W. Anthony Sheppard is the Marylin and Arthur Levitt Professor of Music at Williams College, where he teaches courses in 20th-century music, opera, popular music, and Asian music.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
Starting “from the beginning”?! Well, my parents met at a local Sing Out! chapter meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida where I was subsequently born. As a child, I mostly heard Elvis records at home and music making was central to my activities. I started on the clarinet in elementary school and performed various second-tier roles in multiple musicals in children’s theater groups. I was in the Pinellas Youth Symphony and, as a student member, was able to score lots of free tickets to concerts in the Tampa Bay Area. For my fifth-grade essay on my future career, I wrote about orchestral conductors. However, I stopped saying “I’m gonna be a conductor when I grow up” after sitting in on the Tanglewood Music Center conducting fellows’ seminar and noting that they were all already 30 and were still just starting out. This was after sophomore year in college and by then I was already falling in love with the academic life and trying to figure out how I could stay in college forever.
I majored in English and Music at Amherst College and decided that musicology would allow me to keep both literary and musical interests alive. An opera course with Jenny Kallick at Amherst was crucial to this decision. In general, the liberal arts college approach was formative. For example, on a whim I took a course in Japanese literature and another on European film and film theory and both of these areas ended up shaping my future research projects. In my senior year I wrote an honors thesis on the vocal music of Elliott Carter and a separate honors thesis on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. Opera and twentieth-century Euro-American art music were my main interests at that time. I attended graduate school at Princeton and have been on the faculty at Williams College since 1996.