Musical Continuum

Blair Academy at Vanderbilt continues its outreach to the community through music

Blair Academy
Instructor Sharon Rogers and a child practice the violin at the Blair Academy of Music

More than most professions, music celebrates the line of succession from teacher to student. Almost all master performers are also master teachers, passing on knowledge gained from experience to the next generation. Stephen Miahky, Joseph Joachim Professor of Violin at the Blair School of Music, understands the importance of this time-honored approach.

“I’m a big believer in that aspect of history, how in the music world we hand things off to each other,” he said. “The fact that our teaching is done one-on-one, and, in some ways, is very much part of an oral tradition—it’s a continuum.”

Miahky’s teaching includes undergraduate and precollege students at Blair. “Not many universities can claim such a great precollege program,” he said. “That’s one thing that’s very exciting about Vanderbilt. When there are young musicians involved in the culture of the institution, it enhances the life of the university.”

Blair Academy was established in 1964 by members of the Justin and Valere Potter Wilson Foundation as the precollege music division of George Peabody College for Teachers, offering musical instruction of distinction to the Nashville and Middle Tennessee region. Named after Mrs. Potter’s mother, Myra Jackson Blair, Blair Academy provided preparatory musical training for thousands of talented schoolchildren under the leadership of C.B. Hunt, director of the Peabody College School of Music and later dean of the Peabody Graduate School, and Del Sawyer, a trumpet fellow at Peabody who led the new precollege division.

After Peabody’s merger with Vanderbilt in 1979, Blair became the 10th school at Vanderbilt in 1981 with Sawyer as dean, and in 1986 it began to offer an undergraduate curriculum in music. Since its beginning, the precollege division, which now includes adult instruction, has made it the sole school at Vanderbilt with a teaching mission that actively includes students of all ages and ability levels in a unique, blended community. Precollege and university students study with the same nationally renowned faculty musicians, in the same traditional, one-on-one method of instruction.

Connie Heard, Valere Blair Potter Professor of Violin and chair of the strings department at Blair, was one of the first precollege students at Blair Academy studying with Wilda Tinsley. From Blair Academy, Heard went on to study with famed violin teacher Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard.

“I still have my notebooks from those days at Blair, and I like to show them to even my most advanced students, because they emphasize the fundamentals of violin playing that apply to all levels,” she said.

Although the basics of violin haven’t changed, Blair itself has evolved during Heard’s long association with the school.

“Of course, the school has grown so much in terms of the building and the number of full-time faculty,” she said. “But the emphasis has remained on the students and on creating a nurturing environment for them.”