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Extraordinary Encounters

Indiana pastors with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program worshipped with Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu last Friday on his 83rd birthday.

Indiana pastors with the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program worshipped with Nobel Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu last Friday on his 83rd birthday.

“Check out the attached picture,” Associate Professor of Religion Derek Nelson ’99 wrote to me in an email last Friday. I opened the attachment to find what you see here: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in liturgical vestments, standing with a group of Indiana pastors from the Wabash Pastoral Leadership program.

So what are they doing in South Africa? (Other than receiving Holy Communion from one of the most famous peace activists on the planet, that is—and on the same day this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced.)

That’s pretty much what everyone I told about this photo has asked. Apparently the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program—one of the College’s four Centers of Distinction—is also one of the College’ best kept secrets.

Time to get the word out.

Funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and founded in 2008 by Professor Emeritus Raymond Williams H’68, the program selects up to 18 Indiana pastors who in their first five to ten years have demonstrated high potential for significant leadership. They participate in a series of meetings, conversations with outstanding leaders, and two study tours over a two-year period. I have photographed a few of the sessions here on campus. I have seen the safe space and remarkable support, guidance, and inspiration the Center provides these gifted and dedicated servants of their congregations, and that they give one another.

They express their gratitude for the program in testimonials on the program’s Web site that capture well the deep need the Center is meeting: “I had been told plenty of times that I needed to be a good leader, but I was given little space or time to reflect on leadership,” one pastor writes. “Part cloister and part think tank, the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program has been a tremendous gift in my life that has created a community for theological and practical reflection on leadership.”

“The Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program was the greatest opportunity to grow as a pastoral leader I’ve ever been given,” writes another.

The current group is the second immersed in a study tour of South Africa, and Associate Director Libby Manning says “the trip has tied together so many of the community issues we have been studying with the pastors. We’re learning about the ways that education, conflict resolution, economics and immigration play into the health and well-being of our communities, and the place that the churches have in that ongoing process.”

The pastors toured Robben Island on Monday, guided by a former prisoner there and cellmate of Nelson Mandela, Eddie Daniels.

While most of the visit is carefully arranged, the encounter with Desmond Tutu was “mostly a case of being in the right place at the right time,” says Nelson, who in 2013 was named the Center’s director. A colleague of Derek’s was hosting the pastors at Stellenbosch University at the same time the school held a conference with Bishop Tutu. “So the pastors were on his radar screen, and the dean of the cathedral in Cape Town invited them to daily Mass.”

The pastors are blogging about their experience in South Africa at the Center’s Web site, where you’ll see one way the College’s original mission—”the training of teachers and preachers”—is being lived out in new, important, and unexpected ways.

 

Steeg Knew the Human Heart

Steve Charles—Ted Steeg ’52 once told me, “If you have a workable and consistent perception of what is in the human heart, you can communicate with anyone, any time, anywhere, through any medium.”

STEEG-obit-master675 Ted, who died July 7, had that “workable and consistent perception” and practiced it most famously in film. His documentary about Wabash, A Way of Life, captures “the human heart” of Wabash like no other project I’ve seen in any medium. In it we meet Wabash legends like Eric Dean, Fred Enenbach, Vic Powell, and Eliot Williams. We sit on the College mall and listen as President Thad Seymour delights upperclassmen with awful poetry during the infamous Elmore Day, then we watch him welcome with sincerity the new class on Freshman Saturday. And we see Doc Keith Baird ’56, fresh from his work on Apollo 13. It’s like watching your family’s best lost home movies; that is, if Steven Spielberg was the one in your family who liked to play with the camera.

Ted wrote: “What I was really trying to do with the whole film was not just make audiences hear and see what’s great about amazing Wabash, but also feel it.” Watch A Way of Life here on the College’s YouTube channel and you can feel it, too.

But Ted’s strongest medium was face-to-face. He lived “in the moment” all his life and long before the phrase became fashionable. He understood the power (though I can’t imagine him using the term) of simply being present. His friend Dan Wakefield recalls in Creating from the Spirit the day he began expounding to Ted the virtues he found as a beginning yoga student:

At first I thought he was trying to joke away my enthusiasm for living in the moment and shutting off the noise that the yoga postures provided. But that wasn’t it.

“You yo-yo. Why do you think I’ve been playing sports all these years?” Ted challenged. “That’s what sports does—puts you in the moment and shuts down the mental noise.”

Ted and I exchanged many emails and collaborated on several projects, but I recall his presence most keenly from an hour-long conversation we had at Crawfordsville’s Holiday Inn in the late 1990s. Ted had been in town for the first meeting of Wabash Magazine’s editorial advisory board. He offered to meet me for breakfast and talk some more. He was one of those people who put you at ease and, in that relaxed moment, the conversation and creativity flowed. I left feeling affirmed, inspired, and freed to think in new ways about our work here. And with two of the best ideas we’ve ever had for the magazine and which still guide us today.

The poet William Stafford wrote, “I’m saved in this world by unforeseen friends,” and Ted Steeg was one of those friends for many, and certainly for me, for Wabash Magazine, and my vocation here. His presence will be missed by many, especially by his daughter, Amy, his grandchildren, and friends like Wakefield, who in a tribute in NUVO Magazine wrote, “Ted was known to us as ‘The Horse’—a nickname that meant someone who was strong—the one you could count on, the one who could carry the load and never complain.”

Watch Ted’s A Way of Life on the College’s YouTube channel.

Ted reflects about making A Way of Life.

Read Dan Wakefield’s tribute in NUVO magazine.

Steeg discusses the most significant event of the 20th century in filmmaking.

A Love/Hate Take on Big Bash

Steve Charles—I didn’t know what to say.

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14 had shown up at the Class of 1964 Reunion in Littel Lobby to give President Hess a poster he’d made as a thank-you gift, and the new grad had been mingling with guys coming back after 50 years in the world. Now he was leaving Wabash for that world, we were shaking hands goodbye, and I—who had watched Chet’s transformation from awkward freshman to bold, thoughtful, and creative graduate—couldn’t think of what to say.

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14

Chet Turnbeaugh ’14

Chet is a talented and caring young man who has taken big risks. He may accomplish a lot in the world. For his sake and the world’s, I hope he does. But he’s a good Wabash man whether he does or not. He’s going into the arts, a tough and often thankless way to make a living. I wanted to offer good words, a way to thank him for what’s he has come to mean to us. And he seemed to be waiting for something wise.

But all I could manage was a nod and a goofy smile. I’ve struggled in similar ways saying goodbye to my sons. “Stay in touch,” I told Chet. Oh, how original! How moving! I just don’t do goodbyes very well.

As Chet walked away from Wabash I waved—upping the awkwardness quotient—then turned around to my work of photographing the 70-plus-year-old men who had come home.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Big Bash Weekend.

I love meeting alumni, hearing their stories at Scarlet Yarns and colloquia. I revel in welcoming back friends; I love catching up and seeing how we’ve changed, how quickly our friendships are renewed.

I love Big Bash one-on-one.

But I hate the crowds. I feel a practically pathological anxiety in gatherings of three or more. I deal with that anxiety by doing my job as a photographer. I shoot most of the big events through 85mm or 135mm telephoto lenses, breaking the  “mob” down one person at a time. Then I can see my friends again.

And I publish those images to encourage other crowd-anxious souls, hoping they’ll overcome their concerns and attend reunions. Taking this work-like approach in the midst of friends has its consequences. I often block the very connections that make Wabash Wabash. A wall against the very story I’m trying to tell.

On Saturday, seven Wabash guys and a professor tore that wall to pieces.

I saw Andy Dreitcer ’79 in Lilly Library and called out to him. I had covered Andy’s work on reconciliation for the College’s Pastoral Leadership Program, and we had reprinted a heartbreaking and illuminating personal essay of his in the magazine. I yammered at Andy for so long Saturday he almost missed Alumni Chapel Sing.

At Chapel Sing Kent Merrill ’64 caught up with me as I was taking photographs. I had enjoyed Kent and Midge’s hospitality years ago during a visit to their home outside of Knoxville, TN, where I’d photographed the beautiful furniture the retired doc had made. I’d had a blast taking pictures in his shop. As Jim Durham ’64 would say later that night of his longtime friend, “Kent’s been a person of compassion and integrity since I first got to know him in the 6th grade.” Kent’s stopping me there at Alumni Chapel Sing made me feel remembered and I held on to that sense of belonging throughout that big event.

Last spring we shot a video on campus with Jeremy Robinson ’04 about his former student Francisco Huerta ’14. We’d told other stories about Jeremy’s teaching, but this one brought it all full circle. I felt the pride Jeremy’s Wabash teachers would have felt if they’d been there with us, so I gave him a hug afterward, told him how proud we were of him. A bold thing to do, given I wasn’t a professor. But if Bill Placher or Dan Rogers had been there, I’m confident they would have done the same—I did it for them. Jeremy was back again for Big Bash Saturday and returned the favor on his way to present a colloquium session on teaching, a kind gesture in the middle of a long day that reminded me why I love this place and that I belong here.

At the Psychology Reception, Visiting Professor Teresa Aubele-Futch and I were talking about one of her students and co-researchers, Brad Wise ’14, who hopes to attend graduate school in 2015. Although the professor will be teaching at St. Mary’s College next year, she’s taking Wise to a conference next fall to co-present their research and make grad school connections. “But you won’t be a Wabash professor then,” I said. “I believe in him,” she told me.

Rev. John Sowers ’99 was a compact force of nature when he was a student but our exchanges then were mostly light-hearted. Saturday for our Scarlet Yarns audio project he talked about how his friend and mentor Coach Max Servies ’58 had also been a surrogate grandfather to him. Then John’s classmate and fellow preacher and pastor Josh Patty talked about the ongoing relationship he has with the late Professor Bill Placher ’71 through Bill’s books and I had to wipe the tears off my viewfinder. I reminded Josh about the time he had listened to me bemoaning the rambling nature of my talk to group of Wabash alumni in Pittsburgh after I’d decided to ditch my script and go “off the cuff.” He had told me then that our presence is the gift we give each other, and often the script gets in the way. He said I didn’t have to be perfect, just had to show up and be genuine.

Jesus Campos ’04 shares his story for the College's Scarlet Yarns audio project.

Jesus Campos ’04 shares his story for the College’s Scarlet Yarns audio project.

Then Jesus Campos ’04 showed up at the Scarlet Yarns table. Jesus was my son’s pledge brother, we’d had him over for Thanksgiving when he was a student, and he had struggled mightily with the English language and Wabash academics when he arrived here from Texas. Talk about overcoming the odds! On Saturday he expressed his gratitude to Wabash and the many people who had taught and supported him here. It was joy to hear him speak, and fun, too, as we reminisced about his pledge class’s antics. I’ve rarely felt better about being a part of this College community.

Jesus is helping others now as a social worker in Philadelphia. He said some of his Wabash classmates don’t feel as though they deserve to come back for their reunions. They’re not successful or rich enough to give back the way they want to or feel they should. They think they haven’t done enough in their lives to be worthy of being embraced by their teachers and their classmates. Jesus and I talked about ways to help them see that’s not the point of a reunion: You don’t come home because you have money to build another room on the house; you come home to be with your family.

I got so caught up in the conversation as we walked out of Lilly Library that I forgot my camera and barely made it in time the cover the Class of 64 50th Reunion Dinner. There Steve Cougill ’64 was the final speaker during an evening of stories. He had attended Wabash for six semesters but hadn’t felt like he really was part of the class, didn’t “deserve” to join them at their reunion. His Kappa Sig pledge brothers and all his classmates were happy to see him.

“It’s just been wonderful being back with you guys again,” Cougill told his classmates. “At the Chapel Sing today we were singing “Old Wabash” and I could hardly keep singing because I was getting choked up, just being back with you again. It’s been a great experience, and I hope you guys all come back for our 55th.”

 

So now I know what to say to Chet Turnbeaugh: “Come back.”

“No matter what befalls you, think about your friends and the teachers who believed in you and come back.

“Don’t wait until you think you have achieved or earned ‘enough’ to come back. We knew you when you were dreaming and struggling, singing out of tune the world’s longest fight song, and those friends and family embraced you then. How much more so now?

“Whether you’ve ‘made it’ or you’re down on your luck, come home. Whether you graduated from Wabash or left after a semester, if this place has meaning to you, come home.

“Don’t wait until you’ve got hundreds or thousands or millions of dollars to give to your alma mater. As my friend the Rev. Josh Patty ’99 might say, ‘The present you bring is your presence.’”

If Wabash teaches us nothing else, she teaches us that. And she reminded me over and over again at this year’s Big Bash.

For the Love of the Game

Professor of English and Commissioner of the Wabash NBA (Noontime Basketball Association) Tobey Herzog H’11

Professor of English and Commissioner of the Wabash NBA (Noontime Basketball Association) Tobey Herzog H’11

Steve Charles—Center 216 got noisy last Thursday.

Professor of English Tobey Herzog H’11, his red #41 Chicago Bulls jersey pulled over his signature blue Oxford cloth shirt, was showing video clips from the championship game of the second Chicago Bulls Fantasy Camp he attended back in the 1980s—the one where he won the MVP award—and as they watched that old footage, 30-plus students were cheering him on.

They laughed at a tongue-in-cheek interview with Bulls radio announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr (not to mention the ’80s short-shorts uniforms and some of Herzog’s middle-aged, hirsute teammates). They applauded as he was introduced for the game, and groaned when he missed his first shot. A few minutes in Tobey said, “Okay, that’s enough,” and stepped to the computer to turn off the video. But the students protested.

“You’ve gotta score,” several called out.

Seconds later they got their wish when Tobey was fouled and hit his first free throw. The gleeful cheers from students were so loud Professor Warren Rosenberg heard them halfway down the hallway. He’d later ask his long-time English Department colleague what the hell was going on down there.

Tobey was just telling stories—personal stories. This one was about his love of basketball: The first shots he took as a kid after his neighbor put up a goal; the exhilaration he felt every day he’d go there and shoot baskets by himself; the joy of playing on his junior high and early high school teams; the trauma of not getting playing time when a new coach took over; the redemption he felt years later when he was named MVP at the Bulls Fantasy Camp; and why more than a half century after he took those first shots, he still plays the game in Wabash’s NBA—the Noontime Basketball League.

All this to set up a conversation about two works of literature—John Updike’s poem, “Ex-Basketball Player,” and Pat Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season, a book that includes the line, “I have loved nothing on this earth as I did the game of basketball.”

They are literary works that explore, among other things, relationships between fathers and sons, coaches and players, athletes and the games they play and the dangers of living for the glory days of the past.

And you couldn’t have imagined a more moving, hilarious, and enjoyable catalyst for thoughtful conversation about those works than Herzog’s personal stories. His love of basketball connects and resonates with the 18-22 years olds fresh from their own glory days of the sports they love and encourages empathy from the less athletic. Here’s a guy who, in his 60s, can still drain a 15-foot jumper over younger, taller players; who has cheered on the generations of Little Giants from the bleachers of Chadwick Court and Hollett Little Giant Stadium to the sidelines of Knowling Fieldhouse. And that same teacher also loves the works of Dickens and Hardy, Fitzgerald and Miller, Kosinski and Keats, Hemingway and O’Brien, among others. The ultimate scholar-athlete.

The revelation that his stories could be an entre for his students to the very literature that has enriched his own life is a recent one for Tobey. Students in his Modern War Literature class complained that Herzog—a Vietnam veteran and a leading scholar of Vietnam War literature and biographer of veteran and author Tim O’Brien—wasn’t bringing enough of his own war experience into the classroom. Could his own personal stories have helped students better understand and have empathy for the authors and characters in those works?

So in this final year of teaching before his retirement, Tobey took perhaps the greatest risk of his teaching career. He created a one-time class, The History of Herzog, in which he would guide students to the literature that has enriched, shaped, and informed his life. And he would introduce those works he loves with personal stories of when and why those authors and their works came to mean so much to him.

Teaching for Herzog has always been about the material, not the teacher. Putting the spotlight on himself is so contrary to his nature; maybe that’s why this class is working so well. “It could still go off a cliff,” he says. But if it does, it will do so in glorious flames.

I’ll save the details for the article I’m writing about the class for Wabash Magazine, but suffice it to say that by taking this risk and making himself vulnerable, he’s creating a safe space for students to do the same, and perhaps they’ll receive a similar gift this literature has given their teacher.

“They may not remember me,” Tobey told me after class, “but they may remember some of these stories; they will remember some of the literature, and that may be important for them, may help them some day.”

tobey talks closeloresIn the same room a few days later, Tobey gave his final public academic lecture before his retirement (he will give the last Chapel Talk this semester in May). The room was packed; several of us sat on the floor. This time faculty colleagues from across the College along with staff and students were the audience, and the focus was his work as a scholar of Vietnam War literature.

Taking cue from his success in The History of Herzog class, he opened with stories. Personal stories. About his father and his father’s war stories, his mother’s war stories from the home front, his own stories from Vietnam, and the story of what led him to focus his scholarly research and writing on Vietnam War literature.

“I have always been fascinated with war stories and the tellers of those tales,” Tobey said. Those stories will be the final works he’ll be introducing to his students in The History of Herzog class in the coming weeks, and I plan to attend those sessions to finish my article.

For now the image that stays with me from The History of Herzog is from last Thursday: Tobey leans over the podium, reading glasses in hand, and listens to a student’s reflections about the John Updike poem. Hands go up across the room as the professor encourages the student to extend his point, then calls on another who makes a connection with the Pat Conroy memoir. Tobey responds with surprise—“whoah!”—then smiles and nods like a point guard who just dished out an assist to a teammate for a slam dunk.

Forty-plus years and the teacher still loves the game.

Music Makers and Dreamers

Dan Couch ’89, playing guitar during an interview for Wabash Magazine in Nashville.

Dan Couch ’89, playing guitar during an interview for Wabash Magazine in Nashville.

Steve Charles—Last Friday Dan Couch ’89 was showing me around Nashville’s Music Row in the black pickup he bought with some of the money he’d earned from “Somethin’ ‘bout a Truck,” the first of two #1 Country hits he wrote with singer/songwriter Kip Moore. We’d just pulled out of the parking lot of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) at the intersection of Music Circle North and Music Circle East and were merging with traffic around the Buddy Killen Roundabout.

“Not exactly what you expected to see on Music Row?” Dan asked good-naturedly as we circled Musica, a sculpture of nude dancers that is the roundabout’s centerpiece.

Two hours earlier in a posh reception room BMI provided (thanks to Dan) for our interview for the next issue of Wabash Magazine, the former Wabash psych major and catcher for the Little Giants told me part of what has become one of the favorite “good guy finishes first” stories in Music City: How Dan left his lucrative job as a medical supplies salesman in Seattle in the early 1990s and moved to Nashville (via a long stay back in his hometown of Logansport, IN) to chase his dream of becoming “the next Garth Brooks,” an aspiration that changed to a focus on songwriting and has taken more than 10 years of hard work and faith to achieve.

Dan talked about his wife, Tina Marie, the sacrifices she made, how she continued to believe in him, even during a crucial moment when he doubted himself. And he spoke of friends who kept believing, too—guys like Wabash classmate Bill McManus, who he still talks with every morning (and called during our interview!).

But driving down Music Row, our conversation turned to potato chips.

More precisely, to his old job supplying a potato chip route in the Nashville area (at various times to make ends meet he also worked construction and tended bar, while Tina Marie works as a nurse.) He’d met a fellow aspiring writer on that chip route. Dan would finish around noon, clear the chips out of the car, pick up his friend, and drive to a songwriter’s circle to play his songs and listen to others’.

“I was overwhelmed by this place when I first came here,” Dan admitted. Driving up and down Music Row, it’s easy to see why: Nashville may be the most competitive music market in the world right now, with the largest concentration of songwriters in the country. The Tin Pan Alley of our day. Don’t let the modest two story homes converted to office space and the relative scarcity of multi-story corporate buildings on Music Row fool you; behind those quaint doors are some of the biggest labels and names in music, not to mention all the people who support this industry. Jobs (song pitchers and pluggers?) I’d never heard of.

Statistically speaking, the former Little Giant baseball player would have had a better shot at making the major leagues than being paid full-time as a songwriter in Nashville.

He knows that. But there’s gratitude, not boasting, in his voice. He’s thankful to do what he loves for a living (he’s old school, too—eschewing computers for the feel of pencil and paper, and his song notebooks read like a journal of each year’s work.)

He’s grateful for those who helped him learn his craft and those who write alongside him now. He counts the trust he and Moore have in each other as a great gift that gives both the freedom to be their most creative.

Most of all, there’s Tina Marie.

You’ll meet her some day,” Dan promised during our interview as he fretted to find the words to do her justice.

Not unlike the way he struggled a couple of years ago on the sixth-floor terrace of the BMI building, when he and Moore were being celebrated for hitting #1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.”

CMT News saw it this way: Couch was so overwhelmed at having finally achieved success as a songwriter, he could hardly get through his comments to the crowd.

“My wife and I always believed I could get here,” he said looking out toward his family standing near the front of the stage. “She gave me three wonderful kids. Life is good.”

The lyrics to his second  #1 hit with Moore, “Hey Pretty Girl,” get to the heart of it. Lines like:

Life’s a lonely, winding ride
Better have the right one by your side.

“I like to say that song is about who I found, and the kind of person Kip hopes to find someday,” Dan said.

There’s a 19th century poem titled “Ode” inscribed in large letters in the BMI lobby. I photographed Dan in front of it because I read the opening lines—“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” When I was reviewing those photos after I left Nashville, I realized that in several, Dan is walking toward these words:

“One man with a dream, shall go forth and conquer.”

“Dirt Road,” another song that Dan wrote with Moore (and Westin Davis), debuted Monday as a single from Moore’s upcoming second album with MCA. The song has been a fan favorite at Moore’s live shows, the young singer/songwriter was a nominee this year for the Academy of Country Music’s New Artist of the Year, and he’ll be playing that song a lot when he tours in May with Tim McGraw.

None of this guarantees that “Dirt Road” will hit #1 or even climb the charts. But, as we like to say, Wabash always fights.

 

Nashville was my second stop photographing and interviewing Wabash alumni for the upcoming music issue of Wabash Magazine. A week earlier we were backstage with Ben Kitterman ’06, the classically trained musician and steel guitar/dobro player turned tour bus driver turned musical sideman turn bandleader for Aaron Lewis. (Watch Ben’s arrangement for Lewis and the band of Sheryl Crowe’s “Strong Enough.”

Saturday we spent a late night photographing luthier and violinist Dan Gillespie ’08 at the Galway Arms in Chicago, where he was playing fiddle with his band Can I Get an Amen as part of a raucous folk collective called Old Lazarus’ Harp (Listen to their amazing music at: https://soundcloud.com/can-i-get-an-amen

On my way there stopped by campus to cover chemistry/music major Taylor Neal ’14 at his remarkable composition recital, and topped it all off with Beethoven at Sunday’s Chamber Orchestra Concert.

Here’s a photo album from several of those visits: http://www.wabash.edu/photo_album/home.cfm?photo_album_id=3836

The Music to ‘Wabash Always Fights’

Steve Charles—Making a living as a professional musician requires a “Wabash Always Fights” attitude like few other vocations in America.

We may love music, but we prefer not to pay much for it. The Internet has broadened the range of music available, even increased the number of musicians who can reach an audience, but just try to make a living off of iTunes, CD baby, or Pandora if you’re not a mainstream artist.

Which makes the careers of the Wabash musicians I’ve been working with this past month—several who will return to campus Friday for Wally Tunes: A Symposium on Music and the Liberal Arts—even more remarkable.

All of them contributed tracks to a commemorative CD that Media Specialist Adam Bowen and the Wabash Office of Communications and Marketing produced for the Wabash Archives and to be given away to the first 180 attendees at the symposium. All of them embody that “Wabash Always Fights” spirit in their own way as they’ve built liberal arts lives around music. Working with them on this project was one of the great pleasures and honors of my time at Wabash. Just room here for five of the dozens of memorable moments:

1. We call the CD Scarlet Hues after a song written by Dick Durham ’64, and it’s the final song on the CD. I had emailed Dick to discern his interest in the project, and I found out in succeeding emails that 1. He had recorded a song called “Scarlet Hues”;
2. He had dedicated it to Wabash on his solo album, Solilokeys; 3. It was the first song he ever wrote; 4. He wrote it when he was a student at Wabash, only a few years after he began playing piano, which he used to sneak into the Chapel to play. In between emails with Dick, I learned that Sam Vaught ’16 was being interviewed for an article on the Web site and had told us about his own recent experiences playing piano and organ in the Chapel: “I like to go in there whenever it’s not being used – often in the dead of the night – and just play…create so much sound.  You can rattle the windows with that instrument.”

I emailed Sam’s comment to Dick, who responded: “Cool—the aura lives on!”

2. Allen Schulz ’87, founder of Random Access Music in New York City and an award-winning composer, wrote a piece for the symposium called 3 Phantasies. Thanks to pianist Diane Norton (Allen’s teacher at Wabash), cellist Kristen Strandberg, and Wabash Audio Technician Phillip Merriett ’08, we were able to include the beautiful second movement of 3 Phantasies as a sort of prelude (a world premiere!). But because we had limited space on the CD, we had to edit Throttle, the other piece Allen had contributed. Rather than getting angry, he gave us permission and thanked us for the work we’d done. The Gentleman’s Rule in music! Philip Seward ’82 was equally gracious when we had to change his selections, as was Professor Peter Hulen when we had to ask him to edit his.

3. No one embodies that “Wabash Always Fights” spirit quite like Dan Couch ’89. He worked 15 years as a performer-then-songwriter in Nashville, currently the most competitive music market in the world, before his songs written with Kip Moore— “Somethin’ ‘bout a Truck” and ‘Hey Pretty Girl”—hit #1 on the country charts. (Read about the “Moment of Inspiration” for one of those songs here.) With that success, Dan’s been crazy busy lately, but he still took time to record “songwriter night”-style versions of those songs—just Dan and his guitar—for the Scarlet Hues CD and worked up a bio and photos for us. When it came in just a day after I’d expected it, he thanked us for our patience! We felt lucky just to have it.

4. I was playing guitar in a jam session with a friend in the pouring rain at the Indiana Fiddler’s Gathering last summer when a guy and his wife in the circle sang a song. The guy played and sang like a pro—way above our pay grade. That’s when I found out we’d been playing with Gordon Bonham ’80, who I had known only from articles that declared him one of the best blues players in the country. Or, as WFYI’s Matthew Socey writes, “one of the best musicians in any genre in the state.” You could tell from his playing, but you would never have guessed that from his generosity and interest in everyone else’s music that night. (He was there, in part, doing research for his “banjo meets the blues” project.) At the top of his game and still learning!

5. I emailed Amos Garrett ’64—one of the most respected players in the world and a guitar hero of mine—not expecting a reply. His kind response was cool enough, his contribution of a track (okayed by his agent and sent from Stony Plain Records) way beyond that. I’ll be interviewing him in March for the magazine (along with several of the folks on the CD) and hope to confirm a story from Jim Durham ’64 that has Jim driving the poet James Dickey to the airport after a Wabash reading, Amos along for the ride, and Dickey pulling out his guitar and playing for them. Got to know if Amos, then 18 or 19, played along.

There’s a story behind every one of these “musical warriors” on that CD—each makes Wabash proud in his own way. Gordon, Allen, Philip—along with Eric Stark ’88, Andrew McKone ’07, and Rick Fobes ’72—will join Wabash faculty at the Wally Tunes symposium Friday. If you’re near campus, I hope you’ll join us in welcoming them home.

The Big World of James Makubuya

James Makubuya performing on the ndingidi at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Shay Atkinson ’05

Wabash folks on campus know James Makubuya as an associate professor of music and artistic director of WAMIDAN, the College’s world music ensemble.

But long before he arrived at Wabash he was an internationally known world music performer—”world” writ large—and that reputation has only increased during his tenure here.

A musicologist who makes frequent trips back to his native Uganda to do fieldwork, James has studied with master musicians from various East African musical traditions. Though the endongo (bowl lyre) is his primary musical instrument, he is also proficient on the adungu (harp), akogo (thumb piano), ndingidi (tube fiddle), madinda (log xylophone), and in various East African dance drum styles. He has performed nationally and internationally with the New York-based African Troubadours, the Kayaga of Africa and the Kiyira Ensemble, and he has arranged traditional music for the Kronos Quartet, with which he performed in concert on the endongo.

Before coming to the U.S. he was the artistic director of CACEMCHO, Uganda’s 150-voice national choir, which he led in several successful international tours, including a concert and mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Makubuya performed on the soundtrack to the movie Mississippi Masala and several television movies and documentaries, and he has released three CDs, including The Uganda Tropical Beat I, Taata Wange and Watik, Watik: Music from Uganda.

But his most recent collaboration may be the most interesting. In 2005 he recorded Wu Man and Friends with Wu Man, the premier virtuoso on the pipa, a Chinese lute-like instrument with a 2,000-year history. His playing, singing and compositions were highlights of the CD. Joining them were masters the Appalachian-style five-string banjo and the Ukrainian bandura, and the mix was so compelling and successful that the group continues to perform from time to time.

James tries to keep a low-profile on the Wabash campus about these international collaborations and accomplishments, but you’ll have a chance to enjoy his mastery of these instruments this Friday in Salter Hall during the 7:30 concert at Wally Tunes: A Symposium on Music and the Liberal Arts.  His extraordinary skills and the joy he experiences and expresses are not to be missed.

“The Most Lyrical Guitarist”

Amos Garrett ’64

Can you name the Wabash alumnus who is one of the world’s most influential electric guitarists and has recorded with more than 150 artists, including Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, and Jerry Garcia?

Who has won two Juno Awards, the Canadian version of the Grammys?

Whose one-take guitar break on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” (the solo Stevie Wonder calls  “the second best recorded solo of any instrument”) made that song a hit?

That’s Amos Garrett ’64.

We couldn’t convince him to attend the Wally Tunes Symposium February 21 (extensive damage to his home on Alberta’s High River during one of the worst floods in Canadian history is keeping him close to home), but his original song “Bert’s Boogie” is one of the tracks on the commemorative CD we’ll be giving away to those attending the symposium.

Page Stephens ’65, who helped found the Wabash Folksong Club—which brought to campus some of the leading folk and guitar acts of the 1960s, including the powerful Delta blues man Son House and folk music legend Doc Watson—calls Garrett his guitar hero.

In a story in the Summer 2002 issue of Wabash Magazine, Page recalls the first time he heard Garrett play: “Amos and I were both Kappa Sigs, and the first time I heard him play his guitar—an old Goya flat top which he probably has forgotten he ever owned—I learned that there was much more to playing the guitar than I ever realized.”

A writer for Scene Magazine wrote in 2002 that “the reason that Garrett’s name floats along the periphery of pop music instead of the front lines is because Garrett eschewed mainstream rock to make consistently interesting music.” That sounds like a Wabash man.

Guitar Player calls Garrett “one of the most lyrical and original guitarists playing today.”

You can hear Amos’s music all over the Web, but start with his site at Stony Plain Records. And here’s a youtube link to “Midnight at the Oasis” and that famous instrumental bridge. Amos’s solo starts at about 1:21 in.

Wally Tunes: Music and the Liberal Arts is February 21 in the Fine Arts Center.

Bonham ’80 and the Hoosier Blues

Gordon Bonham ’80

Steve Charles—In 1995 I’d been working at Wabash only for a few months when I was startled to see a name in the alumni directory: Amos Garrett ’64. Canada’s master of the Telecaster, whose groundbreaking solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” made that song a hit in 1974, was a Wabash man?

Later that year I interviewed Larry Bennett, the Grammy-nominated tenor the College hired to rebuild the music department. In 2000, James Makubuya arrived, making Wabash the only College in the country where you could learn to play East African instruments from a virtuoso who had performed in Carnegie Hall.

A year later we featured a story about Gordon Bonham ’80—a biology/philosophy major, student of Bill Placher ’70, and one of the top blues players in the country. And these days we’re writing about Nashville singer-songwriter Dan Couch ’89, whose songs co-written with Kip Moore were #1 Country Hits in 2012 and 2013.

You get the idea: Wabash may be a small College, but our musicians are Little Giants.

This year on February 21, the Wabash campus will host Wally Tunes: Music and the Liberal Arts, the 5th Annual Alumni/Faculty and Staff Symposium. As a gift for those attending and participating in the event, 13 Wabash musicians generously contributed tracks to Scarlet Hues, a commemorative CD (a limited run of 250) that Wabash Media Services Specialist Adam Bowen is producing.

With the event less than two weeks away, I’d like to tell you a little each day about the musicians on the CD, and Gordon Bonham is a great person to start with. Not only is his work included on Scarlet Hues, but he’ll be presenting and performing at the symposium.

Gordon brings together a mix of blues styles from the Mississippi Delta to the back alleys of Chicago, from big Texas shuffles to jumpin’ West Coast swing. He performed with the legendary Pinetop Perkins at the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has opened for such greats as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and B.B. King. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians.

Lately he has been accompanying former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf in a series of poetry and blues performances. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, (check out “Get Back, Jezebel”) featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians. His solo acoustic album, Get Back Home, includes a collection of original country blues and Delta blues played on National steel guitar.

The host of Blues Jam at the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, Bonham recently received a grant from the Indiana Arts Council to study and incorporate the five-string banjo into his blues arrangements. He’s traveled the country learning from other banjo players and developing his own style for the blues. He’ll be talking about that (and, we hope, playing some of those 5-string banjo blues—he’s come up with a version of Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” that brings out the essence of the song in a new/old way) during his presentation at the symposium. He will also be a featured artist during the performances beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Check out his web page and links to his CDs, where you can hear a sampling of his work

And here’s the story Howard Hewitt wrote about Gordon in Wabash Magazine: “Those Good Time, Hard Drivin’, Philosophical Blues.”

Tomorrow: Amos Garrett ’64

 

 

 

The Many Voices of Wabash

 Steve Charles—Copyeditor Cheri Clark (whose son, Matthew, is a freshman at Wabash) has done remarkable work over the years catching errors in our grammar and suggesting edits for Wabash Magazine, but she rarely comments on the stories themselves. So when Cheri emailed, “Loved the pieces in ‘Voices’” after copyediting that section of the magazine, she got my attention.

Wabash Professor and College Poet Emeritus Donald W. Baker H’57

And I think those writers deserve yours.

We bill the Voices section as “Wabash students, alumni, and faculty engaging the world,” and the six writers published in the current issue didn’t just engage the world, they embraced it, captured it, were amused by it, knocked down by it, angered by it, and blessed by it. There’s as wide a range of emotion in those four pages as is humanly possible.

To celebrate their work in print I thought I’d highlight a piece or two at a time online, starting here with two of the most moving, if darkest, pieces.

The poetry of College poet and Professor Emeritus Donald Baker ’57 and the memoir of John Moynahan ’43 don’t exactly holler “Merry Christmas”, but their service to us as World War II veterans and articulate witnesses to the horrors of war are gifts to us nonetheless, and reminders of why “peace on earth” is mankind’s highest calling, if the most difficult to attain.

Here’s an excerpt called “Attack” from John Moynahan’s Memories: A Ship and a War, followed by Don Baker’s poem, “Formal Application” (recently reprinted in a textbook used by high school and college students, so his work continues to inform a new generation.)

Attack
On the first day of November 1944, Lt. John Moynahan was serving aboard the destroyer USS Ammen steaming with the 7th fleet on its way to Leyte Gulf when the ship was attacked by several Japanese aircraft:

We opened fire on signal at several of the closest planes, and I ran back and forth from port to starboard trying to keep track of all the reported bogies. When I looked back to port, the plane that bombed the Killen was trailing smoke and banking toward us! Our port guns kept firing, raking her wings and nose, and she was shooting at us until she hit us. I crouched against the bulkhead near my gunner, Kaufman, and watched the plane come. At the last second, she veered slightly to the right, and I ducked as she hit us. I was surprised the noise was no louder than other battle noises and our five-inch gun firing to port nearly over my head.

Now I had seen war: violent, fearful, terrible war. I felt the fear of a man close to death and experienced the sudden relief one has when he finds he is still alive after all. I witnessed the deep roar of big guns with the accompanying concussion, burnt cork fragments, acrid smoke, blinding flashes…and in between the rhythmic pounding of the 40mms, the nervous chatter of 20mm machine guns. I felt the close proximity of the enemy, and the realization he was intent on destroying me, my friends, and my temporary home. I heard the sudden crushing of metal and, almost as bad, the moment of silence that frequently follows disaster, in which everyone is frozen in place while he convinces himself he is still alive.

Five of our shipmates were killed. Charles “Joe” Helmer, standing 30 feet from me at the time, was hit by the starboard engine and propeller, his body obliterated.

I felt sickened as I looked at the spot where Joe had been. He was my storekeeper, one of two, on whom I was heavily dependent. He was very likable, fast efficient, and now he was gone.

The night was uneventful, but sleep did not come until just before dawn. I slept by my gun station along with others, and I kept trying to accept Joe’s death. When dozing I dreamt of him and he was alive again. All the next day he kept reappearing in my imagination, doing customary things.

The next day we had a burial-at-sea ceremony for the remains, all wrapped in American flags. While the captain was still reading the prescribed words, the general quarters alarm started and the remains went into the sea while we all ran for our battle stations.

This was war, a man’s circus. This was the way death often happens in war, violently, suddenly and unexpectedly. This is what I have now experienced, and I regret that my sons and their sons may also be involved in even more terrible struggles “to make the world a better place.”

John Moynahan ’43, Lieutenant (SC), USNR, edited and excerpted from his diary
Memories: A Ship and a War, originally written in 1945 and published in 2010 by The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University.


Formal Application

I shall begin by learning to throw
the knife, first at trees, until it sticks
in the trunk and quivers every time;

next from a chair, using only wrist
and fingers, at a thing on the ground,
a fresh ant hill or a fallen leaf;

then at a moving object, perhaps
a pine cone swinging on twine, until
I pot it at least twice in three tries.

Meanwhile, I shall be teaching the birds
that the skinny fellow in sneakers
is a source of suet and bread crumbs,

first putting them on a shingle nailed
to a pine tree, next scattering them
on the needles, closer and closer

to my seat, until the proper bird,
a towhee, I think, in black and rust
and gray, takes tossed crumbs six feet away.

Finally, I shall coordinate
conditioned reflex and functional
form and qualify as Modern Man.

You see the splash of blood and feathers
and the blade pinning it to the tree?
It’s called an “Audubon Crucifix.”

The phrase has pleasing (even pious)
connotations, like Arbeit Macht Frei,
“Molotov Cocktail,” and Enola Gay.

—Donald Baker H’57

Originally published in 1982, was reprinted in 2012 in the 5th edition of Sequel: A Handbook for the Critical Analysis of Literature, a textbook widely used in AP high school courses, colleges, and universities.

Read more about Don Baker here. 

 


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