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Class Discussion with Gene Scheer


This Wednesday, I have the pleasure of introducing Gene Scheer, one of the most celebrated songwriters, lyricists, and  – most of all – librettists of our time. To those new to the term, let me first clarify what a librettist is: he is the writer of a libretto, which is the text used in a large and extended musical work such as oratorio, opera, operetta, masque, cantata, or musical. In some cases, the “libretto” can also refer to the text of major sacred works, namely the mass, requiem, and sacred cantata.

He received his education at the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his Bachelor of Music and Masters of Music. Upon graduation, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Cologne in Germany. He subsequently participated in a fellowship at Vienna’s Hochschule Für Musik. While in Vienna, Scheer was granted lead musical theater roles, which he also performed in Munich and Cologne.

His works as a composer and librettist have been performed around the world, notably with the Dallas Opera and Symphony Orchestra (respectively), the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, the Linbury Theater at Covent Garden in London, and more recently in Carnegie Hall. Through his career, he has collaborated with composer Jake Heggie, composer Steven Stucky, and jazz trumpeter/composer/bandleader Wynton Marsalis, among many other great talents today.

As a composer, he has written songs for many performing artists, such as Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graces and Nathan Gunn. In fact, his piece “American Anthem” has been performed for President Clinton and the First Lady, on “Oprah” after the September 11th tragedy, at President George Bush’s 2005 Inauguration, and by Patti Labelle and the US Army Band and Chorus.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Scheer on Wednesday the 19th, for our open panel discussion.


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Gene Scheer

Gene Scheer is a celebrated librettist, songwriter and lyricist, and today’s speaker.  His works have been performed in respected venues such as the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Monnaie in Brussels, and the opera houses of many cities across the country.  Mr. Scheer earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music from the Eastman School of Music and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Cologne and a fellowship to study at the Hochschule Für Musik in Vienna.  While in Europe, he also acted and sang musical theater in Germany; however, he is best known for his compositions, which include song cycles, lyric dramas, operas, and oratorios.

Among the many highlights of Mr. Scheer’s career so far are his work as a librettist with Tobias Picker on “An American Tragedy,” which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera; his “Therese Raquin,” another opera written with Picker; and more recent collaborations with Jake Heggie including “Moby-Dick,” “Three Decembers” and “To Hell and Back.”  In 1999, his song “American Anthem” was played at the unveiling of the restored “Star-Spangled Banner” flag at the Smithsonian, which was attended by President Clinton.  It was later performed by Norah Jones for use in a Ken Burns documentary and by Patti Labelle for a national broadcast special on PBS.  I highly recommend hearing Mr. Scheer discuss the song and its inspiration on NPR’s “What’s In A Song” here.

Mr. Scheer’s compositions have been sung by a wide range of celebrated artists, including Patti Labelle, Nathan Gunn, Renee Fleming, and Patti LuPone.  In addition, he has collaborated with other well-known musicians such as Wynton Marsalis and Steven Stucky.  Reviewers have called his works “moving, skillfully written” (New York Times), “compelling and entertaining” (Sacramento Bee) and “sharply poignant, deeply affecting” (Seattle Times).  For a taste of Mr. Scheer’s compositions, listen to the Norah Jones version of “American Anthem” or hear him sing his own cabaret song “Another New Voice Teacher” in this interview.

We enjoyed hearing Mr. Scheer discuss his varied and renowned career today.

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Megan Tuck

Megan Tuck is an associate account executive at BlissPR, a public relations company that works with clients in the financial services as well as professional services and healthcare industries. After studying sociology and markets and management at Duke, she worked as a PR intern in consumer, lifestyle, and travel at HL Group and as a communications intern at Volunteers of America.

PR is a multifaceted industry that is changing rapidly because of online media. The goal of PR is basically to build, improve and maintain rapport between a company or individual and its customers, employees, investors, voters, and general public. It involves following social trends (including the rapid growth of technology) and effectively communicating with people in order to bolster the company’s standing. PR generally involves publicity from sources like press releases, media kits, brochures, publicity events, reports, blogs, and social media.

It sounds like advertising, but there are a number of differences. For example, in PR, the goal is to get the word out without paying for ad space. (A press release can generate a lot of publicity at a much lower cost than an advertisement.) The tone is completely different, much more no-nonsense than a flashy advertising campaign can be. But in some ways both industries are changing similarly (online communication is changing both dramatically). Here’s a page with more about the differences between PR and advertising.

As a worker in PR, Megan enjoys being able to see the finished product of her and her peer’s work, knowing that she is a part of each project’s success. BlissPR, her employer, does PR for clients in a number of services looking for professional PR from a third party. She primarily works with financial service companies, which allows her a wide scope of clients and work. BlissPR has an extensive list of some of its clients in the financial services on its website.

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Laura Suchoski

Laura Suchoski is a 2009 Duke graduate who now works for ESPN. While an undergrad, Laura was a four-time All-American on the varsity field hockey team, and she also played for the U.S. National Field Hockey Team. In this Q&A with, Laura talks about her field hockey career as well as her experience with Duke in New York, which she participated in during the summer before her senior year. In the interview, Laura says, “The marketing and advertising industry is so enjoyable because it lets you utilize your communication skills and creativity that you learned… particularly through all your years playing on sports teams.” Laura continues to utilize her love of sports in her career as well as in her life; according to her Twitter page, she enjoys “developing the skills and leadership in young athletes.”

While participating in Duke in New York, Laura interned at Ogilvy & Mather, an international marketing, advertising, and public relations agency. Upon graduation from Duke, Laura worked as an assistant account executive at the advertising agency McCann-Erickson. She is now a social media specialist for, which includes ESPN High School, a branch geared toward high school athletes and fans, and espnW, which serves the female athlete community.

As part of her job with ESPN, Laura has written a column for ESPNHS GIRL magazine as well as multiple articles mentoring teens about sports recruiting and social media. One such article, “Beware of the power of Facebook,” can be found here. You can check out Laura’s ESPN bio here.

ESPN offers many other opportunities in the media industry; its business entities include branches in fields such as television, radio, publishing, event management, and more. Check out this ESPN Media Zone fact sheet for more information about careers in the media industry.

It was great to hear from Laura in class on Wednesday!

(by Holly Hilliard)

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Anthony Kelley

Dr. Anthony Kelley leaves an unforgettable impression on those he befriends; his opinions and ideas full of vibrancy and depth, always sparking a new curiosity in oneself. I had the esteemed pleasure of being taught by Dr. Kelley for all of my freshman year in Music Theory and came away with so much more than composing basics and theoretical understandings. I learned a handful of lifetime lessons from a passionate composer, teacher, and musician.

Dr. Kelley received his B.A. and A.M. in music composition at Duke University in 1991 and his Ph. D. at UC Berkeley in 2001. During his career at Duke, Dr. Kelley received the Mary Duke Biddle Scholarship for Musical Composition and the Henry Schuman Prize for Musical Composition. After graduating from Duke, Kelley became the Composer-in-Residence with the Richmond Symphony for three years under the Meet-the-Composer grant. He later joined the Duke music faculty in 2000 and continues to teach music theory, music appreciation and composition. Kelley is also a performer and co-director of the BLAK Ensemble (a modern improvisational blues group) and continues composing, residing part-time on Duke’s East campus.

In 1998, the American Composers Orchestra premiered Dr. Kelley’s “The Breaks” and in 1999, during his residency with the Richmond Symphony, his piano concerto “Africamerica” premiered with soloist Donal Fox. The Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, North Carolina, Oakland East Bay, Marin (CA) and San Antonio symphony orchestras have all performed Kelley’s compositions. By 2008, Kelley was awarded for his works in the Full Frame and 28th Black Maria film festivals and the Aaron Copland Foundation Recording Project.

Kelley just received the 2011 Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award (ADUTA) and recently composed for a film called “Kudzu Vine” by Josh Gobson that’s worth checking out.

His compositions include: “Grist for the Mill” from The Alfalfa Club; soundtrack to both Conjuring Burden (2006) and The Doll (2007); music to Duke’s “Spring Awakening” stage production (2008); “Contra-Funkti, 1-6.” Check out this article “There’s No Time Like The Present: Young Composers on Composing Today and What It’ll Be Like Next Century” from the perspective of three young composers (Dr. Kelley included) and Kelley’s oral presentation on classical and jazz traditions.

-Natalie Robles

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Otto Penzler and The Mysterious Bookshop

The Mysterious Bookshop

Otto Penzler, a celebrated writer and editor, a mystery fan, is the proprietor of the oldest and the largest mystery specialist bookstore in the world—The Mysterious Bookshop. Founded in Midtown Manhattan in 1975, the bookstore’s current location, which we will be visiting tomorrow, is in Tribeca. The store is renowned for primarily dealing with out-of-print, secondhand, and other hard-to-find books. Penzler himself has particular love for rare books as he claims “they have a place in [his] heart.”

[The Mysterious Bookshop Website]

Otto Penzler

Born in 1942 and graduating University of Michigan with an English degree, Otto Penzler is an  award-winning publisher and author. He was awarded the Edgar Award twice in years 1977 and 2010 for co-writing Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection and editing The Lineup. He is the founder of The Mysterious Press, a mystery and crime fiction publishing house which he founded in 1975, sold to Warner Books in 1989, and just recently reacquired. He also founded the publishing firms Otto Penzler Books and The Armchair Detective Library, and has imprints at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Atlantic Books.

Few of his numerous publishing works include: The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Crime Writing, Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time, and The Best American Noir of the Century. He served on the Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America for fourteen years during which he was awarded the Ellery Queen Award and a Raven. Further, his original works include: Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, and 101 Greatest Movies of Mystery and Suspense. He was the columnist for the New York Sun where he wrote the popular weekly mystery column The Crime Scene as well. Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! is the latest short story collection edited by Otto Penzler on sale from September 20th. [Book Info]

Finally, check out the aritcle Penzler wrote about noir fiction for Huffington Post [Article] and the video clip on Otto Penzler and The Mysterious Bookshop. [Video]


“I realized that the best mystery writers were every bit as good as the best non-genre writer.” -Otto Penzler


Emily Lee


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Otto Penzler

(above) Mr. Otto Penzler in his private library (sadly, not the location we visited, although I wish we could have! Isn’t it awesome?)

Otto Penzler began his career as a University of Michigan alumnus. He worked as a copy boy at the Daily News in his 20’s, making $37/week. He has been collecting books since that time, and today owns roughly 58,000 first editions of mystery books, (many located in his private library, pictured above). Mr. Penzler owns one of the oldest and largest bookstores in Manhattan, The Mysterious Bookshop.

Of course, the interesting part is what comes in between those two points (not that 58,000 first editions aren’t interesting). Otto Penzler wrote “The Crime Scene” a weekly column for the New York Sun that he penned for 5 years. He published “The Armchair Detective” for 17 years, an Edgar-winning quarterly journal specializing in mystery and suspense fiction. He founded the Mysterious Press, which he sold at one point to Warner books and recently reacquired. Penzler created the entire publishing firms of Otto Penzler Books and the Armchair Detective Library and has imprints at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in United States and Atlantic books in the United Kingdom.

Impressed yet?

Mr. Penzler has won an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1977 for the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, which he edited with Chris Steinbrunner. He was also awarded the prestigious Ellery Queen Award in 1994 by The Mystery Writers of America for his contributions in publishing. He was honored with its highest non-writing award, the Raven, in 2003, as well.

If you aren’t impressed, then you mustn’t be truly an English-major. (I would suggest letting your registrar know right away.)

Otto Penzler was featured in The New York Times last year for his amazing store, his collection, and the legacy that he continues to leave for generations to come.

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