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From Professors to Peers

Mackenzie Pierce ’11 and Barbara Milewski

This March, Pierce and Milewski brought their year-in-the-making multidisciplinary festival, “Forbidden Songs,” to both Swarthmore and Cornell University.

From the Summer 2018 issue of the The Bulletin

In all of her courses, Polish music expert Barbara Milewski seeks to connect with her students as a fellow adventurer rather than an ultimate authority.

“I want them to know the field of musicology is wide open. There’s all sorts of research that awaits its scholars; there are topics for the taking,” she says. “I invite them to ask questions that might lead to new ideas and areas of interest deserving of further exploration.”

That’s exactly what happened when cellist Mackenzie Pierce ’11 took Milewski’s Chopin seminar—it planted a seed. Not only did he learn Polish after graduating, but he’s now a doctoral candidate in musicology at Cornell—and a friend and colleague of Milewski’s.

“One of the most important and enjoyable aspects of being a scholar is having a network of people to share concerns and questions with, and I’m lucky to have had that with Dr. Milewski,” says Pierce. “In fact, it’s hard to put a finger on the moment we went from student/professor to collaborators in a larger conversation.”

After all, this kind of collaboration isn’t uncommon at Swarthmore.

For example, Professor of Statistics Steve Wang and Zoey Werbin ’17 recently earned a National Science Foundation grant to expand upon an independent study they completed together.

Pierce and Milewski were especially excited this March, when their year-in-the-making multidisciplinary festival, “Forbidden Songs,” premiered at both Cornell and Swarthmore. Through a live concert, lecture, and film, the pair helped reclaim the long-censored music of the iconic, yet almost-forgotten, Polish composer Roman Palester.

Best of all, they agree, is that this is just the beginning of their ongoing collaboration.

“It takes many minds to explore the music of midcentury Poland,” says Pierce. “I’m happy to share some ideas that have been germinating for a few years now.”

“It’s rewarding to have an intellectually creative relationship with a former student who now in his own right is a very fine musicologist,” Milewski says.

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