable life and unrestrainedly appreciative of his unique artistic achievements—indeed, Harriet’s enthusiasm for Blake was a palpable force in the classroom, inspiring us all on a daily basis. Even in the face of one student’s cynical disdain of Blake, Harriet maintained her poise and presented a persuasive argument in Blake’s defense. I recall quite vividly the dynamic of that particular discussion and the way in which Harriet was able to emerge from the confrontation highly esteemed by everyone in the room for her diplomatic but decisive response to the student’s verbal attack. From that point on, the entire class moved with a level of appreciation that was delightful to experience as their instructor, and whatever subsequent successes we achieved in our communal endeavor was due, to a great extent, to the orientation Harriet provided during our discussion of Blake.
Harriet brought the same intellectual and imaginative intensity that marked her engagement with Blake to our subsequent discussions of creative genius, demonstrating the keenest understanding and appreciation of such representative geniuses as Dickinson, Nietzsche, Woolf, and Jim Morrison. Her ability to recognize the thematic dominants that link the work of Blake, Nietzsche, and Morrison was particularly impressive, for Harriet was clearly synthesizing insights into these separate artists into a cohesive view of Genius, challenging the stereotypical presentation of the creative personality as deranged and continually calling attention to the sanity and force of these individuals’ achievements. This was the ideal response I had envisioned for the best students in the class, so it was quite satisfying to see Harriet arrive at these conclusions so forcefully. Even when Harriet was called away for professional engagements, she demonstrated her willingness to accept responsibility for her education, keeping up with the material, submitting freewrites upon her return, and sustaining the highest standards of excellence I have come to associate with her performance in all phases of the course.
Harriet possesses intellectual and imaginative abilities of the highest caliber, a deep commitment to self-improvement through education, and a maturity and poise that complete a formidable academic repertoire. Additionally, she carries herself with a charming sincerity and obvious passion for her work and her art. She is also one of those students who deeply appreciate the MSM community, interacting gracefully and genuinely with her peers as well as her teachers.
As a fellow admirer of William Blake, I now think of Harriet in terms that Blake asserted in one of his poems: “Exuberance is Beauty,” and “Energy is Eternal Delight.” It has been an inspiring privilege to supervise her academic progress as Harriet travels along paths of inquiry and discovery that enable the creative individual to realize as fully as possible the destiny that is uniquely hers.
Dr. John Pagano
Chair, MSM Humanities
Lecturer, Barnard English