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Randolph Music Professor Featured in Local Newspaper

Dan Raessler studies 18th Century music in a way that is faithful to composers

11/14/2008 10:34:50 AM


50 Plus: Professor’s interest in music covers broad range


The following story was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance on Nov. 14, 2008. It is reprinted with permission.

By: Christa Desrets

Editor’s Note: 50 Plus is a regular special feature profiling Central Virginians ages 50 and over and focusing on a particular theme. This edition’s theme is music.

Dan Raessler figures that most people have a like for music. He can’t say whether his feeling is any stronger, but he can say that “music really does move me very profoundly.”

“I’m drawn to it,” he said.

To the point that it’s distracting.

“I can’t think with music on,” the 60-year old Randolph College music professor said as the sound of a cello echoed through his Presser Hall office.

“For me, music is sort of irresistible,” Raessler said.

Like the time he was in Washington D.C., riding the metro at night after a long, tiring day.

As he went to switch lines, he came upon a trio of singers whose sound was similar to doo-wop.

“I was just riveted,” he said. “It was like a gift.”

Raessler began studying piano as a child, but “it wasn’t until I was in college that I took music study seriously,” he said.

Playing came naturally to him, and he earned a bachelor’s from California State University, Fresno, then a master’s and doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I assumed I would be a performer, then in graduate school realized that musicology was a more logical choice,” he said. “What I learned along the way is that there are musicians who have a natural ability to do things with a fluency that I found difficult to achieve.”

A professor at the former Randolph-Macon Woman’s College since 1974, Raessler teaches courses in piano, music history and music theory.

He continues to study the history of music, with a broad-ranging interest from music from the early 20th century to American cowboy songs.

He’s also studied music from the late 18th century, and “how to interpret it in a way that’s faithful to the composer.”

He sat at the Steinway piano in his office to demonstrate, and played two quick, familiar examples — Bach’s Prelude in C, and Mozart’s Sonata in C.

He first played each in their usual romantic style, using the damper pedal to smoothly connect the notes.

Then, he played them again in a style more consistent with 18th-century performance practice.

This time, notes in the staccato passages retained their rhythm, but with a choppier feel.

“That’s how it would have been interpreted in the time it was written,” Raessler said.

He enjoys “figuring out how things work.”

What circumstances led a composer writing a piece of music? What were their daily lives like? What frame of mind were they in while they wrote?

In the case of teaching, his curiosity allows him to work with students to figure out what in-spires their passion in music, and how they are best taught.

Music also is what brought him and his wife, Deborah Raessler, together. She was assistant dean of students in the college’s music department when Raessler came on as a music professor i

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations