Professor Michael Caldwell retires from NSU
Was founding director of NSU’s Performing and Visual Arts programs
Throughout his professional life, Michael Caldwell, D.M.A., has worn the hats of reporter, renowned concert pianist, U.S. artistic ambassador, and academic. But after 11 years at NSU in Performing and Visual Arts, he’s hung up that last hat to seek out new adventures.
“I’ve never had sabbatical in 40-plus years,” he said. “I never had the time or was too busy.”
Caldwell, who grew up in Fayetteville, NC, said his parents always encouraged him to follow his interests. Listening to his older brother take piano lessons inspired him to want to learn to play himself. Over time, Caldwell began to play piano and organ at his local church, and by high school, he was teaching others how to play.
“I had always been interested in classical music,” he said. “I would collect 78 records and go to classical concerts.”
Unfortunately, Caldwell’s opportunities to attend classical concerts was limited due to segregation. Caldwell continued playing and won multiple music competitions. Caldwell earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Music from the University of Miami. Later, Caldwell took on a job as a broadcast reporter after returning from a year studying on a grant. He was handed a camera and instructed to go shoot footage for a story.
“That’s how I got started, and that’s how so much of my life got put together,” he said.
Continuing his musical studies, he earned a doctorate in Musical Arts from the University of Arizona. It was that university connection that got Caldwell his first of three appointments as a U.S. artistic ambassador. The program, which started in the U.S. Department of State during the Reagan administration, fosters cross-cultural understanding through the arts. Caldwell was assigned to Jordan and was already familiar with the Middle East and North Africa, having spent time on a self-financed tour and living out of a VW van.
“That’s how I realized that when you travel, you are the face of America,” Caldwell said. “That was how I learned about respecting so many different cultures.”
Caldwell's stints in academia included six years at Broward College as Associate Dean of Visual and Performing Arts. In 2008, he came to Nova Southeastern University and served as the founding director of the Division of Performing and Visual Arts in what was then known as the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences. The programs in the Department of Performing and Visual Arts celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2018.
“We had to do everything from getting the instruments to doing the contracts,” he said. “It was wonderful and exciting. The colleagues I met are for life.”
As his time at NSU came to a close, Caldwell celebrated with Dean Honggang Yang and DPVA faculty and staff at a farewell lunch. With the free time that comes from retirement, Caldwell said he is looking forward to being able to play piano wherever and whenever he wants.
“I think you need to leave room in your life for things to happen,” Caldwell said. “I want to concentrate on simple things and heighten my enjoyment of life.”