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2011 Brown Symposium Will Bring Salons to Life

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33rd annual symposium seeks to revive the art of conversation

Important note: The parking lot to the east of the Fine Arts Building will be reserved for symposium speakers and handicapped persons on Thursday, Feb. 24, and the morning of Friday, Feb. 25.

 

The salons of centuries past will come back to life Feb. 23-25 as Southwestern University holds its 33rd annual Brown Symposium.  

The symposium is titled “Think – Converse – Act: The Salon and Its Histories.” It has been organized by Michael Cooper, professor of music and holder of the Margarett Root Brown Chair.

The symposium will feature three lectures on the history of salons, along with three public salons on topics that are important in today’s world. Faith Beasley, a professor of French at Dartmouth College, will give a lecture on the salon movement in 17th century France and its fascination with India. Marjanne Gooze, associate professor of German at the University of Georgia, will give a lecture on German-Jewish salons in Berlin around 1800. Vicky Unruh, chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas, will give a lecture on Latin American and Iberian salons in the early 20th century.  

“Virtually every country in Western European spheres of influence has had its own version of the salon; the three most important ones are probably the French, German/Jewish, and Latin American/Spanish,” Cooper said. “But while the amount of scholarship surrounding each of those three main strands is enormous, they rarely overlap.”

The public salons will feature outside experts in addition to Southwestern students and faculty members. A salon titled “Arts – Sciences – Religions: Conflict or Convergence?” will be moderated by Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion at Southwestern. Participants will include Sarah Doty, a senior physics major at Southwestern; Elizabeth Green Musselman, chair of the History Department at Southwestern; Eleanor Heartney, a New York-based art writer; Rhodes scholar Jonah Lehrer, author of the  best-selling books Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide; Sarah Holmes Miller, a Rhodes scholar and doctoral student in astrophysics at the University of Oxford; Audrey Olena, a senior physics and music major at Southwestern; Greg Sandow, music critic for the Wall Street Journal and faculty member at the Juilliard School; Kenny Sheppard, professor of music at Southwestern; and Robert Watson, distinguished professor of English and associate vice provost for educational innovation at UCLA.

A salon on “Education, Technology, and the Arts” will be moderated by Mary Visser, professor of art at Southwestern. Participants will include Linda Essig, director of the Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film at Arizona State University; Rachel Freeman, a senior international studies major at Southwestern; Fumiko Futamura, assistant professor of mathematics at Southwestern; Kenneth Gladish, president and CEO of the Seton Foundation; Jonah Lehrer; Regan Lemley, a senior biology major at Southwestern; Sarah Holmes Miller; Natalie Moore, a 2009 Southwestern graduate who is now studying arts administration at Boston University; and Mary Grace Neville, associate professor of business at Southwestern.

A salon on “Ethics, the Arts, and Public Policy” will be moderated by Paul Gaffney, dean of the Sarofim School of Fine Arts at Southwestern. Participants will include Melissa Dison, a senior political science major at Southwestern; Linda Essig; Robert Frost, a sophomore theatre major at Southwestern; Kenneth Gladish; Eleanor Heartney; Thomas Howe, chair of Art History at Southwestern; Shannon Mariotti, assistant professor of political science at Southwestern; Natalie Moore; Greg Sandow; and Robert Watson.

Cooper said his goal in organizing the salons was to “facilitate conversations that you would love to see, but that probably would never happen if not for this.” For example, he said, the salon on the conflicts and convergences among religion, science, and the arts will bring together, for the first time, an internationally regarded art and cultural critic (Heartney), a Rhodes scholar neuroscientist whose work centers on the profoundly intuitive aspects of the human brain’s most humanistic side (Lehrer), a leading voice in contemporary thinking about the role of classical music and the arts generally in modern culture (Sandow), and a distinguished educator who’s also a leading Shakespearean scholar and a prominent voice in environmental criticism (Watson).

“Many people would love to get those voices into conversation with each other about those provocative issues – but until now it has never happened,” Cooper said. “Even more people would love to participate as equals in those same conversations.”  

Cooper said the result will be a great opportunity for the conversants themselves to see what happens when you put all that intellectual energy and passion into a single, free-flowing exchange of ideas in conversation.  

“It should be incredible to watch,” Cooper said. “I hope everyone will come out of this intense cross-pollination of ideas with new ideas that probably wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t somehow been a party to it.”  

He noted that participating in the salons will be an “extraordinary opportunity” for students as emerging scholars.  

Cooper said that while salons may be perceived today as gatherings that were exclusive to the upper classes, they actually helped cross class and ideological divides in their time.  

“Indeed, from its emergence in the Counter-Reformation homes of 16th century Italy to the present, the salon has remained one of the few social institutions in which men have generally consented to having their ideas and words subjected to the intellectual and social authority of women, in the person of the salonnieres who organized and directed these conversations,” he said.  

Cooper said he hopes the symposium will cultivate a “culture of conversation” that will continue long after the symposium ends.

Musical performances

The symposium also will include several musical performances. On Wednesday, Feb. 23, a group of Southwestern faculty members and other area musicians will perform Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du Soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale) at 7 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater. Paul Gaffney, dean of the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, is directing and narrating the piece. A milestone in 20th century music, the work will be conducted by Lois Ferrari, professor of music and director of the Wind Ensemble and University Orchestra at Southwestern. The notoriously virtuosic violin part will be played by Eri Lee Lam, assistant professor of violin. The supporting ensemble of six soloists will include Anna Carney (clarinet), Eric Miller (bassoon), Robert Cannon (trumpet), Eileen Russell (trombone), Thomas Burritt (percussion) and Jessica Valls (string bass).

Cooper said he chose this piece because it is a good example of a well-known masterpiece that was a product of conversation. “L’histoire du Soldat” is based on a Russian tale first published as a “soldier story” after the Russo-Turkish war (1827-1829) about a war veteran and his struggles in re-entering society. The idea to create the piece was arrived at through wide-ranging interdisciplinary conversation about ideas in the contemporary world. In 1918, at the end of World War I, Stravinsky and the Swiss universalist poet Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, took that old story, adapted it slightly because of its relevance to the contemporary issue of the struggles that millions of war veterans faced as they returned from the global conflict that had just ended, and created out of that old story a new and thoroughly modern collaborative work.  

“It’s almost unthinkable that L’histoire would have come into existence if not for the salons in which the idea was born,” Cooper said. “And for our symposium it’s quite convenient that it did happen that way. It not only gives audiences a chance to hear and see a very relevant masterpiece of early 20th century music in new light, but also offers Southwestern a chance to show off the remarkable talents of the show’s director, musical director, and faculty performers.”

Prior to the performance of the piece, T. Walter Herbert, emeritus professor of English, will give a brief commentary on the story of “L’histoire du Soldat.” Herbert’s scholarship frequently deals with issues of war in literature.

Following Vicky Unruh’s lecture on Latin American salons (tertulias) of the early 20th century, Kenny Sheppard and the Southwestern University Chorale will give the world premiere of a composition by Jason Hoogerhyde, associate professor of music at Southwestern.

The piece, titled “Voy a dormir” (I am going to sleep), is Hoogerhyde’s setting of the final poem by the great Argentine feminist poet Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938), who was an active participant in the thriving culture of literary and performance salons devoted to social and political change that flourished throughout Latin America in the early 20th century. An educator by vocation, Storni also struggled with cancer for the last three years of her life.

“This particular poem is particularly poignant because it was written and sent in for publication in a popular journal in the last few days before she committed suicide by drowning,” Cooper said. “The public read this poem just as it was learning of her death.”

Cooper said that extremely poetic demise inspired the well-known popular song “Alfonsina y el mar,” written by poet Félix Luna and Ariel Ramírez in 1969, which has been recorded hundreds of times. But the poem itself has never been set to music. Hoogerhyde’s piece will complete that story. It is scheduled to begin on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 4:30 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater.

The performance of Hoogerhyde’s piece will be followed by a short reception and book-signing in the Caldwell-Carvey Foyer in which members of the audience will have the opportunity to meet with the Symposium contributors.

Exhibits

The symposium also will include an art exhibit on contemporary printmaking, especially as related to themes of politics, religion, science and technology. The exhibit is co-curated by Victoria Star Varner, professor of art at Southwestern, and Matthew Rebholz, who teaches drawing and printmaking at Southwestern. It will be on display in the Fine Arts Gallery from Jan. 27 to Feb. 25. Southwestern faculty members Dana Long Zenobi and David Asbury will perform works for voice and guitar in the context of a gallery closing/reception to be held at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 25.

Brooke Lyssy, a 2010 Southwestern graduate, also has organized an exhibit titled “Dreams Were Made Here: Salons, Parties and Cabarets in 1920s Harlem” that will be on display in the foyer of the Smith Library Center from Jan. 18 through Feb. 26.

“Warm-up” salons

Several “warm-up” salons will be held in advance of the symposium. On Monday, Jan. 24, Suzanne Chamier, professor emerita of French, will host a conversation titled “What are Salons Good For?” from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the atrium of Mood-Bridwell Hall. Participants in the conversation will include five Southwestern professors, a professor of Arabic studies from UT-Austin, writer Helen Cordes and University Chaplain Beverly Jones.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, a salon organized by several Paideia groups will be held at 7 p.m. in Mood-Bridwell atrium. And Chaplain Beverly Jones will host a series of four salons on “Identities of Faith” from Feb. 7 to April 4.

Symposium to be broadcast online and in social media

For the first time, the Brown Symposium will be simulcast live free of charge on collegetvticket.com. “Although the experience of the symposium’s on-site conversations will be difficult to recreate on a small screen, this option should help students and people who live too far away to attend benefit from the symposium,” Cooper said.

Cooper also has set up Facebook and Twitter pages for the event. The Twitter feed will make it possible for Web viewers to comment on the conversations and ask questions of each other in real-time, parallel with the salons themselves.

For a complete schedule of symposium events, visit http://www.southwestern.edu/brownsymposium/. All events related to the symposium are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are suggested.

The Brown Symposium is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston. The first Brown Symposium was held in 1978. A list of all previous symposium topics can be found at http://www.southwestern.edu/academics/brownsymposium/32years.php

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