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An interview with Ariel Lesnick ’14 by Shira Engel ’14.

Ariel Lesnick is an enthusiastic student in the class of 2014 in the Wesleyan Wind Ensemble, WesWinds. She has been playing the clarinet since third grade and did not want to stop once she came to college. Lucky for her and for WesWinds, she got to continue playing and performing music as a part of this fun group. I interviewed her about her experience with WesWinds and how the ensemble prepared for their spring concert which took place on May 3, Rides, Dances and Chaos!

WesWinds is not simply a group for Wesleyan students; it is an integrative force that bridges the gap between the Wesleyan campus and the surrounding Middletown community. Ariel says of this coming together, “I sit next to a middle-aged man, a boy in high school, and another Wesleyan student. It reminds me that the real world exists and that music can bring people together.”

Peter Hadley, the conductor, has been at Wesleyan for seventeen years. His familiarity with the group is apparent in how he gently leads them and the audience through the music with his wonderful British accent. WesWinds is a full music credit for Wesleyan students. Rehearsal is once a week on Tuesdays from 7pm to 10pm. Ariel says that in the rehearsals, it is apparent what WesWinds is all about. “What’s unique to the group is that there are professional musicians and they really know what they’re talking about. Then there are kids who are fourteen and their moms sit and read while we practice.”

Of the concert, Ariel revealed, “We have an electric guitar soloist and he just shreds it. It’s the kind of music that is fun. I hope the audience had as much fun listening as we had playing. It’s hard in a concert because we know everything that went into it. We know all these components so I just hope the audience got what they wanted out of the concert. There are so many crucial factors that it is hard to take them all in. They are fun funk pieces.”

And I, as an audience member, noticed that they all “shredded it.” Ariel, front and center, played the clarinet with passion and talent, as did everyone else with their wide variety of instruments. It flowed seamlessly because they were having fun with the music and had an apparent desire for the audience to have fun as well. It was eclectic in a very Wesleyan way – with instruments from Home Depot (pails as drums) played next to more professional-looking electric guitars. The experimentalism entrenched in the performance was contagious and evidence of what Wesleyan students and the Middletown community are capable of as collaborators and music-makers.

Katherine Bascom ’10, Russell House 2010–2011 Arts Fellow (part of the Wesleyan University Writing Program), interviewed Yu Vongkiatkajorn ’13, a College of Letters (COL) major who is currently studying abroad in Paris.  Yu is a Freeman Scholar from Thailand, and recently won the Herbert Lee Connelly Prize for outstanding talent in nonfiction writing.

 

What type of writing do you do?

I mostly write in my journal — reflections, ramblings, details that I notice, conversations that I have or overhear. It’s the only kind of sustained writing that I can do outside of classes. I’d like to think that it helps me furnish material for more formal nonfiction or fiction pieces, but it’s also something that I really enjoy doing for myself. I’m beginning to write more fiction since I’ve taken Paula Sharp’s fiction class, but I can’t do any poetry. It’s completely foreign to me.

What’s the best thing you’ve read recently?

Un homme qui dort (A Man Asleep) by Georges Perec, which is about a young man who decides to become completely indifferent to the world. He wanders the streets of Paris, sleeps, dreams, watches other people, and describes the actions of himself and others around him in meticulous and beautifully-written detail. I was completely enamored by the lyrical, alliterative style, as well as the subject, perhaps because I identified with it a little. It’s hard not to feel similar things when you seem to spend such a large part of your day sitting in the metro.

What writers have influenced you?

I picked up Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides in eighth grade and completely fell in love with it. It was the first time I had encountered something so powerfully written, so tied to its characters and their interactions. I spent every spare moment I could reading it and I even stopped eating and socializing with people for a while. After that, my tastes changed completely and I started looking for books outside of the fantastical and the Dan Brown’s. My brother later gave me a copy of one of Anaïs Nin’s diaries, and she’s since become one of my favorite authors.

When I really think about it though, there are so many writers that have influenced me. It’s kind of hard for me to read something and not be influenced by it in, even in the tiniest way. In retrospect, E.B. White probably had a profound influence on my life before I even knew it. I don’t know how many stories I wrote about farms after reading Charlotte’s Web in first gradeI probably started writing because of that book.

Please tell us about your piece that won the Connelly Prize.

I submitted two pieces for the prize, both of which I wrote for my nonfiction courses with Lisa Cohen. The first is centered around a watch I bought one summer and how it was tied to a relationship I had with someone at the time. It’s kind of an experiment in style, and I think that it was an indirect way for me to talk about an experience that had a profound effect on me. I wrote it in freshman year, then abandoned it for a while, but now really like how complete it feels.

The second piece was my final project for my Advanced Nonfiction seminar: a profile of my father. It was extremely difficult to write, partly because I had to do most of my research during a Habitat for Humanity trip over spring break, thus spent a lot of time making international phone calls in the car at odd hours. What was most difficult though was that it touched on a lot of sensitive issues in my family — issues that that we’ve kind of buried in the past and still don’t talk about today. I interviewed members of my family, and of course, my father, and unearthed a lot of things I hadn’t known about him.There were a lot of revelations for me while writing the piece, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. When I first wrote it, I didn’t feel like I had done the subject enough justice, so asked Professor Cohen if I could change my topic. She gave me a firm ‘no’ and encouraged me to keep going. I’ve revised the piece a few times since then, but am still ambivalent. I actually just looked at the piece right now, and I can’t get myself to read past the first few pages. I guess it’s still too hard for me to detach myself from it.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I don’t think I have a favorite place to write as much as a way to write. I need to be able to write on a surface — there’s something about pressing my pen to the paper and seeing my own handwriting that helps my ideas flow better. I’ve been keeping a notebook of my travels, and although I don’t usually reread previous entries, it comforts me to see my previous writing. It feels like I’m continuing my thoughts, in a way.

 

Where are you studying abroad, and what has been most surprising about the experience?

I’m studying abroad in Paris. What’s probably been most surprising is experiencing the culture shock that I should have felt when I went to the U.S. for the first time. During orientation in Paris, I had never felt so maladjusted in my life. Though language played a part in how I felt, it was far from the main factor. Identity became a big issue, because I always had to say that I was a student studying in the U.S., but that I was Thai, not American. Yet at the same time, when I work as a language partner or a tutor, people expect me to represent the U.S., or either rebuff me for not actually being from the U.S. I’ve had someone reject me for a position just on the basis of not being American. Other people have just referred to me as an American student. I suppose it’s typical of study abroad experiences, but I continually find myself rethinking my identity here.

Apart from that, what’s also been interesting is discovering how filthy and strange Paris can be. The Champs-Élysées at three a.m. is a sad, depraved place.

Film Thesis Trailer

This weekend the senior class presents their film theses in 16mm and digital.

Wesleyan 2011 Film Thesis Trailer

16mm Screenings
Friday, May 6, 2011 at 8pm
Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2pm

Digital Screenings
Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8pm
Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 8pm

Center for Film Studies
Wesleyan University

$5. Get there early!

Watch this short video of the Cardinal Sinners rehearsing “It Don’t Have To Change” by John Legend in the Music Studios on May 3:

Rehearsal: Cardinal Sinners “It Don’t Have To Change” 5/3/11

The Cardinal Sinners Spring Concert will take place on Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 8pm in World Music Hall.

As Wesleyan’s oldest all-female a cappella group, the Cardinal Sinners have developed an eclectic repertoire of songs for performance on the Wesleyan University campus, as well as benefit events in the greater Middletown community.

Watch this short video of a rehearsal for the West African Drumming and Dance
 performance:

Rehearsal: West African Drumming and Dance 5/3/11

Don’t miss this invigorating performance, filled with the rhythms of West Africa! Drumming and dance students (and guest artists) will perform under the direction of Abraham Adzenyah and choreographer Iddi Saaka on Friday, May 6, 2011 at 3pm in the 
CFA Courtyard 
(rain location: Crowell Concert Hall). 
Free admission.

A preview of “Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections” by Allison Hurd ’11.

Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections

Spring Dance Concert: Future Reflections

This Friday and Saturday at 8pm, in the Patricelli ’92 Theater, six sophomores (Matt Carney, Kate Finley, Lindsay Kosasa, Kelsey Siegel, Elisa Waugh, and Emily Wolcott) will premiere the first choreographic works that they have made as dance majors.  Their pieces are the result of semester-long choreographic processes, which have occurred in conjunction with the Dance Composition course taught by Katja Kolcio.  I happen to be one of the two stage managers for this performance, and throughout the week, I’ve been confronted with memories of myself presenting the first piece I made as a dance major in the 2009 Spring Dance Concert.  Although each choreographer’s experience in the course and throughout the creative process is different, I thought that reflecting upon my own experience might provide some insight into the investigative journey that sophomore dance majors embark upon as they prepare for the Spring Dance Concert, which, this year, is entitled “Future Reflections.”

Perhaps, the most exciting thing, for me, about choreographing for this concert was that it was the first time in which I had to come in confrontation with myself as an artist and consciously think about why I chose dance as my artistic medium; what most interested me about movement; what I was striving to work on; and what I might consider to be my artistic strengths and weaknesses.  In class, Katja helped us address these questions by encouraging us to ask ourselves, “Where do I believe dance originates from?”  To my mind, this prompting really allowed me to begin using movement in a way that felt not only important, but necessary.  I began learning that the maintenance of a strong commitment to one’s central artistic aim was that which would allow the dance to emerge.

In class, we also developed skills that helped us assume leadership roles in our rehearsals as we brought our dancers through the choreographic process.  I feel that this aspect of the class was absolutely essential to my piece because it allowed my dancers to trust me, thereby, allowing them to trust in what they were doing on stage.  Katja additionally taught us a number of compositional activities to generate movement.  I think my favorite class activity was that which called upon us to take turns acting as the choreographer and making a short dance for the other students in just ten minutes.  Based upon my experience, this exercise resulted in a wonderful sense of creativity induced by adrenaline and the need to work quickly.  When acting as the choreographer, the delightful surprise of the creation illuminated the human capacity to make artistic decisions and execute them well, even when under constraint.

All of these elements were fundamental to the work that I premiered in the Spring Dance Concert and they undoubtedly formed the foundation of my artistic practice today.  As I have helped this year’s sophomore choreographers complete their artistic visions with the added components of staging and lighting (beautifully designed by Ross Firestone ‘12), I feel that they all have created great stepping-stones from which to jump off into their next choreographic endeavors.  Thus, I sincerely hope that you come to the performance this Friday or Saturday and take part in the commencement of what are sure to be six wonderful artistic journeys.

Spring Dance Concert: “Future Reflections
Friday, April 29 & Saturday, April 30, 8pm
Patricelli ’92 Theater
$4 Wesleyan students, $5 all others

An interview with Maggie Cohen ’12 by Shira Engel ‘14.

In anticipation of the Ebony Singers 25th Spring Reunion Concert on April 24, I had spoken with Maggie Cohen, member and student of the Ebony Singers gospel choir. Cohen has been singing since middle school and when she got to Wesleyan, she missed having that in her life, but did not want to join a cappella or another formal singing group. She joined Ebony because of the powerful spirituality the choir sings about. Right before their concert, she provided me with some background about Ebony Singers.

Ebony Singers is a gospel choir composed of 150 students. It is also a class, which counts for half a credit and is cross-listed under the African American Studies and Music departments. It is a class because of the time commitment and the energy the students put into it and the end concert. Students come together to sing every Monday night. You don’t have to be Christian to be in it, but they sing Christian music.

Of her experience with Ebony, Maggie says,

“The whole point of Ebony Singers is not necessarily about being fantastic singers. It’s more about interacting with people and getting people to be excited and inspired and to have them be involved so that people who come to the concert feel a part of it. It’s not about being perfect or having the notes exactly right. It’s more about having the energy and heart in what we do.”

Leading up to the concert, the band would come in and the soloists started to practice within the group. Eventually, they practiced in their fancy dress and on the day of, they practiced in the Crowell Concert Hall, the site of the performance.

The concert was my first live gospel performance and Pastor Monts immediately made me feel included, even as an audience member in the back row of a packed concert hall. He went to Wesleyan as an undergrad and this is his twenty-fifth year directing Ebony. Maggie says that he ends every rehearsal by instructing the students to hug their neighbors as he shares a prayer or piece of spiritual guidance. He believes it is a joy to work with college students and to remind them that spiritual grounding can exist through their voices. Judging by the enthusiastic and interactive responses from the audience, that was certainly the case.

A preview of the Spring Faculty Dance Concert by Allison Hurd ’11.

This Friday and Saturday, Patricia Beaman’s Repertory and Performance class will premiere the result of its semester-long choreographic process, “The Narcoleptic Countess” at 8pm in Wesleyan University’s CFA Theater.  Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to talk with Patricia and two students in the class about the piece and the experience of its making.  Their discourse informed the content of this post and allowed me to enter into the creative process.

During my conversation with Patricia, Nik Owens ’12 and Christina Burkot ’11, the questions that I asked were primarily driven by my fascination with the idea that eighteen students have spent the semester immersing themselves in the technique and tradition of Baroque dance.  While I have seen Patricia perform a Baroque ballet every year in the Faculty Dance Concert, this is the first time, in my four years at Wesleyan, that students have also taken part in this art form. Based upon my understanding of the Baroque technique, it seems that it requires the embodiment of a different time and place, which, in many respects, are far outside the scope of our current reality. Performing at such a level would be difficult for any dancer.  Thus, I think it is particularly remarkable that this class has brought together a group of students, of varying levels of dance experience, into a full-length production. No one in the class had been exposed to Baroque dance before and many were also new to ballet (its stylistic descendent), but my impression is that each student’s engagement with the material honored his or her distinct movement history.  Speaking towards this point, Patricia said, “Humor helps.”

After asking Patricia about her primary inspiration in writing the ballet’s synopsis, she answered, “Based on my years of Baroque dance, in general, it’s not always that funny.  It’s always about love and betrayal and mistaken identities, but humor is not always the predominant element.  So, I was inspired by the plays of Moliére, which all had fantastic music and dance; there was no difference between a unit of dance music and play-acting.  And they’re just so funny. So, that’s what I embarked upon in the making of this Baroque ballet.”

Thus, “The Narcoleptic Countess,” is a ballet of love and lust in a sleepy French chateau, filled with mistaken identities, a ghost, and gender switching.  Reflecting upon her experience of playing a man’s role and the development of her character, Christina mentioned, “Well, it’s definitely been new to be a man.  It’s been helpful observing the other guys in our class and trying to imitate them.  Patricia also sent me a link of one of the premiere Baroque dancers doing a variation and I’ve tried to copy his style. Nik inspires me too.”  Nik expanded upon Christina’s statement by remarking, “The idea of the character helped us all know how to carry ourselves. I definitely think that learning the Baroque technique around the character helped me pick it up more easily.”

As I brought our conversation to a close, I asked Patricia what she hopes the audience will experience as they watch the ballet, and she responded, “I want to take people away from this time of computers and cell phones and texting and yelping and twittering and have them go back to a more atavistic time.  And they’ll walk out of here, hopefully, feeling uplifted.”

So, I encourage you to come to the CFA Theater this weekend and allow yourself to be taken away, for a little while, by the costumes (that the students helped construct!), the staging, the music, and, above all, the performances of your peers.

Spring Faculty Dance Concert
“The Narcoleptic Countess”
Friday, April 22 & Saturday, April 23, 8pm
CFA Theater
$6 Wesleyan student, $8 all others

An article by Shira Engel ’14.

Upon first coming to Wesleyan, I had no idea what I wanted to major in. All I knew was that I wanted to continue writing. My first semester, I took three writing and reading intensive classes, but none of them under the English department or creative writing-based. I missed fiction. A lot.

So, second semester, I decide to be ambitious in employing my creativity in an academic setting. I signed up for an English class (Zora Neale Hurston and the Rise of Feminist Fiction) and a creative writing class (Amy Bloom’s Reading and Writing Fiction). Why two English classes? Actually, I soon discovered that I was not taking two English classes. I was taking one English class, which was cross-listed with a plethora of other departments, and one class that falls under what I have come to know as the Writing Certificate.

The Writing Certificate, while not a major itself, offers classes in creative writing or what I fondly refer to as the profession of writing. Under its title are classes in fiction, journalism, and even more esoteric subjects like television writing and science fiction. Some are taught by visiting writers/authors-in-residence. While the English major contains courses that are cross-listed with other departments, the Writing Certificate offers courses independent of other majors.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of overlap. On the contrary, students who pursue the Writing Certificate are required to take at least one course listed under the English department and the College of Letters that is an entry-level techniques course. In addition to that, three electives are required. There is such a wide range of these that students have the opportunity to use writing as a lens through which they can pursue their personal interests.

But there is still some confusion: Why are the Writing Certificate and the English major separate?

I asked Katherine Ann Eyster, Ford Writing Fellow, about the certificate. Here’s what she had to say:

I think that students pursue it partly as a sign of their skill and success in writing, and partly to gain access to writing courses and the senior capstone Certificate writing course, which is only for people pursuing the Writing Certificate. I don’t think that all of the classes under the Certificate umbrella should count towards English– the English department has its own rubric, and if writing classes fall outside of that it is understandable. The purpose of the Certificate is to help untangle “writing” from “English writing,” aka the false idea that writing only happens in the English major, so making all of the writing courses count towards English might be counter-intuitive.

Makes sense to me. This goes back to my initial discovery concerning writing within a liberal arts curriculum. No matter what field you are studying – be it Biology, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, or Economics, knowledge of writing – and more importantly, writing well – is absolutely necessary. The Writing Certificate blends those interests with courses that complement the ones required for a major. But, because it is not a major, students are given more freedom with which writing-related courses they pursue.

A review of Yusef Komunyakaa’s reading by Shira Engel ’14.

You know you’re on a creative campus when you go from yoga to a club meeting to hearing a Pullitzer Prize-winning poet to meeting with your writing partner. Oh, wait – what did I just say? Pulitzer Prize-winning poet? A five minute walk away from my dorm? Yes.

On Wednesday, April 13, Yusef Komunyakaa read his poetry for a chapel filled with English majors and people who simply wanted to listen to beautiful words. He visited us from NYU where he is the Senior Distinguished Poet in the Graduate Writing Program. He was invited by the English Department as part of the Distinguished Writers series.

In this post, I could list the plethora of books he has written. I could knock off titles of his poems. I could name the impressive universities he has read and taught at. But when Komunyakaa came to Wesleyan, he shared individual poems to a mixed audience. Some – many of the English majors or students working towards the Writing Certificate – had read his poetry before while others were hearing his words for the first time.

He is what many poets aspire to be – a professional. On his way to work, he thinks of poems. He does not write them down until he gets to the office. It is a game he plays with himself. When he gets to work, he writes the poem he created mentally during his walk. Sharing this tidbit of his poetic process is just as valuable as sharing his actual poetry with Wesleyan students. When distinguished writers come to speak here, they share practical aspects of their creative processes. This takes creativity from the abstract to the intimate and paves the way for students to create the type of art they admire.

Komunyakaa’s visit to Wesleyan was part of the Russell House Series for Prose, Poetry, and Center for the Arts Music Series. The next event lined up is a reading for the Student Prize Winners on Wednesday, May 4.

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