The Association of Southwestern University Alumni


Susan Youens ’69, Distinguished Professional

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    Lance Holt

Susan Youens ’69  has lived in South Bend, Indiana for many years, but she was born in Houston, and has the lovely lilting hint of a Texas drawl - as one of her colleagues puts it - to prove it.

As a Southwestern student, Susan studied piano with Drusilla Huffmaster and musicology with Ellsworth Peterson before going on to graduate school at Harvard University. There, she sang with John Ferris’s Harvard Memorial Choir, worked as a coach-accompanist, and wrote a dissertation on French Renaissance chansons all while earning both a Master of Arts and a Doctorate degree. She is now the J. W. Van Gorkom Professor of Music at the University of Notre Dame.

Susan is one of the world’s experts on the music of Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf, she is sought after worldwide as a scholar/ lecturer, and her publications are considered the authority on these important composers.

One of Susan’s Southwestern professors says he remembers her as a warm and appreciative student, and is glad to have been able to see her development over the years as an inspiring teacher and a consummate scholar.

Susan is also a rare scholar of music, according to a fellow music historian, who explains that her contribution to the well being of humanity is evidenced by the fact that famous performers such as Thomas Hampson, Graham Johnson, Margo Garrett, Roger Vignoles, Malcolm Martineau and Eugene Asti have endorsed her work. Mr. Hampson, for example, has expressed repeatedly how much Susan’s research has influenced the way he sings and, given his stellar career in opera and solo singing, that says a lot!

Referred to as brilliant, generous, supportive, insightful, modest, funny and, most of all, dedicated to the art of music, one of her colleagues says Susan’s guidance and friendship has been crucial to his career. But it is her dedication to students that makes her a rare breed, he says. Susan is a beloved teacher always willing to go the extra mile, and her students find great inspiration in the profound musical insight and enormous knowledge of music, poetry and cultural history that she shares with them without the slightest whiff of self-aggrandizement.  

Another colleague says that despite her profound knowledge, Susan is one of the friendliest, kindest people around, never too busy for a long talk or to send a letter or email that will invariably sparkle with news, wisecracks, uncensored disparagements and fond memories. In fact, Susan sent many letters that provided the breathtaking and life-giving sustenance that helped one friend get through her first year of teaching (in her words) in the cornfields of Ohio.

Another gives an example of what she calls Susan’s “vivacious hilarity,” sharing that when talking about a trip to England, she were asked if there was hot water. Susan’s answer? “Yes… but taking a bath was a bit of a problem because the water coming from the tap was freezing, with a thin ring of scalding water surrounding it.”

Although Susan has an identical twin—Laura—her friends believe her to be one of a kind! She has written numerous books and given many lectures, which are of great interest to many. So much so, in fact, that she has been invited to speak at Georgetown’s Festival of Arts numerous times.

According to a fellow Harvard University Choir member, Susan has an aura of generosity and empathy that’s palpable when she enters a room, similar to Dorothea Brooke (the heroine and earthly angel of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”), but with the addition of a drop-dead sense of humor and an Irishman’s ability to tell a story!

John Ferris drew from his choir the purest musical expression - a unity of phrasing and attention to nuance - in the deepest and most unconstrained emotional expression of joy, despair, hope and longing. A fellow choir member says that’s what Susan does in her work and in life as effortlessly as she breathes, all of it pouring forth as a torrent of felicitously chosen words.

Susan is considered a star in our midst. In the words of one of her dear friends, “As in ‘An die Musik’ by Schubert, Susan has …kindled my heart to warm love and carried me away into a better world!”

For her many accomplishments in the world of musicology, for her dedication to friends and colleagues, and for her passion for teaching, The Association of Southwestern University Alumni presented a 2013 Distinguished Professional Award to Susan Youens.