A look at Winter Study – Arts and music focal points of many

Williams students found new ways of expressing themselves this winter study. They sculpted, sang, drew, wrote music, played exotic instruments, wrote calligraphy, acted and computerized.

For many of the students in the 23 winter study courses involving arts and music, it was their first time ever exploring their creative sides. Winter study is a safety net, of sorts, explains SPEC 034 “The Contemporary Singer/Songwriter” student Heather Rutherford ’99.

“It’s a chance for people to do stuff that they wouldn’t normally do during the year without worrying too much about failure,” says Rutherford.

Without the pressure of grades, students like Joe Seavey ’01 who took PHYS 012 “Meet the Right Side of Your Brain: Drawing as a Learnable Skill,” were willing to attempt what they might have thought was the impossible, he said.

“I can’t draw. That’s what I used to think,” Seavey said, “I really didn’t believe that you could learn how to draw. Sometimes people shy away from art classes during the normal semester because [art] is not easy, but I think winter study is a time when people are more comfortable being unorthodox.”

Learning an entirely different type of music was more than unorthodox for Jordana Schuster ’98. The course, MUS 011 “Marimba Music of Zimbabwe,” was frustrating at first, she said, because the differences between Marimba and Western music are so great.

“The rhythm is definitely the hardest thing about it. We don’t hear [the relationship between the rhythms] because it’s not in our aural vocabulary,” Schuster said. “The problem was, each person had to get their own part down, and you’d finally get your own part down…but you never heard how it interlocked with anyone else’s. So it would be seven people playing all at once and we’d just begin playing and Alport would be going ’no, no, no.’”

Although the music taught in many winter study courses was not as far removed from western music as Marimba, new approaches and novel revivals were abundant and welcomed. Laura Massie ’99 said the course she’s taking, AMST 017 “Singing School: Popular Protestant American Religious Music,” fills a niche that needs to be filled in the music curriculum.

“It’s … popular music, not just the rich people’s music,” Massie said, “It’s pretty neat to learn what real people were thinking about all the time.”

Richard Giarusso ’00 is in the course with Massie and agrees that it is a unique opportunity.

“It’s a repertoire that’s maybe not looked on as much. We tend not to look back at some of this stuff as frequently as we like and it’s not an opportunity that we will have frequently,” Giarusso said, “Something like this is really ideal in familiarizing people with a part of our American Heritage that we might not otherwise have come in touch with.”

In art as well as in music, the winter study courses emphasized exploration of new ways of observing and creating. Learning the conscious shift to the right side of his brain, Seavey said, has helped him not only draw better, but to see in a different way that has allowed him to come to a new appreciation of art.

“Learning how to draw goes along with learning how to see,” Seavey said, “I’m completely uncultured with art, but at the museum with Picasso and Matisse right in front of me, I could see where the artists had made wrong marks and just drew over them and that made me feel like I could tell what they were thinking, like you could get in their minds.”

Hillary Williams ’01, taking ENVI 010 “Writing and Drawing – The Naturalist’s Journal,” said the careful observation and personal introspection necessary in a journal allow students to be more creative and explore on their own.

“Journalling isn’t something that really has deadlines and it can’t be graded. It doesn’t have enough direction to be a regular semester class,” Williams said. “This course is more of a setting you off and shoving you in a direction and seeing where you can go with it. So you are really choosing your own direction and your own tastes.”

Much of winter study is an individual effort, with each student choosing his or her own direction and getting out what he or she puts in. The sharing of works in progress or final presentations in arts and music winter study courses, however, creates a sense of community and of being a part of a whole.

Kristin Dissinger ’01 found the “Contemporary Singer/Songwriter” class to be a very supportive environment.”My class takes a whole different slant on the creation of music. It’s much less restrictive,” Dissinger said, “it’s an atmosphere where we can give constructive criticism and read about successful songwriters and their methods and sort of ’learn from the masters.’” Her experience, along with the other students in the Singer/Songwriter class, will culminate in a performance. The students, alone or in collaboration with other members of the class, will perform their own songs for the Williams community at Dodd on Wednesday, the 28th, at 7:30 p.m.

In spite of the initial frustration of something entirely foreign, Schuster also found that learning music in her class fostered a group atmosphere that eventually led all the pieces to fall together.

“When it finally clicked, it made perfect sense. It was so beautiful and so simple, but I would know, listening to it that no one else would hear the simplicity,” she said. “For us, it was a group piece. We were all a part of it. Once you figured out how [all the pieces] were … supposed to interlock, you couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

While Schuster resigned herself to knowing no one else would know what it was like to be an integral part of a piece of Marimba music, Williams found that, even working with the very individualistic media of journals, there was common experience in exploration and creation.

“Drawing and writing and journalling especially is such a personal experience. Sometimes when I come back from my plot I feel like I’m stepping out of a different world and it’s good to see that other people are doing that too,” Williams said. “Even though you’ll never quite understand their experiences, just to be in the same room and to be able to say ’hey, you were out there yesterday too. You know what I’m thinking and I don’t even have to say,’ that’s an important part.”

Creative winter study courses from ARTS 015 “The Photo Essay” to THEA 010 “Empire and the Post Apartheid Chic” are “an important part” in the curriculum as a whole for many students. They provide an opportunity to escape from the academic semester and decompress before diving back into the rigors of spring term. Students are asked to use different skills and different ways of thinking than are normally required. Schuster sees this time as the time that keeps her going for the rest of the year.

“I know for me, I need it. It’s not a matter of just wanting it. I really need it in my life,” she said, “Winter study is one of the only times when you have the creative energy and the time to experiment. There are very few times, while at Williams, when you get to be run around by naked children while on stage.”