Professor Paul Machlin’s final concert at Colby required months of rehearsals, meticulous planning—and one cortisone shot.
The performances of Haydn’s Creation oratorio April 28 and 29 in Lorimer Chapel marked the end of Machlin’s 38-year career at the College. He conducted the Colby Chorale, the Colby-Kennebec Choral Society, and the Colby Symphony Orchestra for standing-room-only audiences both nights, and the following week, sans baton, he underwent surgery to repair his well-used right shoulder and arm.
After almost four decades, it was time for Machlin, the Arnold Bernhard Professor of Arts and Humanities, to take a final bow. “Before I turned around [to face the audience] I looked at the chorus, and they were all smiling,” Machlin said. “It was just wonderful.”
He said the same of his long career at Colby, where he arrived fresh from the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate school advisor told him to stay at Colby long enough to gain some conducting experience and then move on to a university job.
Instead Machlin followed the path of his Colby mentor, Professor Peter Ré, and pursued conducting and research. “I didn’t want to be one or the other,” Machlin said. “I wanted to do both.”
He did that and more, switching his scholarly research emphasis from Wagner to jazz, specifically Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson. He also wanted to move the Colby Chorale in a new direction and in the process led it on tours, beginning in California in 1987 and expanding to Europe and South America. Legions of Colby singers performed in stunning venues in Prague, Vienna, Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and elsewhere. Under Machlin’s leadership the Colby Chorale performed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, singing at a high mass under the basilica’s historic dome.
“The resonance is just so amazing,” Machlin recalled. “The sound just goes into that dome and swirls around itself and gets really beautifully mixed.”
Machlin’s students performed in grand venues but also in unlikely places, like a hall in a small town outside of Buenos Aires for which Machlin chose a repertoire of Argentine folk songs.
Partway through the concert, members of the audience began singing along, he recalled. “I remember these three older men, tears streaming down their face. They didn’t let us go.”
One of the most gratifying aspects of his career, Machlin said, was providing students with “experiences that will last them for a lifetime. I covet those memories for them because I share them in a sense.”
He said the chorale experience provided members with musical training, camaraderie, and the confidence that comes from meeting high standards. In turn, Machlin said, his students have given him “their energy, their musical abilities, and often their friendships.”
“Every time I hear the Latin of the baccalaureate read, ‘No longer students but colleagues,’ I think, ‘That’s really true,’” Machlin said.
He said he will miss the chorus at Colby but at 66 was beginning to find it hard to muster the energy needed to do multiple rehearsals at the high level of the chorale.
It’s time for a change of direction, Machlin said. He plans to focus his musical scholarship on Nat King Cole, who is known as a singer and entertainer but was also an interesting and overlooked pianist.
Machlin said now he will be able to embark on his research without a deadline and follow the subject where it takes him.
“I’ll miss my colleagues. I’ll miss the students. I’ll miss the great things about rehearsing and performing,” Machlin said. “And who knows, I may get a gig from time to time.”