Alan’s biography: A Personal Reflection on the Positive Influence of Music Education
For the first thirty years of my life, I thought some form of classical music would be my entire professional life. I studied the oboe, learned to play the piano and pursued multiple degrees in music. At Baylor University, I played oboe and English horn in the wind ensemble and the Waco Symphony Orchestra while earning a degree in music education. I took a brief hiatus from music after completing my undergraduate degree to serve as a Baptist missionary in Senegal for two years. Soon after my return to the U.S., I came back to the idea of a career in music, enrolling in graduate studies at the University of Louisville. While in Kentucky, I played oboe regularly with the Louisville Symphony for three seasons under the musical leadership of Lawrence Leighton Smith. I also studied musicology and wrote a master’s thesis on the music of György Ligeti. Next, I attended the University of California at Berkeley as a PhD student in ethnomusicology, focusing on West African, Javanese and Gay Studies and teaching numerous undergraduate classes. I was advanced to candidacy for the PhD, but ultimately decided to take what was initially a part-time business role in a full-time direction.
Today I am a senior leader at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. I entered the investment industry first as a temporary employee and then became a part-time project manager while doing graduate work at U.C. Berkeley. Over three decades later, I am a managing director and senior advisor to BlackRock’s ETF and Index Investments business (currently with assets over five trillion dollars).
Although my choice of this career in investment management demanded that I abandon my plans to complete my PhD dissertation, I know that I would not be where I am today without the formation that music provided me. Music shaped me in so many positive ways. Music teachers like Dale Shaffner (Rossville High School Band Director) and Doris DeLoach (Oboe Professor at Baylor University) taught me to focus, helped me learn to listen, encouraged me to challenge myself just enough day by day, and inspired me to dream of worlds beyond my limited personal experience. These strengths gave me the courage and the discipline to learn the content and business of a new industry and reinvent myself.
For more than a decade, I have been reconnecting to my roots in music by serving on non-profit symphony boards. I previously served on the boards of Philharmonia Baroque, Santa Rosa Symphony, and Association of California Symphony Orchestras; I currently a Vice Chair of the League of American Orchestras board of directors. My goal for board service is to ensure that music education remains vibrant in a world where public school music programs are increasingly limited and that advocacy for inclusion and diversity in classical music will help keep the art form vibrant and relevant in the future of our rapidly changing world.
As one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry, said in his novel Jabber Crow: “The music, while it lasted, brought a new world into being.” Music is still bringing new worlds to me and I want it to last for generations to come.