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Sarah Clemmens Named One of 85 National Recipients of Prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship

Story by Michael Chipman


Sarah Clemmens and Spencer Myer Receive Prestigious Javits Fellowships, Discuss Plans for Future

Senior Sarah Clemmens, a double-degree senior (musicology/physics) who was recently named a recipient of the prestigious Javits Fellowship (see related story), has also been named an honorary recipient of the Mellon Fellowship -- an award that offers one-year full-tuition with a $14,750 stipend, given annually to 85 graduate student candidates. With her graduate school tuition and expenses already covered by the Javits Fellowship, Clemmens accepted the Mellon Fellowship on an honorary basis.

"What this means," says Clemmens, "is that on my resume I get to say that I am an honorary Mellon fellow, which is nice. It's a more well-known fellowship than the Javits. The funny thing is that when I found out I got the Javits, I considered refusing the Mellon interview, and the Mellon staff were appalled. 'No one turns us down!' they said. It is also nice because my parents had heard of the Mellon fellowship, not the Javits."

According to their literature, The Mellon Fellowships, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, have two primary objectives:

  1. to help exceptionally promising students, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, to prepare for careers of teaching and scholarship in humanistic studies by providing top-level, competitive, portable awards.
  2. to contribute thereby to the continuity of teaching and research of the highest order in America's colleges and universities.

Clemmens, who will begin a Ph.D. program in musicology in the Department of Music at Yale University in the fall, describes the application process of the Mellon Fellowship as a competition. "Last fall all candidates entered applications with a writing sample, since the award is for studies in the humanities only. Then in the semi-final round, candidates are interviewed. So, I visited the University of Michigan for a regional interview where four U of M humanities professors asked questions about my personal goals, about musicology and my studies in musicology.

"None of the interviewers were musicologists," says Clemmens, "so it made it both easy and difficult. I focused on what I knew. One guy asked me what would it have meant for music history if Mozart had never existed. I told him opera would have been much different. He was thinking of Mozart as the culmination of a style and not someone who makes advances -- a 'whatever' answer to a 'whatever' question. One guy asked how physics fits into music. I explained it doesn't -- it is just a different way of thinking.

"The interview process was brand new to me: exciting and frightening," continues Clemmens. "These professors are asking all sorts of intense questions, and I really had to think on the spot. It was like taking an exam. But I felt good about it. I was the very last interview, so they were all really tired."

Though she hasn't nailed down a definite focus for her grad school studies, Clemmens says she will probably specialize in 19th century music, "because I think that's where everything starts to get weird. That's where we start building our canon of music. That's where the rise of the individual composer really becomes ascendant and music history arises as a discipline. It never fails that studying something about the 19th century tells me about something happening right now. For example, my honors project is on Beethoven and perceptions of Beethoven from the 19th century to today. Those perceptions are not only still with us but have helped to shape the music that we have now. After Beethoven there was a feeling of wanting to preserve what had come before -- music as museum pieces. The museum approach has continued and that all goes back to something that happened in the 19th century. I'm sure I'll figure out more as time goes on."

While working toward her Ph.D. at Yale, Clemmens says she will "pick up a masters degree along the way. I'm looking at three years of study and then two years to write the thesis. I know I'll enjoy musicology because I can combine what I love most: writing and listening to music. In high school I thought of becoming a musician and I enjoyed performing, but I thought, 'wouldn't it be great if I could make a career out of listening to music?' Now I will be able to do just that."

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