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Vanderbilt faculty member Edgar Meyer receives ‘no strings attached’ MacArthur ‘genius grant’

Sep. 25, 2002, 3:28 PM

September 24, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Edgar Meyer, Vanderbilt University faculty member and award-winning bassist and composer noted for his innovative blending of musical styles, was named Wednesday as a MacArthur Fellow.

More commonly known as “genius grants,” the fellowships are awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to “individuals who show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”

Each recipient receives $500,000 “no strings attached” support over five years. The MacArthur Foundation requires no specific projects and asks for no accounting of how the money is used.

In a news release announcing that Meyer is one of 24 individuals to receive this year’s awards, the MacArthur Foundation calls Meyer “a multifaceted musician whose expansive artistry is altering the way string instruments are played” and who is “equally comfortable in jazz, folk, country and classical styles.” Through this amalgamation of genres, “Meyer is crafting a uniquely American lexicon for symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles.”

Meyer, who is an adjunct associate professor of bass at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music, said the award won’t affect his immediate plans. “I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing … writing music, playing and recording.” The award will enable him to look at more options over the next five years, he said, but as for “a fundamental change, it won’t happen.”

Meyer, who has a studio in his Nashville home, does have a goal in mind. “The one thing I’m staring at with some money right now is getting a spectacular piano. I have a very nice place where I work, but I’d like to get a wonderful piano.”

The piano, he said, is more for pleasure than for work.

Blair Dean Mark Wait praised Meyer for his “acutely intelligent perspective” and said the award is one that Meyer fully deserves. “I have felt ever since I met him that Edgar is one of the few authentic geniuses. ‘Genius’ is a term that has been bandied about quite a bit, but I use it in its more restricted sense. His is the most original mind I’ve ever encountered, not just in music but in the way he perceives art and culture generally and even science.”

Added Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee: “Edgar Meyer has integrated artistry and scholarship in his music, and Vanderbilt is a richer place for it in the best sense of the word. The MacArthur Fellowship is a unique, singular honor that Edgar has earned many times over. We are delighted and proud.”

Past MacArthur Fellows who have been affiliated with Vanderbilt include: Robert Penn Warren, a 1981 fellow and 1925 graduate; John Gaventa, a 1981 fellow and 1971 graduate; David Stuart, a 1984 fellow and 1995 Ph.D. recipient; and Leah Krubitzer, a 1998 fellow and 1989 graduate.

Meyer, who grew up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., began studying bass at age 5 under the instruction of his father, who initially had started his son on the violin. His father, himself a bass player, ensured that young Meyer had sound technical training in the use of the bow and in reading music. When the developing musician was in high school, his father moved a piano into the house and Meyer began to explore jazz improvisation. He studied at Indiana University under noted bassist Stuart Sankey. Also in college he became interested in bluegrass music and from 1986 until 1992 he was a member of the progressive bluegrass band, Strength in Numbers.

In 1994 he joined the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. That same year he became the only bassist to win the Avery Fisher Career Grant and, in 2000, the only bassist to receive the Avery Fisher Prize.

He is the winner of numerous competitions and honors, including Grammy awards for best classical music crossover album in 1999 for Appalachian Journey and in 2002 for Perpetual Motion.

He has premiered his own compositions with the Emerson String Quartet, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

He has been affiliated with Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music since 1984 and is currently visiting professor of double bass at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

A frequent guest at music festivals and an exclusive Sony artist, he has collaborated with such artists as Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor, with whom he shared the 1999 Grammy for Appalachian Journey, and with Bela Fleck, with whom he teamed for Perpetual Motion.

Meyer has performed as guest bass player for many recording artists, including Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hank Williams Jr., Reba McIntire, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, the Indigo Girls and the Chieftains. Vince Gill,

He is married to Cornelia Heard, associate professor of violin at Blair and daughter of Vanderbilt Chancellor Emeritus Alexander Heard.

Contact: Elizabeth Latt, 615-322-NEWS, elizabeth.p.latt@vanderbilt

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