Musical Contagion at Wesleyan

This week Sophie and I had dinner in Middletown and ran into a group of Wesleyan students and parents who were celebrating the end of the semester concert by the Mixolydians at the Memorial Chapel. Their laughter was contagious, and they greeted the two of us with verve. I was reminded of the joyful, adventurous singing that sweeps across our campus on a regular basis.

Speaking of joyful, adventurous music…on Tuesday I had lunch with Mark Slobin and Anthony Braxton, longtime professors of music at Wes. I’ve gotten to know Prof. Slobin over the last few years, and I wonder at his endless curiosity about the viral intersections of music with other forms of cultural production and with local traditions. He has written on music in northern Afghanistan and on klezmer, on Hollywood and on folk music, and lately authored Music at Wesleyan: From Glee Club to Gamelan. Mark is tireless in his efforts to strengthen both study and performance at Wes (and was recently appointed as the Richard K. Winslow Professor of Music).

I hadn’t met Prof. Braxton before, but I have heard him play. His pathbreaking work as a soloist, composer and teacher has been attracting audiences and students for decades. He is devoted to Wesleyan, and we spoke about the special “radiance” of the creative students who come to school here. Prof. Braxton’s energy and dedication to his craft are legendary, and I find deeply admirable his willingness to go beyond conventional musical borders. If you haven’t heard him play, you might just check out these two Youtube videos for a taste of what Anthony Braxton has to offer.

One of the joys of my job is getting together with faculty who are enlivened by the work they do. It is contagious for students…and for presidents, too!

Classes Are Over

In the final weeks of the semester, there is a frenzy of activity as students scramble to finish their papers, professors hunker down for grading, and the Connecticut climate settles into a chilly grey that for me brings back memories of my student days here.

I spent a few days in the past week visiting alumni in New York. At one meeting most of the participants graduated from Wes in the 1990s. They are now successful teachers and lawyers, not-for-profit administrators, and investment bankers. The early 1990s were a difficult time for Wesleyan, politically and economically. But the academics remained strong. The physical plant of the campus was deteriorating, but the faculty kept the standards of intellectual work very high. The students, at least as represented by the alumni who showed up for breakfast last week, formed intense friendships, encountered cultural diversity, and developed habits of mind and spirit that continue to inform their career and their lives. Like all Wesleyan alumni, they have great ambitions for our school—wanting it to be a leader in liberal arts education. From athletics to the sciences, from music to economics, these alumni want the university to be recognized for excellence. This must be our goal.

Over the weekend I was able to attend a great Wesleyan tradition, and, I trust, start a new one. I attended the extraordinary Worlds of Dance Concert on campus. At this event Wes students of all levels of expertise, and from a myriad of cultural traditions, perform in dances ranging from contemporary hip-hop to traditional Balinese. Outside the packed World Music Hall, spectators gaze in through the windows for a peek at these wonderful performers, cheering on their friends or just taking in the often-exquisite gestures and rhythms. The concert continued in Crowell, with a troupe of beginning jazz dancers (many of them athletes, or scientists, or econ majors) luxuriating in the motion and the music. For me, this tradition of dance at Wesleyan exemplifies our community of diversity and joyful accomplishment.

I had to leave the dance recital to head home for a holiday party of campus kids, with some friends from our daughter’s school added to the mix. Kari and I had about 50 children over at the house, and they made origami ornaments, ate cookies, and chased Mathilde, our lab. It feels like the holidays are almost upon us. Good luck with exams!

[tags] Alumni, Worlds of Dance Concert, World Music Hall, Crowell Concert Hall [/tags]