John Rutter’s Requiem begins softly, on a haunting, almost hesitant note. Just a few beats in, however, the music begins to quicken, and the tapping of the lone timpani is joined by the melancholy yaw of the strings. Within the space of a heartbeat, the swell of the singers’ voices ascends on the music, a celestial choir of many imploring the divine for the intercession, and seeking the comfort of perpetua luceat – perpetual light.
Rutter’s remarkable work – notable for its rich themes explored through traditional Latin liturgy, English psalms, and selections from the Book of Common Prayer – is one of the composer’s most beloved pieces. Since it was first published in 1985, the ambitiously conceived choral and orchestral mass has been performed countless times by some of the world’s most renowned musicians and singers.
The Magic of Art
Eric O’Dell has a favorite saying he likes to repeat to his students: “Art no easy; art no cheap; art hard work.”
A Mercer alumnus, O’Dell earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in 1992. After receiving his Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) from Florida State University, Eric returned to Macon in 1994, and served as an adjunct professor at Mercer before joining the Arts Department faculty in 2013 as an assistant professor.
Passing on “the magic of art” that he first discovered at Mercer as an undergraduate, is part of Eric’s continuing mission — both as a teacher and a working artist.
The discipline of creative expression in any form requires hard work and a deepening commitment to edification for its own sake, Eric maintains. But at its best, he says, art is a breathtaking, illuminating force of nature capable of uplifting — even transforming — humankind. “Art is a deep and abiding connection to the community. It’s really easy to treat art cheaply if you keep it about the individual.”
Over the years at Mercer, O’Dell has taught classes in drawing, art history, art appreciation, art criticism and 3D design. As a drawing professor, he has led multiple summer sessions in Rome, Florence, Paris and Athens as part of Mercer’s Study Abroad program. In addition, he is also an ongoing instructor for Great Books, an eight-course program that serves as a general education track in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).
From Descartes to Shakespeare and Goethe, to classic works by authors as diverse as Flannery O’Conner and Karl Marx, Great Books provides students with a grounding foundation in religious thought, philosophical thinking, political debate, and the discoveries of science — all keystones of manifesting the creative spirit and the study of art.
“Remember when God said to Moses, tell them that ‘I Am’ sent you? Art is about that ‘am-ness’ — who and what you are in this world,” O’Dell says.
“Whether it’s music or art, a good color or a good composition can move thousands of people. Art is a distinctly human thing.”
And so uniquely elevating to the “inward places of the soul,” as Plato called it, that a person can spend an entire lifetime attempting to decipher and describe the nearly inexplicable alchemy that occurs through its creative expression.
“Music unlocks the mystery of life for many in a way that words cannot. It has transformative powers that move us from our daily existence — which can be full of detours and potholes — to a sense of hope and well-being,” Dr. Keith says, adding, “Our goal is for our students to grasp essential music skills, and also to instill a desire to use those gifts to make the world better through those gifts.”