How well do you know Principal? To launch this new initiative, we chat with Dr John Baildam on the Newbold experience, his passion for opera, his advice to current students and more…
- You have spent over thirty years here at the College, what would you say is so special about Newbold? What makes it so unique?
I came here in 1982, assuming I would stay for two or three years – but very quickly became part of the Newbold Family. The multinational, multiracial and multicultural make-up of our staff and student body each year renders Newbold special and ultimately unique. And our partnerships with British, American and German universities always ensure variety and interest.
- Using one word only, describe the Newbold experience…
Never-to-be-forgotten (there, I’ve used hyphens to ensure one word!).
- Some of our new students may not know that you are passionate about opera. How did your love for this genre of music begin?
When I was a student half a century ago, I enrolled for some months at the University of Vienna in Austria. I soon saw that at the magnificent Vienna State Opera House they were performing an opera by someone called Mozart, so I bought a ticket which allowed me to stand for hours at the top of the opera house and experience something new and exciting. Yes, I was bored in places – but afterwards I was sufficiently impressed to write a poem about the event! I was soon back in my standing place – this time for a work by Richard Wagner, a truly life-changing experience. And many hundreds of operatic performances later, I am still as enthusiastic.
- What is your favourite piece of music or operatic work, and why?
Usually the work which I have experienced most recently! The longer I live, the wider my repertoire of favourite pieces becomes. But if you insist on one work, that would have to be Wagner’s Parsifal – several years ago I wrote an essay on Christian symbolism in this wonderful music drama. Recently I attended a performance in Wagner’s own theatre in Bayreuth, Germany, which for many years was the only place where performances of Parsifal were permitted. Beyond that, I love the (more than 40) operas of Handel (or Händel, if you are a native speaker of German), Richard Strauß and Benjamin Britten – as well as the symphonies of Shostakovich.
- How might one who knows you well describe you?
Always optimistic, and willing to find the positive in everything.
- In your spare time, where might we find you?
At an opera, at a cricket match (I’m a member of Surrey County Cricket Club), a football match (usually the Madejski Stadium as a Reading Football Club member!), or on a golf course. But spare time is hard to find …
- Can you share a quote that you have found personally inspiring?
A quotation which I have found valuable in my work as an administrator is from the eighteenth-century German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. This broadly translates as: “A wise person cannot always say what they might be better off leaving unsaid.”
- If you were stranded on a desert island, what would your top three must-have items be?
On the British radio programme, they always give you a copy of the Bible and of Shakespeare – so I assume you will make those available too. Clearly, golf clubs would be little use on a desert island (beyond using my sand wedge!), so I would go for recordings of every opera ever written; an endless supply of reading material; and lovely people to talk to!
- What is your absolute favourite meal of all time?
Fried eggs, baked beans and chips (in the British sense of that word!). Unhealthy but scrumptious, especially with salad cream or tomato ketchup.
- If you could give our new and returning students any advice for this academic year, what would it be?
Learn from the large number of different nationalities represented on campus, and don’t just assume that your own culture is always automatically the best.
- Is there anything about you that most people don’t know?
Yes – I’m a fully-qualified cricket umpire and a member of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Association of Cricket Officials!