Centre mourns Professor Emeritus of Music Robert Weaver, 1937-2015
A memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, at 9 a.m. in Lancaster, Pa.
A couple of years after Bob Weaver arrived at Centre College in 1972, a student needed a medieval music course to complete her major. Three times each week Professor Weaver, in jacket and tie, would enter the classroom, sit at the front desk, arrange his armful of books and sheath of hand-written notes, and proceed to hold class as if he were talking to hundreds—rather than the single student who needed the class sitting in the front row.
The lone receiver of Weaver’s meticulous preparation was Carol Tate ’75, the valedictorian who later performed dual harpsichord concerts with her dedicated professor and won a prestigious international Bach organ competition. On hearing of his death on Feb. 16, she affectionately recalled his absolute determination to provide “an excellent education in a subject he loved” to his classes, or even to her alone.
As a keyboard, humanities and music history teacher from 1972 to 2001, Weaver was exacting in his class preparation, expectations from students, and scholarship. One student recalled that he seemed to have a sixth sense of how many hours students had practiced between keyboard lessons and which music history or humanities papers had been hastily cobbled together the night before.
Carmel Herde Bowman ’84 recalled how he had all the students in her Baroque music class not only learn to play the recorder and harpsichord but then to play those instruments from original manuscripts where the notation was originally foreign to them. As a keyboard teacher, Weaver was able to “bring out more of me than I knew was in there,” Bowman said.
Weaver’s knowledge of the art galleries and concert halls throughout Europe and his legendary planning resulted in one of Centre’s first non-language courses abroad. During the then-six-week winter session, he took students to Paris, Florence, Munich and Amsterdam, the city where he had earlier been a service volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee. His colleague Barbara Hall, who accompanied him on one of these trips, remembered that after a full day of experiencing art and music, the class was headed to dinner when they happened to pass a Baroque church. After he led the hungry students through the church, they began referring to him, affectionately, as “Professor Just-One-More-Church Weaver.”
For a pacifist raised as a Mennonite, Weaver had a determined streak that could surprise. Students still recall with amazement the time he chased a girl who had robbed a student through a Paris crowd and stood on her foot until the gendarmes arrived. Some of his colleagues recalled how in humanities meetings he was patiently insistent that every Centre student should have at least a rudimentary knowledge and appreciation of musical forms, from motets to symphonies.
There has probably never a Centre professor so thoroughly knowledgeable in both art and music. Indeed, Weaver’s mentor at Syracuse (where he earned his Ph.D. after his M. Music at Michigan) was William Fleming, author of Arts and Ideas, the standard textbook now in its 10th edition that discusses the cultural and philosophical ideas that energized the art and music of an era.
Weaver was key in developing the yearlong first-year humanities that every student for the past 34 years has taken; he and I team-taught the pilot course in 1980-81. While succeeding waves of humanities faculty have tinkered with it, the essential structure that Weaver created has remained.
Before coming to Centre in 1972, Weaver taught at Rust College, a historically Black college in Holly Springs, Miss. While in Danville, he published many articles and three books on Hubert Waelrant, the 16th-century Antwerp composer. He remained active in professional organizations, holding various positions including chairman of the South Central Chapter of the American Musicological Society. In 1999, the Centre Alumni Association named him an honorary Centre alumnus.
A lifelong bachelor, Weaver entertained colleagues and his classes with unassuming style in his house and handsome backyard garden on Lexington Avenue. After receiving an inheritance, he enabled several students to study abroad, though always anonymously. It was not until he had relocated to Lancaster County, Pa., where he’d grown up, that it became known he was the anonymous benefactor of the new Taylor & Boody organ in the Danville Presbyterian Church, where he’d been a deacon, elder and choir member.
The musical legacy Weaver left for Centre and Danville will remain for many years. Each Sunday at 9:30 p.m. at the ecumenical Taizé service in the Danville Presbyterian Church adjoining campus, Centre students who never knew Weaver are transported by the unique sound of the Taylor & Boody organ. And Weaver’s Centre colleagues and Danville friends will long enjoy their pleasant memories of a modest, unassuming and generous friend.
by Milton Reigelman