From Musical Riots to 9/11: More Ides Presentationsby the Public Affairs Staff • August 21, 2009
Musicologist and Assistant Professor of Music Vanessa Rogers led off the second session of this year’s Ides of August with a discussion of her research on 18th century English theater music and orchestral seating in the theaters of Georgian era.
“It is the only seating plan for orchestra from this era,” Rogers said, noting that Georgian era theater and playhouse music is abundant and interesting yet often ignored by scholars.
“There was so much music going on then,” Rogers said. “It astounds me that no one has looked at this before.”
All sorts of information can be deduced from the seating chart and illustrations from that period. For example, the chart shows the piano or organ positioned so that all orchestra members can see the keyboard player, who also served as director in this age before conductors took the English music stage. One can also see which instruments were featured and how many were played.
The cramped seating (Rogers noted that the space between listeners and performers was often less than you’d find today in the coach section of an airplane) also meant the musicians were “subject to abuse from the audience.
“That happened frequently,” Rogers said, showing illustrations from the period of fights breaking out on English theater stages. “There were a lot of riots, and the first thing they’d do is go right for the orchestra and break all the instruments.”
As a musicologist, though, Rogers said, “it’s most important to take into account how the director and composer would have thought about the direction of the sound, and how it would carry in these theaters when they were composing these pieces. So we can’t take our 21st century notions of what an orchestra should sound like and place them over 18th century, because our conclusions would be completely incorrect.”
Studies such as that Rogers is conducting will provide us with a truer sense of how the performed music of that time sounded.
The database, compiled and made searchable over the summer by Chris Nelson ’11 and funded by the College’s Know Indiana grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., includes 270 sites from 60 Indiana counties. It is the most comprehensive survey of African American sites in the state and will become a resource for state, regional, and national research.
Lake told the story of how Wabash student Tamarco White ’06 researched one of the most difficult to find sites in the Hoosier National Forest in Orange County, a marker signifying the former location of Lick Creek, or “Little Africa,” a settlement founded by African Americans who came to the then-Indiana Territory from the Carolinas.”
“It was founded in 1817, so we have African American presence here long before Indiana became a state,” Lake said.
“This research has enhanced the academic standing of the MXIBS and Wabash, and will be used by state, regional, and national scholars,” Lake added as he invited his colleagues on the faculty “to use this database as a resource for research across the curriculum.”
She quoted linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson whose book Metaphors We Live states that rather than simply a device of the poetic imagination, metaphor is pervasive in everyday life... Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act is fundamentally metaphorical in nature."
“Literature is not simply a medium for social and cultural refinement,” Jaen-Portillo added, “but also functions as a practical tool that provides us with an enriched learning environment in which to study social behavior. These practices form part of our bildung— our lifelong process of learning.
“Fictional narratives allow us to project ourselves into the situations and the minds of characters, promoting our understanding of other.”
“Fiction functions as a moral laboratory,” Jaen-Portillo added, citing Jemeljan Hakemulder. “As psychologist Richard Gerrig tells us, ‘literature is necessary and not just nice.”
“Plato is not committed to the notion of virtue as an exchange for some eternal reward,” Brouwer concluded. “If you turn virtue into a reward, as most people think of virtue, you negate it as a good in itself, which is a way Plato sees it.
The dance to which Szczeszak-Brewer refers occurs in the fictional South American republic of Costaguana, where “from the doors of the dance hall men and women emerged tottering, streaming with sweat, trembling with every limb.” The scene that follows mirrors a sexual climax, and scholars debates whether Conrad is registering his disapproval of the behavior or using it as a device to protest the social conventions of Europeans of the day. Szczeszak-Brewer leans toward the latter.
“The sexualized dance scene in Nostromo is a sign of resistance against colonizers,” she said. “The extended metaphor of a communal dance undermines the social conventions of the day and anticipates the coming freedom.”
“’The Guys’ premiered on December 4, 2001, and if you know anything about off-Broadway, writing and staging a play not even three months after the attacks just seems impossible,” Cherry said. “But they did it.”
The play starred Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray and it sold out performances for 13 months, saving the Flea Theater from bankruptcy.
The Guys was based on Nelson’s encounter soon after the 9/11 attacks with a fire captain who had to write eight eulogies for his fallen men. The captain struggled to find the words, and Nelson, a journalist and professor at Columbia at the time, helped him. The play is a dramatic version of their collaboration. Nelson wrote The Guys—her first play—in 10 days.
Cherry said the performance of the play shed new light on theater as “a gathering place for community in a time of crisis.
“In the final lines of the play, the Captain reads his eulogy for Barney, one of his men. The audience becomes two things at once—a group of New York theatergoers sitting in the dark, and an imagined collection of family members at a funeral. This is theater as eulogy.”
Cherry quoted the playwright on her work: “The theme and intent of the play is to give comfort through language.”