The sad news of Prof. McClellan’s admission to hospital in critical condition hit me while I was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Barely two weeks after his sudden collapse, he passed away after struggling with illness and never woke up again.
It was not until the news of his sudden illness that I realise I am very much indebted with the teacher in my university years to make music my profession.
He was an inspiring teacher of music history by guiding us through the canonic, sometimes difficult Grout. He was a mild teacher speaking with a soft tone. But his lessons were unusually vivid and thoughtful. He has compelled me to read the text before attending a lesson, to get better understanding of the often quick talks in lesson.
The most vivid memory, however, was the beginner’s crash course in music research, the 101 for all students of the master’s programme. Round-tabling with less than ten students, he turned dry bibliography into an interesting quest of musical knowledge. The documentary of journals and books is no longer a list of standardised formatting and punctuation, but a starting point of scholarship and endless questions of wonder. He faced with a class of unexpectedly motivated students — initially I was not one of the motivated but pushed by the moving peers to chase up the class progress. Having no preparation for McClellan class could be fatal, or better said, a tremendous lost.
Those were the most exciting years of “new musicology,” a flowering era of vastly different paths of musical thought. We have dealt with the more traditional Joseph Kerman, the groundbreaking (and breathtaking) Susan McClary, the difficult (now still so) Lawrence Kramer and the challenging historians Carl Darlhaus and Richard Taruskin. Every scholar’s essay opens up a new path of wonderment and intellectual challenge that we have not faced before.
And he has let me to follow these paths; I have not considered a profession in music scholarship, but he has wetted my appetite in discovering music knowledge till this day.
Ten years on, the current of “new musicology” subsides. Browsing through Harvard Coop’s shelf a week after his fell into unconsciousness, I saw fewer big names who are revolutionising how we think about music. Suddenly, the feeling of lost hit me deeply.
We met frequently on different occasions. Unlike many teachers I know, he was an avid concertgoer. He would talk about how he thought of a performance, and he would toast with me when we both had a glass on hand. He wrote many music articles for the masses, particularly for the Hong Kong Arts Festival. I even ran into him in Admiralty’s record shop, when we chatted, oddly in the middle of the pop section, of our recent updates and personal lives.
I am grateful to him for who I am and what I become. His characteristic voice still rings in my head and his smile hangs on his face. He will be sorely missed.
Prof. Michael E. McClellan, chairman of music department, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, passed away on July 28 due to complications of meningitis. He was 53.