Music Maker

03/12/2009
By From the Lowell Sun

By Nancye Tuttle

LOWELL -- Deb Huber could have stashed the money away in a nest egg or taken an exotic trip.

Instead Huber, director of instrumental music outreach and associate director of university bands at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, put the $60,000 she won in the Zuckerberg Leadership Prize to good use, commissioning five new musical works that middle and high school students in her programs will premiere.

She didn't think twice about it after Chancellor Marty Meehan let her know several months ago that she was the first person at UML to receive the honor.

"Money is hard to come by in the arts," said Huber, an Acton native and UMass Lowell grad. "By doing this, I'll bring wonderful composers -- the best in the business -- to campus and have them write for my programs. It's exciting to commission good works for young musicians to play."

Created by Roy J. Zuckerberg, a Lowell Technological Institute grad and former senior director of Goldman Sachs, the award is given to leaders in the UMass system who show "courage, conviction and selflessness" in devoting their talents to help UMass accomplish its goals.

The university is proud that Huber won the honor, said Meehan.

"It's a testament to her commitment to our students and youths across New England who study instrumental music," he said, and noted that her being a UMass Lowell grad adds to the distinction.

The five pieces will premiere here over the next two years, then be published for other young players to perform.
 
Each is exciting, but the first, "Reminiscent Rhapsody, New York 1932" by James Hosey, is especially so. Huber dedicates it to Mary Jo Leahey, benefactor of the Mary Jo Leahey High School Symphonic Band Camp, which Huber founded in 1996 and now directs.

Leahey underwrites expenses of the week-long residential music camp, held on campus each July. Students arrive tonight for this year's session. At Saturday's closing concert, the band will perform Hosey's work. He'll be there to conduct, and Leahey will be in the audience.

"It's difficult to show Mary Jo just how much she means to me and, of course, to the camp. There's nothing I could give to her that means more to me than music -- this I give with my whole heart with this work," Huber said.

Hosey was a natural choice to write the George Gershwin-inspired piece.

"I like his work, my ensembles play them. When we spoke, I knew it would work," said Huber.

Hosey likes to learn about the people he writes musical commissions for. He discovered that Leahey loves Gershwin and show tunes and went to New York in 1932, intending to train as a lyric soprano.

"She had a promising career, with the possibility of even going to Hollywood to work, but gave it up to return to Massachusetts and teach music to school kids. I found that touching," said Hosey from his Virginia home.

Hosey, also a Gershwin fan, was hired by the Gershwin estate to transcribe original Gershwin manuscripts discovered in an old crate for a Library of Congress concert in the late 1980s.

The new work explores musical styles of the '30s, when Gershwin was in his prime and Leahey was in New York.

"It takes a nostalgic trip back to New York in the early 1930s, he was there, writing musical comedies and jazz, and soon would write his masterful opera 'Porgy and Bess," said Hosey.

Huber and Leahey's niece, Pat Crane, told her of the honor two weeks ago.

Rarely at a loss for words, Leahey was "speechless."

"But this isn't about me -- it's about Deb. She could have tucked the money away in the bank or taken a trip. But instead, she's putting it back into the camp and her wind ensemble programs." said Leahey, a 1937 Lowell State College graduate.

According to Huber, she and Leahey are "driven by similar goals and dreams. Though generations apart, we enjoy a similar vision which I am driven to uphold."

Leahey will now have a lasting musical legacy in this work that bears her name.

"Forever at the top of the work, just above the title, it will read 'Commissioned by Deb Huber, Conductor, University of Massachusetts Lowell. Dedicated to Mary Jo Leahey and the UMass Lowell Symphonic Band Camp.' It ties her name to the program she made possible and is an actual work, created to reflect an amazing woman," said Huber.

The public is invited to the free hourlong concert on Saturday, July 18 at noon in Durgin Hall on UMass Lowell's South Campus. Reception follows.