By KIM ATCHLEY
This article appeared in the December 16, 2001 edition of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Robin Wallace, Associate Professor of Music History, has learned that having a professional calling doesn’t necessarily mean you have a job.
Yet Wallace’s calling carried him through and brought him just where he wanted to be. That place is Converse College, where the nationally recognized Beethoven scholar has found his professional home as an associate professor of music history.
Because Wallace found the perfect place to follow his call to teach, he’s continued to pursue a lead role in publishing texts that music historians (musicologists) and scholars around the world are using to better understand one of the most influential composers of the Romantic age.
Wallace has recently published the second in a four-volume series detailing the criticisms of Beethoven written by Beethoven’s contemporaries. “I found out very quickly while researching that a lot of people think that Beethoven got a lot of bad reviews.” Instead, Wallace discovered that the same half-dozen bad reviews have been quoted and misquoted so often that a musical legend about Beethoven’s poor reception was created. In his own time, people actually liked Beethoven’s music and clearly recognized its significance.
Wallace comes from a family of professionals and was born and reared in Tennessee. His father was a research scientist and his mother, a clinical psychologist. Both encouraged his musical studies. He began playing the piano when he was 9. Though he always enjoyed playing, performing professionally was not his goal. When Wallace was in junior high, he loved learning so much that he wanted to become a junior high teacher. By high school he wanted to become a high school teacher. And in college, he realized he wanted to become a college professor. His call to teach was obvious.
His desire to learn and interest in music further defined his goal, leading him to earn his bachelor of arts in music from Oberlin College in Ohio. But to teach at the college or university level, Wallace knew graduate studies were necessary. He went to Yale University and began intense studies that kept him focused on the goal he’s now reaching.
As his graduate studies developed, Wallace’s interest in music criticism grew. He’d first developed the interest when he worked as an undergraduate for a student newspaper as a feature writer, music critic and arts editor. At Yale he worked with Leon Plantinga, known for studying the music criticisms written about and by Schumann. Wallace chose to study Beethoven, who did not write about his own work. Fortunately though, others in Beethoven’s time did, and delving into those critiques became the focus of Wallace’s studies.
What made these commentaries so interesting was that they were written at a time when the educated middle class of the period had a growing interest in music. Because there were no televised broadcasts of concerts or CDs that could be passed around in the early 19th century, people were willing to read 5- to 10-page reviews of the music of the day. “One thing that’s often struck me is that a chance to hear Beethoven in that time only came up maybe every 5 years,” Wallace said. “The only way to keep up with music was to read about it.”
After completing his graduate work, Wallace was ready to follow his call to teach. Despite having an Ivy League education and teaching success at Yale, he found it difficult to find the opportunity he was searching for. “There were 10 times as many people qualified as there were job opportunities at that time,” he explained.
He took a two-year position in California, then taught in Wisconsin before going back to California. He spent another six years at what he calls “underemployed,” not teaching at the college level as he planned, but working with private students, teaching at the high school level, and working f