Stay Connected

By Adam Glaser 

University of Michigan School of Music Student Commencement Speech 

May 1, 1998, Power Center, Ann Arbor 



Good evening Dean Boylan, Dean Borders, Dean Aspnes, distinguished guests, graduating students, and everyone who travelled to be with us on this special day. 

It’s this last group of people I’d like to address first. The true guests of honor tonight are our parents, our relatives and friends. We’re grateful for your support and encouragement, and thank you for standing beside us all the way. 


“Petrified.” “Catatonic.” “Like a deer caught in the headlights.” These are actual quotes from those who observed my audition for the conducting program two years ago. And they were being kind. My right arm shook as fast as a tuning fork that day when I got up in front of the orchestra, to the point where I had to bring it down with my left hand 

We all have some horror stories from that audition day, but we made it through. Over the next few years we would devote countless hours to studying scripts and scores, rehearsing in the dance studio, writing our papers, practicing our etudes, and always leaving a little extra time to schmooze at the message board. 

Now, some of us will go on to graduate programs, but many of us are preparing to launch our careers. And what have we always heard about a career in the arts? That “It’s all about connections.” OK, if that’s the basic principle, then we ought to make a few connections clear before leave Ann Arbor. I have a few to put before you, and composed them using one of the most important structural forms to emerge in the late 20th-century: The Top 10 List. 


Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you: 

The Top 10 Ways to Stay Connected After You Graduate from the School of Music. 

[10] Stay connected to your teachers. These are the people who know our strengths and weaknesses, and who can offer guidance and perspective when we most need it...and we always need it. 

[9] Stay connected to the fact that you came from this school. Find out what’s happening here on campus. Get involved in your local alumni chapter. Plan a recital by local Michigan alums to raise money for a scholarship fund. Keep your connection to the school by helping others to learn about it. 

[8] Stay connected to your friends. You’ve seen each other at your best and their worst, and they’ve been a support system for you during these years at the School of Music. These are friends for life, and they will continue to be your greatest resource...spiritually, professionally, artistically. 

[7] Stay connected to your goofy side. Be ready with a good viola joke at all times. (Of course, check and see if there are violists in your presence first. Are there any here tonight?) But to be safe, keep a few others as a backup. Like this one: “What did the theory teacher say when she fell off the couch? Mi-Fa-La-Fa-So-Fa.” ) 

[6] Stay connected to something outside of the arts. Train for a marathon. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Join the Peace Corps for 2 years. Whatever it takes to find your balance, find it and keep it. 

[5] Don’t be a stranger! Pick up the phone and call the CRISP lady once in a while and say hello. No matter how successful you become, she’ll remind you that she’s still, always, much quicker and savvier than you. 

[4] Stay connected to your mistakes. Take artistic risks, and don’t expect to find success at every turn. Make lots of mistakes. Love them all, because they’ll be the most tangible, long-lasting lessons you have. At all times, be sure to treat yourself well. 

[3] Stay connected to your family. However you define “family” – your parents, your siblings, your cousins, your dog – throw a buoy-ring around your waist and tell them to give the rope a good yank when you’re drowning 

[2] Memorize the phone number for Zingerman’s Deli. Feeling a little disconnected from Ann Arbor? I say call Zingerman’s and order a dozen of your favorite sandwiches by mail, and you’ll feel connected right away. Or, mail order me a big box of their chocolate chunk cookies, and I’ll feel very connected with you. 

...and the #1 way to stay connected after you graduate from the School of Music: 

[1] Stay connected to the reason you became an artist in the first place. There’s really a good bit of irony in my standing here telling you this, because I was as disconnected from my artistic center as one can get. 


When I was 17, after spending my childhood studying music, I decided to quit altogether. I had lost sight of why I was a musician, so I ran in other direction with absolutely no intentions of coming back. In college, I slowly began to listen to music again, but not to perform. 

You could say that I became a “professional audience member. My only task in the arts world was to just show up, to listen, and to be moved. That’s all. I started remembering what it was that moved me to be a performing artist as a child. At the same time, I was also remembering the hardships that go along with it: the long hours in the practice room, the constant stumbling over the same passages, the memory slips, the stagefright. So I made my peace with not being a musician, agreed with myself to stay on the outside looking in, and after college I went on to pursue a career in business. 

Three years ago, at age 24, I was getting ready to leave my job for business school to get my MBA, and planning to enter the private sector after that. 

That’s when it hit me. Like a brick in the stomach, I just stopped where I was and couldn’t take another step. Yes, I was really looking forward to this business career. But somehow I was just paralyzed. 

There’s a point in our lives when we can’t lie to ourselves anymore. Although we make peace with various issues, some peace accords are more tenuous than others. The “peace” I had made with music was no peace at all. I had slowly, steadily come full circle and fallen in love with music again. That final year in the office I would come home from a long day at work and go right to the CD player, or the piano. I was beginning to feel a sense of panic, and began doing anything I could to get back what I had so casually given up as a teenager. It was a strange feeling, but I felt like I couldn’t waste another minute, and so I stayed up at nights trying to catch up on all that I had missed. 

Next to my family, there is nothing in this world which makes me more alive than being a musician. That’s the reason I needed to be a musician. That’s the feeling I was connected to when I decided to “come back,” and for me it was absolutely the most important connection I’ll ever make. 

My grandmother Ruthy had a favorite saying: Consistency of purpose. It’s a great little 

phrase, and I’d like to share a story about her which sheds a bit of light on why she repeated this to me over and over again. 

About 80 years ago in the Bronx, a little girl named Ruthy desperately wanted to play the piano, but her parents couldn’t afford the lessons, as they were very poor, working Polish immigrants. When Ruthy was 7, after her father had delivered a 30-pound bag of sugar up 3 flights of stairs, he came home and died, right there in her arms. She was left not only without her piano, but with the new prospect of moving to a foster home, as her mother would be working all hours of the day, unable to care for her. 

One Friday afternoon, 7-year-old Ruthy knocked on her neighbor’s door and said she wanted to learn how to make Shabbos, the Sabbath. The kind woman took her in for the afternoon, and together they practiced lighting the candles, setting the table for the Shabbos meal, and making a big pot of chicken soup. That night, Ruthy’s mother came home to find her young daughter standing proudly next to a table covered with a beautiful lace cloth, two candlesticks, and a hot meal. Her mother got the message instantly – that Ruthy would take care of her brother and herself – and so they stayed together in their little Bronx apartment. Consistency of purpose kept that little 7-year-old with her mother. 

Ruthy never got her piano, but she had a single-mind to bring music into her home, and to educate her kids. She and her husband David sold clothes off the back of a truck in the Catskill mountains, and eventually opened a little store on Long Island for the sole purpose of educating their kids. Every half-dollar that came into the store went into a pickle jar, and with the money saved in that jar they paid for lessons. One of those kids is my mother, who with my father would do the same for me, driving me into New York City every Saturday morning for years for music lessons. 


Consistency of purpose is the thread that connects us. It is what connects our ancestors who strove to better themselves and their children. And it is what has brought all of us here today. This is one of the greatest honors we know of: to watch a member of our family, to watch our friends, walk across this stage and shake hands with the Dean. It’s a joy that Grandma Ruthy repeatedly talked about lying on her hospital bed last year, how proud she would be to come to Ann Arbor and see it happen. Ruthy passed away just a few months ago, and so did not live to see it with her own eyes. But when I walk across this stage tonight, she will proudly walk with me, and all of my grandparents, and together we’ll share this degree. 

Consistency of purpose means that we have to believe in ourselves 100%. We have to believe in our successes and our failures. And most importantly, we have to believe in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We have invested too much energy and hard work not to rejoice in what we’ve already achieved, and to be thrilled by the prospect of what we have yet to accomplish. 

We are performing artists – and by definition we epitomize everything the human spirit aims to be...poetic, logical, creative and organic. This is why people come to see us perform, to be brought to that higher plane where they, too, can epitomize that better part of themselves. That’s our purpose. If we aren’t consistently connected to this purpose, how can we expect to lift them to that higher plane? 

We have tremendous, individual gifts, every one of us here. I wish you all much success, peace, and good health as you share these gifts with the rest of the world. Thank you all very much, and congratulations.