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Getting Comfortable at Middlebury

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
The Studio Art Tour was one of 68 trips offered during Orientation.

The Studio Art Tour was one of 68 trips offered during Orientation.

When a cluster of first-year students dropped by the art studio and gallery of Sarah Wesson last week, the local oil painter showed works she had created in Italy, Maine, New York City, and Vermont.

She discussed her painting technique and her feelings about abstract art, and then she paraphrased Henri Matisse. When buying a piece of art, Wesson said, it should feel like a comfortable chair.

At that moment Matisse’s metaphor of the comfortable chair was fitting on another level. The students were on an Orientation trip that was all about getting comfortable: comfortable with their peers, with the Champlain Valley region, and with each other as members of the Middlebury Class of 2017.

Wesson3_9116

Sarah Wesson

The Studio Art Tour group was one of 68 MiddView Trips that set out from Middlebury on Friday, Sept. 6. The trips, which were a required component of Orientation, were split into three categories: Vermont exploration, wilderness experience, and community engagement, and each trip was led by members of the sophomore, junior, or senior class.

Organizing the logistics for off-site excursions for some 629 first-year students was the responsibility of the Dean of Students Office with Amanda Reinhardt in the pivotal role of trips coordinator.

The shape of Orientation trips at Middlebury has been through many changes over the past decade, Reinhardt said, but in 2013 a combined commitment by students (in the form of financial support from the Student Government Association) and the Administration (in terms of staffing and all other resources) created the new, comprehensive MiddView Trips program.

“This year the trips were built right into the Orientation schedule. The members of the incoming class selected their top four choices, and we did our best to accommodate their requests. Almost without exception, every first-year student participated in a MiddView Trip,” Reinhardt said.

There were, for example, wilderness trips such as hiking portions of the Long Trail, rock climbing in Bolton, sailing on Lake Dunmore, and canoeing on Tupper Lake. There were community engagement experiences at the John Graham Emergency Shelter for Addison County’s homeless and at Zeno Mountain Farm in Lincoln, a program that supports lifelong friendships for people with and without disabilities. And there were Vermont exploration trips designed to investigate local ecology, storytelling and folklore, rhythm and dance, and food systems in the Green Mountain State.

Anne Cady '73

Anne Cady ’73

After spending an hour with Sarah Wesson in the Battell Block, the Studio Art Tour set out for Bristol to meet Anne Cady, who has her studio and gallery in a former grist mill located behind a row of storefronts on Main Street.

Inside Cady’s spacious studio the students sat on stools and boxes in a semicircle around the artist and introduced themselves. They hailed from U.S. cities like Tucson and Buffalo and Los Angeles, and from China and Colombia and the United Kingdom, and all of the students, regardless of their hometowns, shared a deep interest in art.

Cady discussed her own background as an art teacher and gallery owner, and explained that she didn’t explore her full potential as a painter until the 1990s. “Now if I don’t paint every day, I lose my momentum. And I love to paint every day. But if you are doing this as your work, your income, then you have to realize that the business side of it will take a lot of energy too, so you have to balance that out.”

Surrounded by her recent paintings of hilly Vermont landscapes, the 1973 Middlebury graduate said, “For me it’s all about color and composition. Having clarity and a clean line help me go a little more wild with the color. I concentrate on form and color to tell a story in each of my paintings.”

Following a detour for ice cream at Lu Lu’s in Bristol, the next stop on the Studio Art Tour was Daniel and Dennis Sparling’s studio located a quarter-mile down a long dirt driveway in New Haven. Dennis, the father, is primarily a metal sculptor. He said “having practical artistic skills allows you to do the passion work,” and he showed the first-year students some examples of both: the things he does for money and the pieces he creates for the love of art.

Daniel, the son, inherited many of his father’s talents but has branched off into designing and building specialty masks, castings, and prosthetics for independent filmmakers. Most recently Daniel has been shooting aerial cinematography with his business partner — lavish sweeping shots for television commercials, films, and private enterprises. The partners have built a number of remote-controlled aircraft (“Okay, you can call them drones,” Daniel said) that will fly with a 10-pound video camera, which is also remote controlled from the ground.

Daniel Sparling

Daniel Sparling

“It’s tough to make a living as an artist. You have to swallow your pride a lot of times and take jobs you never thought you would have to take. But it also helps to be handy, to be able to do a lot of different things. The way I see it,” Daniel said, “Art is 60 percent tenacity and drive, and 40 percent talent.”

On Sunday the Studio Art Tour continued with leader-led activities and reflection, and concluded with a visit to the Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury and a debriefing session.

“Bonding” is a term often used in reference to Orientation trips, regardless of whether it’s a strenuous hike in the Adirondacks or a visit to the organic farms of Addison County. Derek Doucet, Middlebury’s director of outdoor programs and club sports, put it a little differently when he said, “Intimate small-group experiences provide opportunities for students to make genuine connections across typical social boundaries.”

“They also offer to first years a welcome chance to catch their breath before delving into the semester, and they provide space for intentional reflection about what it means to be in this time of transition to college.”

Summer Scene: First Look at InSite

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

Nearly 100 Middlebury students  had a hand in planning, designing, and building InSite, the college’s entry in the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition. This weekend the public will get their first look at the results of all that work as the team hosts an open house in their newly finished home before they ship it out to California. We met with some of the team leaders this week for a sneak preview.

Summer Scene: Campus Beauty

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

Middlebury’s fickle summer weather is captured dramatically — and beautifully — in this time lapse of campus scenes. This is a debut piece for Matt Lennon ’13, who recently joined the college communications office as a graduate intern.

Coming Soon to Bread Loaf!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Summer may seem to be flying by, but there are still a few exceptional events not to be missed at the Bread Loaf School of English’s Vermont campus.

natasha portraitThis year’s Elizabeth Drew Lecture takes place in the iconic Bread Loaf Barn on Monday, July 22, at 7:30 p.m., and features Natasha Trethewey, the United States Poet Laureate. Trethewey’s poetry is an evocative blend of the historical, philosophical, social, and personal aspects of her own mixed-race heritage. She’s published several books and won numerous awards, and is also the state poet laureate of Mississippi. (Last summer, Middmag caught up with Trethewey at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where she was a returning faculty member.)

pcs101-OurTown-webTaking the stage in Little Theater July 31 through August 4, the always-stellar Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble will present Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, directed by Alan MacVey. Tickets are available and free to the public beginning July 19—contact the Bread Loaf box office at 443-2771. Word from Bread Loaf is that the performance will take place in part outside the theater on the adjacent patio, weather permitting, and assistance will be available to those who might need it.

Summer Scene: PTP/NYC Season Opener Off Broadway

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
ptp_pp_2013_castle

A scene from The Castle

The Off Broadway sensation with a Middlebury connection has opened its 27th season to rave reviews.

PTP/NYC is performing both The Castle, an energetic epic by Howard Barker, and Serious Money, Caryl Churchill’s play about 1980s greed in London’s financial district, this season in New York. The two are in rotation Off Broadway at Atlantic Stage 2 and have already captured the attention of top reviewers from the New York Times, Broadway World, and Time Out.

The Castle, directed by Professor of Theatre Richard Romagnoli, features Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Jan Maxwell as well as alums David Barlow ’94, Rachel Goodgal ’13, Stephen Mrowiec ‘13, and Aubrey Dube ’12. Sumi Doi ’13 is assistant to the director.

Serious Money, directed by Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone, has a cast that stars alums Tara Giordano ’02, Mat Nakitare ’11, Alex Draper ’88, Aubrey Dube ’12, David Barlow ’94, Megan Byrne ’96, Molly O’Keefe ’12, Sarah Lusche ’13, Isabel Shill ’12.5, and Noah Berman ’13. Christo Grabowski ’12 is assistant to the director, and the crew includes Alicia Evancho ’12 as choreographer.

The collaboration between the PTP/NYC and Middlebury began in 1987 and it remains the only collegiate program of its kind to offer undergraduate students opportunities to work in professional theater.

If you’re in New York this summer, be sure to check out the performances! See the website for the most recent information on show times and tickets.

Around the World in 10 Events!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

top10[1]Every summer, a short but sweet burst of Language Schools events fills the campus with music, lectures, and art—all in language, of course.

Here are the annual “Top Ten” suggestions from Michael Geisler, vice president for the Language Schools, Schools Abroad, and graduate programs. Be sure to check the campus calendar for updates as well.

School of Hebrew
Sunday, June 11, 7:30 p.m.
Gitit Shoval and Ron Druyan concert
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

Gitit Shoval, Ron Druyan, Tutti Druyan, and Shaqed Druyan perform renditions of Israeli and American music.  Shoval, one of Israel’s singing treasures, was discovered at the pre-Eurovision contest of 1979 when she was just 13 years old. Since then she has performed around the world, both solo and with various musical ensembles. In addition to her work for adult audiences, Gitit Shoval has provided the Hebrew voice of many children’s characters. She has six solo albums and four holiday and children’s albums to her credit. Her seventh solo album complements her current show, From Gershwin to Dylan: The Genius of Jewish Songwriters.

French School
Friday, July 5, 7:30 p.m.
“Chiche L’Afrique” performance, text and interpretation by Gustave Akakpo
Wright Theatre

“Chiche L’Afrique” is a one-man show performed by Togolese author and actor Gustave Akakpo, who invites political actors of Françafrique onstage. African leaders, Nicolas Sarkozy, Charles Pasqua, and others are the protagonists of this hilarious spectacle. With its ironic and cheeky tone, “Chiche L’Afrique” both entertains and provides insight into the situation in Africa, illuminating the consequences of bad governance on its local population. The show has received positive reviews since it was first produced in Paris, in 2011. It is directed by Thierry Blanc.

Spanish School
Friday, July 5, 9:30 p.m.
Chicha Libre concert
McCullough Social Space (standing room only)

Chicha Libre plays a mixture of Latin rhythms, surf, and psychedelic pop inspired by Peruvian music from Lima and the Amazon. This Brooklyn band includes French, American, Venezuelan, and Mexican musicians who combine covers of Peruvian Chicha with original compositions in French, Spanish, and English; re-interpretations of 1970s pop classics; and cumbia versions of pieces by Satie, Love, and Wagner. Chicha Libre has performed for audiences around the world.

Italian School
Saturday, July 6, 9 p.m.
“A Mediterranean Myth”
Wright Theatre

The Italian School’s opening performance, a one-act play, is a semi-serious tale for a feminine voice performed by Isabella Carloni, faculty member of the Italian School. Carloni is an actress, singer, and songwriter for theatre.

Chinese School
Saturday, July 20, 8 p.m.
Music from China Youth Orchestra
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

The Music from China Youth Orchestra encourages and nurtures Chinese American youth, and invites all young people interested in Chinese culture to become active participants in Chinese music. Established by the New York-based professional ensemble Music from China and under the training of its artistic director, Wang Guowei, the group performs classical and folk arrangements played on traditional instruments consisting of bowed strings (erhu), winds (dizi, huslusi), plucked strings (yangqin, liuqin, zheng, ruan), and percussion.

Portuguese School
Saturday, July 27, 9 p.m.
Richard Miller, with guests Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

Miller and his acoustic guitar bring us music in several rhythmic styles, including Xote and Bossa Nova. Accompanied by Vanderlei Pereira on percussion and Gigi McLaughlin on the accordion, Miller’s “Rhythms of Brazil” brings together a combination of styles whose origins span from southeastern to northern Brazil. Stacey Kent (vocals) and Jim Tomlinson (saxophone) will be joining Richard on stage.

German School
Thursday, August 8, 8 p.m. (pre-performance talk in English at 7:30 p.m.)
Friday, August 9, 8 p.m. (pre-performance talk in English at 7:30 p.m.)
“Die Fledermaus”
Town Hall Theater

This beloved operetta by Johann Strauss will be performed by the carefully selected and talented students in the German for Singers Program as their culminating project of this summer. “Die Fledermaus” is a mischievous delight, a tale of friendly revenge and mistaken identities, with farcical elements and inspired silliness set to a luscious score by Strauss. No doubt, these elements will again be highlighted for maximum effect by the director and producer of the show, Bettina Matthias, who is the director of the German for Singers Program, and musical director Stefan Rütter.

Davis School of Russian
Sunday, August 11, 8 p.m.
School of Russian Choir
McCullough Social Space

Directed by Elena Sadina and Sergei Grachev, the School of Russian Choir, made up of students, will sing, dance, play folk instruments, and reenact various Russian folk rituals during this exciting performance.

Middlebury International Film Festival
June 22 – August 10, 7 p.m.
Dana Auditorium

Middlebury’s International Film Festival is like no other film series. Starting in June, the Language Schools will present a major foreign film on the big screen in Dana Auditorium each week. The schedule of this year’s film festival can be found here.

**Vice-President’s Pick**
Thursday, July 11, 8 p.m.
Le Vent du Nord
McCullough Social Space (standing room only)

Le Vent du Nord is the top traditional music group from Québec, performing melodies and stories and exploring multiple cultural music traditions. Since its beginning in 2002, Le Vent du Nord has exploded onto the folk music scene. The group’s first recording, Maudite moisson!, was awarded a prize for traditional album of the year in 2004. Their second album, Les amants du Saint-Laurent, was chosen album of the year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Le Vent du Nord won the 2011 Juno for best Roots & Traditional Album.

 

Bringing Sounds of Africa to Middlebury

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video
CircleDanceAbove

Sounds of Africa
Professor Damascus Kafumbe—ethnomusicologist, performer, composer—teaches students what music means to world cultures and how to perform the music of his own.

Back in Uganda, Damascus Kafumbe’s mother would wonder why he took so long to bring water back from the village well. It seems the well was too convenient to two Buganda royal enclosures where a young boy peeking through reed walls to watch court musicians could lose track of time. By age 11 Kafumbe was performing with a noted Ugandan troupe. He continued his studies with Buganda royal musicians and other masters throughout Africa, learning the subtleties of diverse cultures’ songs and dances; he also perfected the skills to craft traditional instruments. Another lesson, which he immediately makes clear to his Middlebury students today: “In all the African languages I’m familiar with, there is no word for ‘music.’ It’s such an integral part of life that we don’t have a word for it.” Even “African music” is a misnomer in such a culturally varied continent, says the affable, soft-spoken Kafumbe. As an ethnomusicology scholar, he settles for “African musics”; as an artist, he counts on his teaching and playing to evoke what English can’t translate.

“Damascus is the stunningly right person in the right place at the right time,” says Greg Vitercik, chair of the department of music. Middlebury wanted to give due attention to non-Western traditions, and ideally wanted a performing ethnomusicologist to bring some of them to life on campus. Kafumbe, also a composer, arranger, and ensemble director, was a hand-in-glove fit.

His arrival in 2011 as an assistant professor opened a path for students to explore  musics they might only know through a Putumayo collection or YouTube video. They learn how Balinese gamelan, Nuyorican rumba, Irish fiddling, and Hindustani raga reflect and relate to the cultures, politics, economics, and religions of their societies. Student musicians with scholarly leanings can learn ethnomusicological research methods and techniques. Those wanting to pursue African musics in greater depth have a teacher who knows them in his bones.

“OK, so what do chimurenga and bikutsi have in common metrically?” he asks his African Soundscapes students after playing recordings of the two genres.

“Three-quarter time,” answers a student, correctly.

This survey course routinely shatters preconceptions that “African music” means drums and hand-clapping. Students examine traditions from the northern Maghreb to the southern Bantu cultures: songs that exalt kinship, encourage trance, or inspire dancing. “I had no idea!” is a common student reaction to this cultural kaleidoscope. Throughout, Kafumbe reminds them, “The ‘why’ is more important than the ‘how.’” Yes, they learn to distinguish different genres, but they also learn to hear the mix of ancient traditions and more modern responses to Africa’s tribal migrations, colonial rule, missionization, and surges for freedom.

“I’m proud that Middlebury can be one of the few institutions to promote the idea that African musics are not just drumming,” Kafumbe says. Students who want to feel Africa’s layered rhythms and distinct timbres in their fingers can take his African Music and Dance Performance course (there are dozens on the waiting list, notwithstanding an 8:00 a.m. start time and mandatory attendance.) With no audition, students learn to play an ensemble of traditional, mostly Ugandan instruments, some of which Kafumbe has crafted himself from natural materials such as animal hide and hair, Ugandan woods, fibers, reeds, and seed shells. For most of the students, mornings spent with the ndingidi (tube-fiddle), madinda (xylophone), or other instruments is their first experience playing music. (see slideshow to hear concert selections.)

In a dress rehearsal before the ensemble’s spring concert, Kafumbe gets the students’ attention by clapping a rhythm that they repeat. “When I am talking, no one is talking, no one is playing, please,” he says softly. He shakes a pair of nsaasi (gourd shakers) to start them in a piece he composed by blending modern and traditional elements. The students strike, bow, and pluck their instruments; the sound is lively but slightly ragged. “Oh, you’re slowing down,” he warns, and stops them.

He leans forward. “Music is a sweet thing. We have to feel it. We have to enjoy it, and we have to express it.” When they begin again, the loose ends have knit together. “I have never heard any of my American students play the madinda with such a sweet tone,” he compliments.

For graduating physics major Joe Putko ’13, this introduction to playing music has been unforgettable. “We miss out on these sounds in America—but I’m so grateful we can have this experience now,” he says during a break. “This class was a history class, a gym class, a performance class, but more than anything I’ve taken here it’s taught us to work and struggle together. It’s been a life class.”

Kafumbe closes the rehearsal on a musical high note that will carry into the next night’s packed performance. “When you are struggling—that’s when you make magic,” he reassures them. “I’ll love you guys till I die.”