As I went into my senior year of high school (more than three decades ago, in case you’re curious), I considered attending Maryville College.
Beyond a cursory glance at literature provided by my guidance counselor, however, I quickly struck it from the list of potential institutions of higher learning. As a restless 17-year-old, I wanted to get as far from my East Tennessee home as I could within the confines of financial limitations, and while Maryville College seemed like a great liberal arts school, it wasn’t far enough away.
It’s ironic, then, that every time I get an opportunity to visit the campus, I found myself thinking with some regret that maybe I made a mistake.
Sure, I received a great education at Tennessee Technological University over in Cookeville, but there’s something both bucolic and beautiful about the staid grounds of the MC campus. When time allows, I like to park on a bench and just take it all in — the beauty of the architecture, the camaraderie of the students, the earnestness of the faculty and the 200 years of tradition that seem to permeate the very air.
It’s an oasis of intellect, culture and knowledge right in the heart of Maryville, and whether I’m guest speaking in the classes of professors Lori Schmied or Aaron Astor or attending an event at the Clayton Center for the Arts, I always welcome an opportunity to spend a few minutes at what I consider to be one of the crown jewels in Blount County’s crown.
It’s strange to me, as someone who’s made his home in Blount County for almost two decades now, how there seems to be such a disconnect between the college and so many local residents. I wonder sometimes: If a formal poll was taken, how many Blount Countians have taken advantage of the educational and arts-and-culture events on the MC campus that are open to the public? How many have even been on campus?
It’s rather remarkable, I think, that after 200 years, Maryville College is still something of a unique entity. I’m sure some of that has to do with the transient nature of college students who come through for an education and then depart, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say many fall in love with the town and the people and end up as permanent residents or, at the very least, frequent visitors.
Many of those visiting alumni will be back in Maryville this weekend for the college’s homecoming, and some of them will even perform: At 11 a.m. Saturday, at the Clayton Center for the Arts, the Bicentennial Homecoming Choir will offer its annual concert, and as always, it’s free and open to the public.
By now, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the college’s Bicentennial extravaganza, but this is an opportunity, if you’re so inclined, to witness not only some spectacular singing, but the impact Maryville College has made on so many over the years. The choir is made up, according to MC choral director Stacey Wilner, of “an estimated 130 participants of students and alumni who are coming from all over the country,” and this year, they’ve gone the extra mile and pooled their financial resources to commission a special work: “People Are the Key,” by composer John Paul Rudoi.
The text used for the libretto comes from quotes by Robert Burns, Isaac Anderson and the Maryville City Town Motto, Wilner added, and Rudoi himself will be in town to serve as guest artist and composer for the performance. Rudoi is a professional tenor who’s performed in ensembles ranging from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale to Cantus to Seraphic Fire, and his commissioned works have been performed around the world.
“In a time when our world seems to be focusing on differences, it will be refreshing to experience the coming together of generations of singers, composers and communities in a celebration of music,” Wilner said in a press release. “The composer has incorporated partial quotes by MC founder Isaac Anderson and the Maryville town motto, excerpted lines from poetry by Robert Burns and the second verse of the Maryville College Alma Mater.
“He has written the piece in the style of a Scottish ballad, but put together in more of a folk song format. We hope performance of this commissioned work will feel like a timeless moment that will speak to all the generations who have been a part of the growth of Maryville College and the community at large. Paul Rudoi has expressed that the goal of ‘People Are the Key’ is to feel as one group celebrating each other’s culture, contributions and connections.”
That’s not the only work on the program, but as the centerpiece, it fits perfectly with the Homecoming theme. And for those of us whose only association with Maryville College is as a neighbor, it’s an ideal opportunity to acknowledge the relationship this community has with the institution, which has and still does so much for young people hungry for knowledge, and the wider world they will go on to impact.