A Balanced Life


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“In many ways, I still think of myself as a composer,” says Michael R. Drompp, who recently accepted a two-year appointment as Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rhodes. He concedes, though, “My output has slowed drastically.”

Music was Drompp’s first passion and remains a large part of his life. “I still play the piano regularly and love to listen to music, mostly classical, late at night. It captivates and calms me at the same time.”

He also enjoys the quiet atmosphere of his relatively new home in the country where he lives with his partner and their horses and cats. As Drompp was a longtime midtowner, the move surprised many of his friends. “I grew up in a rural setting and my grandparents were farmers,” he reminds them. “I feel very much at home there. I like living where it’s quiet, where there are no bright lights. All I hear are the songbirds and cicadas. It’s wonderful.”

The desire for peace and quiet is not surprising for one who has emerged from the life of an academic immersed in teaching and research into the more frenetic pace of an administrator. Both paths are absorbing and time-consuming, he notes.  But the life of an administrative leader, even though he has entered it gradually by assuming more and more responsibilities, tends to be more draining.

To gird himself for the experience he retreated to Gulf Shores early in the summer where he walked the beach, listened to the waves (and music, of course) and read good books including:

  • Little, Big by John Crowley;
  • The Woman Who Discovered Printing by T.H. Barrett;
  • Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace; and
  • One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry.

“The second book is an audaciously revisionist look at the reign of China’s only female ‘emperor,’ Empress Wu, who reigned over a massive empire more than a thousand years ago. The last one is actually a book that I re-read … for about the 20th time,” Drompp confesses. “It is an illustrated book that combines humor, misery, a little Zen, and the transformational power of art into a brilliant and insightful work.”

Another favorite pastime is cooking, an activity enthusiastically supported by his friends. While he is locally known for his Chinese dishes (he studied under the Chinese counterpart of Julia Child while living in Taiwan), “I like to cook everything,” he says. His interest in baking was inspired by his two grandmothers—one who excelled at cakes while the other made extraordinary pies. Lately, though, meals have included more premade quesadillas from Wild Oats.

So—musician, historian, chef—a true Renaissance man. It might all have been different if his parents had not encouraged him to find a more “practical” major than music.

Drompp recalls that he chose history because he enjoys telling and hearing stories and has always been fascinated by the many worlds of the ancient past. He was advised by friends to choose an unusual area of specialization so he would stand out in the academic marketplace. “I was all prepared to study the history of the Middle East and learn Arabic, but there was a long line at that table during registration. Chinese had a shorter line, which is a little surprising. This was 1972 with the whole Nixon/Kissinger/China thing going on. I could see a lot of opportunities. I switched lines and never looked back.”

Can a man with so many interests be happy with a “desk job?” Drompp is confident that, once the intensive early weeks in the position are past, he will regain at least a little control over his time. “Life is all about balance,” he believes. “We will work for it at Rhodes and I will continue to seek it in my life.”



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