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An interview with composer Glen McClure, and footage from a rehearsal of “Fascinating! Her Resilience”, by Elizabeth Holden ’11.

Celebrate the Earth this Friday and Saturday night at Wesleyan! Two free events will bring science and art together through multi-dimensional live performances that tackle questions about global environmental issues.

As a poet/performance/multimedia artist, Professor of Anthropology Gina Ulysse is dedicated to performing anthropology through spoken word. As a member of the College of the Environment think-tank, she will be performing as part of the Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 22 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall. The multimedia performance project Fascinating! Her Resilience will explore the multiple significations in the word “resilience”, and how it has been used in different narratives about Haiti, especially since the earthquake of January 12, 2010. In collaboration with Val Jeanty, percussionist and sound engineer, the project will be expressed through both a live and electronic remix (using DJ techniques) of different theories of resilience from a range of disciplines. There will be bits of history, personal narratives, theory and statistics in spoken word, with Vodou chants interwoven with quotations from subjects interviewed in Haiti and other experts in this country. Moreover, it will explore how in dominant narratives, such meanings keep Haiti in a liminal state somewhere on the border between dehumanization and superhuman.

Click here to view a rehearsal of Fascinating! Her Resilience on Vimeo.

The next night, in collaboration with the inaugural year of the College of the Environment, the Center for the Arts will present the world premiere of Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio by composer Glenn McClure on Saturday, April 23 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall.  I sat down with Glenn McClure to discuss his commissioned piece for Wesleyan’s Feet to the Fire initiative.

Glenn McClure

Glenn McClure

As part of Feet to the Fire, which seeks to explore the topics of global climate change, Dear Mother Earth began as an extracurricular art activity with school children across the world, including Middletown’s MacDonough Elementary.  Mr. McClure, composer of the oratorio and an arts integration specialist, asked school children in Ghana, Nicaragua and Middletown to write letters to the Earth. “While each letter is unique, they all share the central themes of celebrating beauty, thankfulness, compassion and a call to action,” said McClure.  “Just as a flock of individual birds turn together in the wind without any discernable leader, these children have expressed these themes in their letters and illustrations.” Mr. McClure then integrated the themes of the letters with a musical model of the bio-mathematics concept of “emerging complexity” to create a series of musical movements centered around the common environmental hopes of the children.

The resulting piece uses sections of the children’s letters along with a mixing of musical forms, such as a traditional string orchestra with the dynamic percussion of Ghana.  McClure states that “by bridging gaps between the different dimensions of music, we are establishing a creative process that brings people together.” McClure fuses the Wesleyan University Orchestra, the Middletown All-City Grade 4 and 5 Chorus, and Caribbean steel drummers together in the first movement to open the overall themes that emerged from the letters.

Barry Chernoff, Professor of Biology and Director of the College of the Environment, believes that Wesleyan will be the place for students to solve climate change issues.  Designed to seek solutions to the greatest environmental challenges of our time, Dr. Chernoff stated “we are not afraid of failure, we only fear no one will try.” By thinking creatively and collaboratively, we are one step closer to finding solutions to these complex issues.  The remaining movements of McClure’s work range from woodwind quartets and Ghanaian drummers to the full orchestra, painting a soundscape through the flowing stream of data collected by Chernoff’s student lab since 2006.

The message of this performance is universal in its approach towards understanding the complex layers of climate change.  Through its practical idealism, Dear Mother Earth is intended to spark a conversation about what we can do about the environmental issues that we face. The project will continue after the world premiere on April 23 through the website www.letterstomotherearth.com, encouraging other classrooms to engage with the project and to continue the process of submitting letters addressed to the Earth.

Because of Mr. McClure’s combination of childrens choir and orchestra in his composition, the sound of the music is approachable in terms of being a traditional oratorio, but he also adds into the piece a diverse layer of unexpected ensemble sounds, such as Taiko and Ghanaian drumming.  I am excited to see the full composition performed because of its consciousness of Wesleyan’s power as an innovative engine for creative solutions. I am sure Dear Mother Earth will foster a sense of communal experience between the performers and the audience.

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration
Including the performance of “Fascinating! Her Resilience”
Friday, April 22, 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Free admission

Wesleyan University Orchestra and 
Wesleyan Ensemble Singers Concert
Featuring the world premiere of “Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio”
Saturday, April 23, 7pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Free admission

Gina Ulysse, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Wesleyan University, and composer/turntablist Val-Inc invite you to attend the free Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall:

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration on YouTube

Gina and Val will perform “Fascinating! Her Resilience” about the significance of the word “resilience” in relation to the different narratives about Haiti in the post-earthquake cultural environment.

The celebration will also feature students and faculty participating in the College of the Environment‘s inaugural think-tank on the topic “Vulnerability of Social, Economic and Natural Systems to Environmental Stress”. College of the Environment Director Barry Chernoff will introduce reports by Jeremy Isard (College of Social Studies), Dana Royer (Earth and Environmental Sciences), Phoebe Stonebraker (Biology) and Gary Yohe (Economics).

There will also be a performance of an excerpt of Dear Mother Earth: An Environmental Oratorio by composer Glenn McClure.

Review of Westories

A review of Westories by Shira Engel ’14.

Westories

Westories

On Wednesday March 31, Wesleyan hosted a Story Slam at the student-run café, Espwesso. Unlike the café, this slam was not student-run. It was hosted by Wesleyan, but put on and administrated by the Connecticut Storytelling Center. When I first heard about the Story Slam, I assumed it was going to be similar to the many awesome poetry slams put on by the student group WeSLAM, but this was altogether different.

The mission of the “Campus Slammers” is to develop both storytellers and listeners in campus communities. It is based on a poetry slam format except each participant gets 5 minutes to tell their story and they are not allowed to read anything – it is free form, free verse, and freely spoken.

The theme for the Story Slam at Wesleyan was “winners and losers.” The turnout was fairly minimal, but hopefully these kinds of events, where individuals can share stories of the times that have cultivated their identities, will grow in attendance. The stories told were organic and, although initially about winning and losing, grew to tell stories of identity and coming of age, subjects that are on most college students’ minds.

The winners of the Wesleyan Campus Slammer, Taylor Goodstein and Paul Pianta, will go on to the final round at Connecticut College. The top three winners of the final round will go on to perform at the noncompetitive Connecticut Storytelling Festival.

While it would be awesome for these campus slammers to have more student involvement, I think we could all get behind their overall objective: “to promote the living art and use of storytelling in the many environments of our diverse society.”

Check out what the Connecticut Storytelling Center has to say about their time at Wesleyan here!

An interview with Cheryl Tan ’11 by Sarah Wolfe ‘12.

The Old Maid and the Thief

The Old Maid and the Thief

Cheryl Tan, a senior music and theater major, will present her senior project The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti on Sunday, April 10 at 7pm in Crowell Concert Hall. I sat down with Tan, who plays Laetitia, to discuss the performance and her process. The opera, one in a series of one-act operas composed by Menotti in the middle of the twentieth century, follows the tradition of radio opera. Tan produced the piece more as staged reading than as a traditional opera.

The story takes place in the home of two women: the old maid Miss Todd (Meghan Twible ’12) and her serving maid, Laetitia (Cheryl Tan ’11). They are visited by a beggar, Bob (Matthew Getz ’14) who requests food, “and they let him stay because they’re lonely and sad,” as Tan summarizes.  Worrying that Bob may be a recently escaped fugitive from a few towns over, they nonetheless allow him to stay in their house in order stave off their loneliness. In order to keep him there, they begin to steal from other townspeople. “It’s really about a bunch of awful people being awful to each other, which is great,” quips Tan.

Chelsea Goldsmith ‘13, rounds out the cast by playing the neighbor, Miss Pinkerton. Tan chose this particular Menotti opera because it asks for a small cast.  Originally drawn to the Italian American composer through a challenging aria she encountered, Tan decided early on that she did not want to perform a solo recital. Opera has not been one of Tan’s focal points in her time at Wesleyan, but is the culmination of her work with Voice Teacher Priscilla Gale, who specializes in the operatic style. “I’ve done a lot of musical theater, jazz, theater and taiko,” says Tan, “[but] I’ve been with [Priscilla Gale] for three years, and she’s really made my voice into what it is today. The great thing about this for me right now is that I’m singing every day. Which means everything’s getting stronger, and that’s really exciting.”

The Old Maid and the Thief offers the chance to experience a memorable performance. Sung in English, the cast features four excellent Wesleyan singers, as well as Andrew Chung ’11 on the piano. “Going to be great,” ends Tan, “Going to be so good.”

“The Old Maid and the Thiefwill be presented in Crowell Concert Hall on Sunday April 10 at 7pm. Admission is free.

An interview with Samantha Joy Pearlman ’11 by Sarah Wolfe ‘12.

Devotedly Sincerely Yours

Devotedly Sincerely Yours

This Thursday, April 7 and Friday, April 8, the Center for the Arts will travel back to World War II to experience the life of an American woman who participated in the USO Camp Shows. The solo performance, titled Devotedly, Sincerely Yours: The Story of the USO, counts as the creative component for Samantha Pearlman’s senior thesis in the Theater Department. Sitting down with Pearlman last week, we discussed how she came to this topic, the history of the United Service Organizations (USO) Camp Shows, Inc., and the process involved in putting on a show at Wesleyan.

The story follows the style of the USO’s radio broadcasts, which featured Hollywood stars like Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Bob Hope singing to American soldiers all over the world, as well as telling jokes and humorous anecdotes. Pearlman’s character and the host for Devotedly, Sincerely Yours is based on the career of Louise Buckley as a USO entertainer.   Pearlman came across the character through a letter Buckley wrote describing her experience as an entertainer.  Pearlman describes the find as, “an 8 page, single spaced letter, one of the most beautiful letters I’ve ever read, and she just poured her heart out about her experience overseas and what it was like living there. A lot of the text of my show is taken from the letter.”

Pearlman also draws on a variety of sources for the text of the performance, inspired by the work of playwright Charles Mee, who wrote Big Love, which Pearlman acted in her freshman year.  She comments that, “he works in collage and assemblage… I always kind of wanted to do something like that, and so this project for me was my chance to get my feet wet in creating some kind of piece of musical theater, and then also taking all the tools I’ve learned as an actress here.” Pearlman took Professor Ron Jenkin’s “Solo Performance” theater class which granted her the skills to create and star in this one-woman theatrical event.

Due to Pearlman’s strong musical background, she was able to challenge herself through this performance by utilizing her voice and musical theater abilities to express the broad range of emotions needed for a powerful show. The songs chosen come from wartime periods between 1915 and 1945.  She found these after long searches through the Music Division of the New York Public Library, Olin Library, and eBay purchases from “people who are auctioning off what’s in grandma’s attic, and have no idea what they have.”  Sorting through approximately 300 songs, she managed to narrow the numbers down to eight that will be performed as a part of Louise’s story.

It was easy to see Pearlman’s enthusiasm and love for the project while she spoke about the process. She spoke with exceptional ardor about the music, stating that it was the part of the performance she most looks forward to. She’s been working with senior Ian Coss, a banjo player, who Pearlman describes as an “amazingly talented, unbelievably dedicated music student”, and they have met together since last semester to compile and arrange the music for the performance. The show includes an eight piece, all-male band.  Each of the men in the ensemble play a soldier who might be watching and experiencing the performance. “I remember, the first band rehearsal [when] they played the opening fanfare of the show . . . I literally was just beaming, I couldn’t believe that this was happening.”

Pearlman, eager to share her work states, “I’m excited to have the opportunity to present my work and have a lot of fun with it, and hopefully make people think about American identity, American wars, and especially about being an American woman.” The show presents American culture and history through an artistic form that will present enthusiastic Wesleyan students.  Not to be missed, Devotedly, Sincerely Yours represents the end of Pearlman’s career at Wesleyan, but a stunning ode to what the time at Wesleyan can allow a student to create.

“Devotedly, Sincerely Yours” plays April 7 and 8 in the CFA Theater at 8pm. Admission is free, but tickets are required. There is a two ticket limit per person. Tickets are available on the day of each performance at the box office, located in the Usdan University Center, 45 Wyllys Avenue, or by calling (860) 685-3355.

The other ensemble members include Ian Coss ’11, Jack Gallagher ’12, William Frakner ‘14, Jacob Hiss ‘13, Myles Potters ‘12, Owen Callahan ‘12, Issac Silk ‘14, Daniel Moakley ‘13, and Zachary Rosen ‘11. “Devotedly, Sincerely Yours” is also inspired by, or takes texts from, Louise Buckley, Grace Drysdale, Maxine Andrews, Ann Miller, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Arch Oboler, Robert B. Westbrook, Tampax Incorporated, Woman Power Campaigns, the National Center for PTSD, Four Jills and a Jeep, the USO Camp Show Inc. “Guide to the Foxhole Circuit,” Command Performance, Mail Call, BBC Radio Broadcasts, and the USO Camp Show Inc. Publicity Records (1941-1945), among others.

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