A Note from Rick Davis


Festina lente!

One of my favorite little Latin sayings is festina lente, which usually translates as make haste slowly. That’s much better than hurry up and wait, which brings to mind standing in line for a driver’s license more than moving forward with both careful consideration and a sense of urgency.

We – and the nation – find ourselves in a festina lente frame of mind right now as we plan for the return to full in-person activities this fall. We are looking forward to welcoming artists, audiences, and events back to our stages, galleries, classrooms, and rehearsal halls at an accelerating pace as summer turns to fall and fall to winter. You’ll read about many of the upcoming opportunities in this edition of the newsletter.

But I want to assure you that, as part of the George Mason University community, we are in frequent (sometimes daily) contact with a team of professionals (medical, scientific, public health, environmental health and safety, and more) who have access to the very best current information and guidance to keep us on track to reopen safely and comfortably. Mason has emerged as one of the national leaders in pandemic management, with a formidable list of accomplishments on the research, testing, mitigation, and policy fronts, and a very low incidence of COVID-19 in our campus community. The arts at Mason, too, including our Hylton Center, have won national attention for our creative response to the challenges (and, yes, opportunities) of this unprecedented period. 

So as we make haste to open our doors ever wider, know that we are proceeding slowly enough to stay on top of, and effectively interpret along with our university partners, the latest science and policy data and recommendations. I remain confident in, and proud of, our Mason and Hylton Center teams, and I hope you are too.

On a more personal note… save the date, September 7th, 7:30 pm.

It’s not often that I get to use this space to talk about an opportunity to come before you as a creative artist instead of as a Dean or Executive Director, so I want to tell you today about “Stations of Mychal,” a project I’m truly honored and humbled to be involved in as part of New York City’s commemoration of the 20thanniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A former Mason colleague, the outstanding tenor Rick Novak, received a grant from Texas State University to commission a song cycle for voice, viola, and piano on the life, ministry, and death of Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, and the first official casualty of the World Trade Center attacks. Rick N. asked me to be the librettist, and engaged a brilliant composer from San Antonio, Kevin Salfen, to write the music. 

Novak’s research on Fr. Mychal’s life opened up a network of friends, historians, fellow Franciscan friars, fire officials, and families whom he had served over the years. Combined with the voluminous historical record, these generous people offered a variety of windows into the complex life and work of a priest who risked his career to minister to AIDS victims early in the trajectory of that terrible epidemic; who worked with the homeless in New York and flew to Northern Ireland to help make peace between Protestants and Catholics; and who selflessly walked into the World Trade Center to be with his beloved firefighters as soon as he heard reports of the first plane’s impact.

For more than a year, Kevin Salfen and I traded words and music to create the 14 movements of “Stations of Mychal,” a structure inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which ritual observance is deeply rooted in Fr. Mychal’s Franciscan order. Rick Novak soars in the telling of these stories, some uplifting and humorous and some laced with sorrow and tragedy, and the accompanying instrumentalists, Joey Martin on piano and Ames Asbell, viola, are superb. We will be presenting the work in Fr. Mychal’s own religious home, The Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, on Sept. 10th and 11th, 2021.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we are thrilled to be able to offer a preview performance of this work at the Hylton Center on Sept. 7th at 7:30 pm, in the Rehearsal Hall of the new Education Wing. The performance is free, with RSVPs requested

I hope to see you there. And on many other occasions this fall. 

Rick Davis

Dean and Executive Director