In 1983, there were two music faculty members, and before them lay a challenge: find the missing piece. Bruce Gustafson and Courtney Adams, both musicologists, had a mandate to create a music department within a liberal arts context. They believed the missing piece was a composer—a practitioner of music. The Dean, however, felt differently: F&M, after all, was a liberal arts college, not a conservatory. A theorist was needed. And so, a compromise was reached: a position was created for a faculty member who would “teach theory courses from the perspective of a composer” (the ghost of Franklin surely beamed). In 1984, Prof. John Carbon was hired and proved to be exactly what was missing.
Upon his arrival, Prof. Carbon not only created the theory curriculum, but accomplished something remarkable: he imparted to students of widely varying musical backgrounds the joys of creating music. No easy task, for to create music is to not only “speak” and think in music, but to tap into reservoirs of imagination that can daunt even the most confident among us. And yet, walk past Prof. Carbon’s office on any given day, and you will see students waiting outside his door. Listen closely and you will hear laughter and music. As they leave, you will see smiles. For with Prof. Carbon’s patience and devotion, they have created something they can claim as entirely theirs.
Prof. Carbon earned his Ph.D. in Composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara, studying under Thea Musgrave and Peter Racine Fricker. His work has been hailed in the pages of the New York Times; performed by internationally renowned musicians at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Merkin Hall; Boston’s Symphony Hall; and Prague’s Smetana Hall. His works have been recorded by performers from around the world, including the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, and the Slovak Radio Symphony. His catalogue includes close to one hundred compositions, from operas to instrumental solo pieces, displaying affinities for lyrical vocal writing and dazzling virtuosic instrumental solos and a deep, sophisticated understanding of every instrument he writes for. From an emotional perspective, the scope is breathtaking, with moods ranging from the most tender, vulnerable, and disconsolate, to contemplative, hopeful, and exuberant.
Even with his international renown, Prof. Carbon has never lost sight of where he is planted and has nurtured his community with the same energy and enthusiasm that he infuses into all his work. At least half of his instrumental works were written for F&M performers and several others for the Allegro Orchestra Lancaster. The widely revered comic opera Benjamin, written in 1987 with a libretto by Prof. Emerita Sarah White, was commissioned by F&M in honor of its bicentennial and revised in 2005 for a performance in honor of Franklin’s 300th anniversary. The oratorio Soldiers of Remembrance (libretto by Prof. White), was composed in 2014 for F&M’s year-long commemoration of the centenary of World War I and premiered by the F&M College Chorus and Chamber Singers. Both were received as extraordinary masterworks of great depth, reflective of Prof. Carbon as a composer and human being.
Prof. Carbon’s absence is going to be acutely felt by the F&M community. He has been a friend, mentor, and gracious colleague who has brought smiles to those around him with his wit and infectious humor. He has inspired generations of students, many of whom have gone on to their own illustrious music careers.
Many years ago, it turned out that he was what was missing, and now it is he who will be missed.