TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
Native son and internationally renowned violinist Robert McDuffie isn't satisfied with simply being a distinguished professor at Mercer University.
Last year he established the Robert McDuffie & Friends Labor Day Festival for Strings, a program intended to help recruit top string students to Mercer. The program will have its finale concert, including students and faculty, at 3 p.m. today at the Neva Langley Fickling Hall at the McCorkle Music Building.
Now wrapping its second run, the festival was the precursor for the formation of the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University. He expects the center to matriculate its first students during the 2007-2008 school year.
"It will have an elite level of string training," McDuffie said during a meeting with cellist AndrŽs D'az in the lobby of the 1842 Inn. "Basically we are creating a conservatory within the university."
The institute will be separate from the newly minted Townsend School of Music at Mercer. Instead of using full-time faculty, McDuffie plans to hire some of the classical music scene's superstars on an adjunct basis. These professors, such as D'az and Sabina Thatcher, principal violist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, will teach classes on a rotating basis.
The program will also emphasize a broad liberal arts education.
McDuffie said he wanted to create a high-level program in his hometown so it could become the top in the Southeast. Most programs of that stature have decades of history, making McDuffie's approach something of a startup mentality.
"In the South, there's no center for elite string training," he said. "You've got to go to Rice or Peabody or the conservatories in the Northeast."
The center's director has not been officially announced yet, but McDuffie expect the name to be public this week. That person will coordinate the schedules of the faculty so that students will have a constant flow of teachers.
Having the center in Macon won't just benefit its future students - 12 slated for the first year, and 26 maximum. Its superstar faculty will hold public performances, and the students will play with the Macon Symphony Orchestra as part of their training.
The D'az String Trio, of which Andres is a part, is one of the groups scheduled to perform. He said they will play Macon for the first time in November.
The intention is for the program to cast a halo on Macon and Middle Georgia, raising its prominence in classical music circles. The buzz on the festival is already out there, McDuffie said.
"I do a lot of traveling, and people are aware of it," D'az said. "They come up and ask me about what's going on in Macon."
McDuffie said Mercer and the Townsend School of Music have been very gracious and accommodating toward his vision.
"When (former Mercer President) Kirby (Godsey) asked me to come down (and teach) in '04, I felt it was my mandate to put Mercer on the map musically," he said.
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