High Above a Stately River: A Presidential Arts and Fashion Review

I’m back from  Hanover College Presents: The President Honors the Arts and what a night it was!

The program began with a rousing spiritual – The Hanover College Chamber Singers singing “Praise His Holy Name!”  I closed my eyes and for a minute thought I was worshipping in a Spirit-filled African-American church, but then I opened my eyes and noticed colorful hair and black dresses  instead of colorful hats and black faces.  It didn’t mar my appreciation for their zest, however.

Next up was Autumn Barger, a soprano who sang “Una volta che Bastiano” from the opera Bastien und Bastienne.  She had a very strong and beautiful voice and sang with great confidence.  She’ll probably sing at the Met someday.  I’m not sure she’d make it at the Opry, though.

Chen Wang played a piano selection, “Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy (which, I was surprised, was not pronounced like when you refer to Gary Busey in a colloquial way – “Hey it’s Gary – Da’ Busey”).  Wang was a masterful pianist.  Her hair was inexplicably red, but she could certainly tickle those ivories.

The final musician for the night was Ellen Morganett, playing “Andante” from Solo No. 1 by Georg Phillipp Telemann on the violin.  The violin is perhaps my favorite musical instrument (next to the pedal steel) and she certainly did it justice.  With a little practice, I think Ellen could make a fine fiddle player for John Prine (and I’d be willing to put in a good word for her).

Representing the Visual Arts was Kyle Hunteman who shared his senior thesis, “No Struggle, No Progress.”  He first did over a hundred line drawings (though he only showed one).  They were human figures wrestling which brought to mind some of DaVinci’s doodles.  Next, he talked about his own struggle with time (which he represented by, in limited time, creating a life-size torso, a self-image).  The Puritan in me appreciated that he only revealed his torso in his art work.  He could have used a haircut (but, after all, his hair wasn’t part of his sculpture).

Next an award for the “2012-2013 Hanover College Medal for Excellence in the Arts” went to Nathan Montaya and Annette Vestuto.  Get this – they own a bookstore called “The Village Lights”.  Yes, there is still such a thing as a real, live, local bookstore.  Not only do they run the bookstore (which sounds like it has real books on real shelves, though I can’t verify this), they contribute much of their time, talent, and yes, money (after all, not every artist wants to starve) to artistic efforts at the college and in the Madison and Hanover communities.  Bravo, Nathan and Annette!  (Now can I hit you up to do a reading?)

Dan McCormick, representing the Creative Writing department, read some of his own poetry written in his time at Hanover.  (Full disclosure: Dan’s father – Joe – was my college roommate, so this may seem like a biased review.  But believe me, Joe wasn’t that good of a roommate.  Don’t get me wrong, he could put down beer with the best of them and he wasn’t quite as slovenly as I was.   But, well… he did this thing where he would “light his farts” and almost set the bed on fire several times.  You get the picture.)

So anyway, back to Dan.  For a young poet, Dan has a rare gift.  I wish I had a simple word or phrase to describe it (I may have to invent one after I renew my poetic license).  It is where he juxtaposes contrasting ideas in conjoined dual words.  Good haiku poets do it in three lines.  Dan does it with just two words – often at the end of his poems.  The effect is something almost magical – certainly therapeutic.  It is the aesthetic equivalent of doing “kegels” (for those of you pregnant women out there).  For men, there is no good way to understand it other than flexing your butt cheeks repeatedly, then relaxing them.  Then, imagine it being intensely pleasurable (which it may be for some, now that I think of it).  That’s Dan’s poetry.

As for his fashion, well, he may have to dress down to become a starving artist – but his haircut was the best of the evening.

Finally, the theater department (which I noticed they spelled “theatre” in the program – going all European on me).  First, I need to tell you my former classmate Jim Stark is now the theatre director there (and he introduced the short play).  Jim was by far the sharpest dressed on the stage this evening.  (As for his hair, well, there’s not much to comment on.)

The play was called “The Everything Store” (written by Kayla Snabl and directed by Branden Derk).  It was clever play about a store where you can buy a new suit of clothes for your “good judgment”, a European accent and demeanor for “the memory of your best friend”, and “fresh ambition” for a “relationship”.  It was ably performed by Joshua Anderson, Gracie Taylor and Shawn Franklin (each of whom had quite acceptable hair).

As I ducked out of the auditorium to use the bathroom, I thought of what a wonderful evening it had been.  Then, as old folks like me are prone to do, I began to reminisce.  When I was at Hanover in the early 1980s, there was a fair amount of creativity.  Certainly the theater (now called theatre) was top-notch.  The music could hold its own.  Creative writing, well, we were okay… I guess… if you like incessant existential angst spewed across endless pages of bound journals.

But now, it seems they’ve dipped into the fortune amassed by President Horner and are recruiting many world-class students who may well become tops in their fields.

I’m jealous.   But hey, now Hanover looks great on my resume.

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