$6.5 million dollars is music to anyone’s ears. That is approximately 65 grand pianos, 2,600 oboes, 50,000 elementary violins or 26.4 million kazoos. Sidney T. Cox ’47, M.A ’48, upon his death, has bequeathed a generous gift of this amount — $6.5 million — to the Cornell Department of Music, a sum which would have exceeded $70 million in value the year of the department’s founding in 1930.
Cox studied English and music composition and earned degrees in both subjects, a master’s in the latter. He went on to great success in business but remained dedicated to the subject of music throughout his prolific life.
According to a press release, not only were his own works performed by several professional groups, but he also served as a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, as director of the Syracuse Symphony, as an advisory board member of the American Institute for Verdi Studies and as a steering committee member of the Cornell Friends of Music.
Jim Alberts, assistant librarian of the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance, said, “Mr. Cox’s life-long support reflected his good experiences here, and his positive feelings about music at Cornell. He had a desire to ensure other people would have the same opportunities he had.”
The “Lincoln Hall Renaissance Campaign” of ’97-’99 funded much needed construction and renovation to Lincoln Hall, home of the music department. As a result of Cox’s notable donations to the project, the library — 50 percent larger than the previous library — was named in his honor.
The Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance is a rich and relatively untapped resource for the Cornell Community. According to Alberts, the library is home to 142,979 volumes of printed materials, 62,768 albums of sound recordings and 1,231 tapes and discs of video recordings.
“If students came here and browsed,” Alberts said, “they would inevitably find something they were interested in. It amazes me how much stuff we get — and we’re always open to suggestions about material to acquire.”
Among these holdings is an invaluable collection of scores by Giuseppe Verdi, one of the most influential composers of Italian opera in the 19th century. This private collection was yet another gift from Cox, an avid collector of both rare books and rare music.
Cox’s recent gift of $6.5 million, bequeathed to the music department from his estate — Cox died in 2005 — is its largest donation ever.
Rebecca Harris-Warrick, current chair of the music department, explained how the money will be directed. It will be used in four ways: to support faculty research, three graduate programs — musicology, composition and performance practice, the performing ensembles (made up primarily of undergraduates from all colleges at Cornell) and concert and lecture series.
“The music department offers over 100 concerts at Cornell every year, in many different genres and from many different traditions. Since all concerts and lectures are open to the public and since most of them are free, this additional support will benefit the entire Cornell community,” she said.
Prof. James Armstrong, music, is the director of four such ensembles that stand to benefit from the donation, including the Cornell University Percussion Ensemble, the Cornell Steel Band, the Boogie Band (a second ensemble band) and the C.U. World Drum and Dance Ensemble. He also guest lectures in several music courses each semester.
“[The donation] will be put to great use — upgrading some of the instrumentation of the ensembles, creating some stability for certain positions — it’s great; much needed for sure,” he said.
Cox interacted with and inspired many prominent members of the music department’s faculty. One such member, of great prominence in the music community, is Prof. Steven Stucky. In 2005, he won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his Second Concerto Orchestra. According to the Music Department website, he has been associated with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1988, “the longest composer residency of any American orchestra.”
At Cornell, he co-founded Ensemble X, a professional chamber ensemble based in Ithaca that includes several faculty members. Stucky shares his gifts through the teaching of undergraduate and graduate courses in composition, music theory and analysis, counterpoint and orchestration.
“I got to know Sid Cox soon after I joined the faculty in 1980,” Stucky said. “He was a quiet, gruff, modest man who shunned public attention — he would no doubt be discomfited by all the fuss over him now.”