Monday, September 26, 2011

Art: Make it Special, Forget your Worries, and Emotionally Connect with Others

NAU Theatre students Tony Latham, Alex Oliver and Fantasia Noel take us away from it all in "Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical."  Photo by Bob Yowell.

 I didn't make it to any cultural events this week.  Instead, I was having many thought-provoking conversations with art and cultural researchers and performers about the value and place of the arts.  I'm sure you already know the value of art in our culture, but sometimes, we need to JUSTIFY and advocate for the them, if only just to remind our own selves of their healthy contributions to our life.

The first conversation was with Dr. Ekkehart Malotki, emeritus professor of modern languages at NAU, about his research on Southwestern rock art.  (More of the story, coming soon.)  We talked about his exciting new discoveries, and his interest in ancient rock art.

"In times of stress and crisis, people resort to the arts," said Malotki.  Rock art is a perfect example.  Art is not essential to daily life, it doesn't feed us or shelter us.  But, as ancient people have exemplified, we "artify" and decorate things because it makes it special.  It helps it to stand out, give it importance, and hopefully influence something.  "Art is a behavior that we are born with," continued Malotki.  Art helps us with our survival, probably because we all need to feel something special at times.  When things are rough, art helps us remember the good.  That's why art is especially important during an economic downturn.

I also got to talk to Darby Winterhalter-Lofstrand, lecturer in NAU Theatre, and director of the Shakespeare adaptation of "Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical."  (Go see it, Oct. 14-23 at the Clifford E. White Theatre.)  Lofstrand thinks that her upcoming play will be a huge kick for the audience and will be a welcome relief from the mundane life.  "Musicals suspend our disbelief and get us away from daily grind," she said.  "We're drawn to music as humans."

Ryan Holder, assistant professor and associate director of NAU Choral Studies, agrees with Lofstrand.  He finds that his vocal jazz group, "High Altitude" and other choirs often attain an intimate emotional connection with their audience.  "It doesn't get much more personal than the human voice," he said.  High Altitudes vocal jazz group is performing on Oct. 14 at the NAU Ardrey Memorial Auditorium. Holder is looking forward to taking his professional group, The Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers (comprised solely of current and recent NAU students,) to Cuba in May 2012, and believes that they may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be musical ambassadors of a sort. 

I think that these three professors hit on very essential points:  We love art because it makes our life special, it transports us away from our everyday lives, and it allows us to emotionally connect with others. 
Emotionally connect with High Altitudes vocal jazz group on Oct. 14 at the NAU Ardrey Memorial Auditorium.  Photo by Maria Nissen.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Music and the Great Outdoors

Run Boy Run at Heritage Square
There is something special about live music; sharing it with a community of music-lovers, watching the performers, being part of the spirit.  If you are lucky enough to be outdoors during the performance, it makes the music sound that much better.  I think that being outdoors makes you hungrier...for music!
  It was a big musical weekend for Flagstaff.  Not only was it the 6th Annual Pickin in the Pines Festival, but it was also the opening concert for the 62nd Annual Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. 

Outdoor concerts with friends--just about perfect.
  I went to the free concert for Pickin', at Heritage Square on Thursday-- Run Boy Run was playing.  Those sweet youngsters had some serious skills.  As I sat there with my son and our friends, I was already nostalgic for outdoor summer concerts.  Can one sit in Heritage Square during a free outdoor concert, watching the sunset, hearing the tunes, and not feel the warmth and draw of our town?

Zoe and me at the FSO opening concert.
  On Saturday I went to the symphony with my friend. It was the concert "Here and Now: Modern Works by Women Composers", and there were 7 modern composers that were represented.  I loved it all, but the piece that became most visually meaningful for me was the one that evoked nature, Hilary Tann's "Leggiero".  Her concert notes say "The first movement, marked slow and spacious, is inspired by Mount Hiei as viewed from Shoden-ji, a temple with a dry landscape (Zen rock) garden."

  Because of this bit of personal history/musical nudge, I couldn't help but set my listening experience outdoors again, this time amongst the Zen rock garden that my son and I toured last year at the Portland Japanese Gardens.  (It was pouring rain on that trip, of course.)

  Precious memories indeed.

A remembered outdoor Zen moment.

  I'm happy to have live music (of all kinds) in my life.  I'm happy to have nature in my life.  And in Flagstaff I get to have both. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sharp Pencils, Sharper Buildings

The school year has officially started, and the fight between competing technologies has begun.

Some people like their Boston Ranger manually-operating pencil sharpener (Model 55) mounted on a solid wood pedestal.  Others like their Stanley Bostitch Personal Electric Sharpener (and especially like saying it in Spanish.)
Now that's a tough choice.

But pencil sharpening technology aside, it's also time for technology upgrades and renovations.  Everyone at the College of Arts and Letters was excited about the Liberal Arts Building renovation.  There were safety upgrades, new audio/visual equipment for each classroom, and two new lecture rooms, including a new cinema screening space that will house 200 people. Students and professors will also enjoy new carpet, paint, wood paneling, tile floors, updated bathrooms and a student lounge with a flat-screen television and vending machines.

The Liberal Arts Building has become something of a cornerstone buildingon the NAU campus.  Almost every student at the university has taken a class in this building at one time or another.  (English 105, anyone?)  I, myself, spent many hours inside the Liberal Arts Building in my undergraduate days, dreaming of becoming a beatnik poet, a Mexican revolutionary, or even a Victorian heroine.

Students can now use their imagination in safety, in beauty, and with the aid of 50 new Macs and PCs.   

In true Arts and Letters fashion, the building was dedicated with a ceremony that included Nicole Walker's dedicatory poem "The Metamorphoses" (see below), a not-so-solemn cutting of the ribbon, a musical fanfare provided by the School of Music's Elden Brass Band, and a reception.  It was such a nice celebration of the arts and humanities, all in honor of the love of learning!

President Haeger, Dean Vincent, Provost Grobsmith and Associate Dean Boreen at the re-opening.
More pictures of the opening can be viewed here.

The Metamorphoses
by Nicole Walker
Ovid’s Deucalion and Pyrrha
only had to toss dirt
and rocks over their
shoulders to create a whole
human race. If only tossing here
had been enough.
Here, people worked
through dirt and rock,
mashed them up, cracked
them upon, dug the new
out of the old and turned
geologic into neologic
to make this new
inside place full of shoulders
and absent dirt.
A transformation more
blue than print, more
bones than HVAC, more
rock than LEED.

It is not like we didn’t
appreciate brown tiles
in the bathroom, the way
they sent sludgey bits
riding home with us
on our shoe soles and
backpacks, the way
the water turned on
and stayed on, promising
to flood the asbestos
right out of here.

We’ll miss some things.
A window, here, for instance,
in a someone named Bryan Short
office, the breeze of an open hallway,
the random, sciencey faucets
in a wing named
after someone Bacon
that we shouldn’t forget
in this wave of new blue.

But maybe, when Williams wrote,
no ideas but in things,
he really meant “in” and herein,
in this new building,
the new, blue carpet tiles,
the fire escape, the plastic hallway
interrupter, the new breeze of air
conditioning make that lost window
and maybe those lost sinks,
more idea than thing. In here, in this
Mandelbaum translation
of us, from one kind of earth
into another, in here, we’ll find
the new ideas in the new things
we find here.