James W. McKinnon, Richard H. Fogel Professor, died on February 23, 1999 at his home in Chapel Hill. We wish to pay tribute to our remarkable colleague, to honor him, and to renew our thanks in particular for his many contributions to musical scholarship and to the enrichment of the life of this university community.
Jim McKinnon's international eminence rests not only on his definitive researches into the history of Western plainchant, on brilliant patristic and liturgical studies, on his resourcefulness as a critic-reviewer, translator and editor, on his uniquely profound understanding of musical iconography, or on a number of other achievements that have made him one of America's foremost musical scholars. Jim's unique contribution to musicology rather transcends any of these individual accomplishments, although it is manifested in all of them. In contemplating his publications, one most values not so much the demonstrated reliability and pertinence of the information or the conclusions they afford, but rather the more general lessons -- explicit or implicit -- which they impart along the way: lessons in unparalleled discipline and clarity of thought, of scholarly responsibility in judgment and in method. Jim's most significant publications can be regarded in fact as models to be emulated by others. They are exemplary in the most literal sense and have earned him the admiration of his profession.
Nowhere can one find, for example, a more serious documentary study than his revised edition of Source Readings in Music History or his Music in Early Christian Literature, consisting of patristic passages on music newly translated from the Latin, Greek and Syriac with introduction and commentary. Equally significant have been his chapters on early western civilization, Christian antiquity and the emergence of Gregorian chant in a collection he edited titled The Music of Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
The sheer range of topics which Jim has addressed in his scholarly essays reveals a remarkable ability to train a fine and powerful intellect with equal effectiveness on matters as specific in their focus as the histories of individual instruments, or on those as broad in scope as his efforts to define iconographic method and, most stunningly, his recently completed reconstruction of the history of plainchant from New Testament times to the Carolingian period. This, his rnagnum opus, entitled The Advent Project: The Seventh-Century Creation of the Roman Mass Proper, will be published posthumously by the University of California Press. Suffice it to say that it is destined to become a standard, seminal reference for future studies of the early history of Christian liturgical music. It is no exaggeration to state that the completion of the manuscript has required every last ounce of Jim's energy during the last few months of his life. But we will be forever grateful for this magisterial study.
For all the scholarly successes Jim has achieved, he has always been characterized by genuine personal humility, along with an uncommon openness and candor, prompting him to acknowledge on every appropriate occasion his indebtedness to students and colleagues and to express his enthusiasm for those attainments or ideas of others that have caught his interest. No one who knows Jim at all can fail to have been touched by his warmth and unaffected cordiality, nor to have been delighted by the understated wit that animates his conversations and classroom seminars. We all have realized quite soon, I am sure, that the intellectual and personal virtues are thoroughly fused in him. While the awesome achievement and the rigorous method compel utter admiration, it is also Jim's truly refreshing and inspiring manner that has captured the high regard of his colleagues, students, and friends.
No discussion of Jim McKinnon would be complete without mentioning his role as a teacher. Fair to say, he has never tried to establish a "school" ... he is essentially a doer instead of a talker.... Those who have encountered Jim as a teacher have been immensely fortunate. His knowledge extends far beyond the conventional limits of institutional learning, and he dispenses it generously, and with the deep-rooted courtesy that permeates everything else he does. His students -- undergraduate and graduate alike -- have been touched by him and shall never forget that.
In Jim McKinnon's honor, in January of 1999, the Music Department hosted a successful international symposium of learned papers on the subject of the origins of Western plainchant and its liturgy. Our hope, of course, is that Jim relished this final professional activity of his life and recognized in it the heartfelt affection and esteem in which he has been so very widely held.