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Lang Music Building Renovation Remarks by Jane Lang '67

Jane Lang '67 speaks at podium

I’m privileged and delighted to join in welcoming all of you tonight to the reopening of the Lang Music Building.

My father, Gene Lang, had the foresight many years ago to set aside a substantial sum which he labeled the Swarthmore “Fund for the Future.” It is this fund that my niece and fellow manager Lucy Lang and I decided to tap into to launch the music building renovation. It was exciting to make the announcement in 2019 that the building and the organ it houses would be restored – and it was even more exhilarating when five of our fellow managers responded on the spot with pledges of $100,000 each to help get us to the goal. I want to acknowledge these good friends – Sam Hayes, John Chen, David Bradley, Dave McElhenny and David Singleton – thank you -- you were the ones who energized the launch. A personal “thank you” as well to Deborah Howe for your sustaining gift, and the many others who contributed to this project.

Though Swarthmore’s Quaker founders didn’t see it quite this way, music is our lifeblood. It is, said Oscar Wilde, “the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” And it is memory that connects us tonight to music, to my father and to the building we celebrate.

I’ve been asked why my father chose to make the music building his first major commitment to Swarthmore. For a long time, I had no explanation. He was not a musician, not a student of music. His tastes in music were eclectic --he loved opera – a gift from his mother that he passed along to his granddaughter Lucy --classical symphonies, Lawrence Welk (yes)!), and a remarkable number of songs that he taught me as a child – The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Lazy Bones, You Can’t Get to Heaven, and – my favorite – The Monkey’s Tail. If you don’t know these tunes, find me later this evening I and I’ll treat you to a rendition of Gene Lang’s Greatest Hits. But, much as I love the memory of my dad singing them, I doubt they were behind his gift of the music building.

I discerned his motivation only in the last years of his life, when he lived with Alzheimer's.

During those years, when he no longer frequented the Swarthmore he loved so profoundly, he was visited every week by young and extraordinarily gifted music students. They performed in his living room – sometimes it was a classical quartet, sometimes a Broadway solo. To say he relished these visits would be an understatement. And this is where memory and reason intersect.

After each performance by these young people, my father was renewed. His keen analytical mind and probing intellect that were devastated by Alzheimer's, revived. He asked penetrating questions. He became himself again for an hour or two.

On the most memorable occasion, after a string trio had performed for him, my father asked the musicians, “How does it make you feel when you know you have performed well?”

The students hesitantly volunteered that audience applause was a kick. But that wasn’t what my father was after. “No,” he said, leaning forward, and putting his hand to his heart, “how does it make you feel inside?”

These young musicians then understood he was seeking an answer on a deeper, personal level, and so they spoke of the exhilaration, the emotional high they experienced when they knew their music had hit its mark. My father sat back, satisfied. He had achieved the connection with them he was looking for, they had opened their minds and hearts to him. And their music had given back to him, for a little bit of time, his capacity to examine the source of beauty and joy that had uplifted him throughout his life.

And so it is that the Lang Music Building is the perfect legacy for my father. It houses his memory – not just the memory of him.

Each time you come here, each time you thrill to voices singing or the organ bursting with sound, ask yourself, how does it make me feel inside? Know then that you are connected to my father and his memory and the reason for the existence of this building.

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