A musician’s master class

The best thing about photographing yesterday’s violin master class was watching the sparks fly.

That’s how Wabash Dean Gary Phillips describes teaching at its best: “When a faculty person who is an expert and a student who has a hunger get together, sparks fly, and magic happens.”

And magic was happening on the Salter Hall stage last night when violinist and tonight’s Visiting Artist Series performer Maria Bachmann met with Wabash violinists—10 students and economics professor Kay Widdows. (Click here for photo album.)

I didn’t know what to expect; I’d photographed a jazz master class here a few years ago—casual ensemble work where no one was really on the spot but some good learning took place. I’d talked with students about their master class last year with an internationally acclaimed classical pianist—"worthwhile but grueling" was how several put it. A helpful if occasionally stinging experience.

And I guess I expected more of the latter from Ms. Bachmann. We’re not a conservatory. She’d be meeting with players of very different skill levels. She’d let ’em play for minute or two, make a few comments, then get it over with so she could rest up for tonight’s performance.

But after she’d worked with Andrew McKone for the first 20 minutes of the workshop and professor Larry Bennett had to tell her it was time to move on or we’d be there all night, I knew better.

I heard Andrew McKone ’07—for four years one of our top violinists—playing his difficult Bach piece more precisely and with more emotion after just 15 minutes with this teacher.

Freshman Vincent Tran wanted help with his technique, and he got that, along with plenty of encouragement.

Sophomore Juan Carlos Venis, nervous and standing stiffly when he first played for Bachmann, was swaying and playing with more of the passion he’s capable of, and which the music demands.

And so it went for two hours—the master violinist listening, finding the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and working them through ways to get better.

I get to see students experience little epiphanies frequently here at Wabash. If you watch carefully, there’s a change in expression, the way they work through a problem. You know that, some time in the next few weeks, that new understanding will manifest itself in their work

But during these musical teachable moments at Bachmann’s master class I got to†see and hear the results right there, right now, the playing raised a level or two right in front of you.

Over the past several years, the Visiting Artists Series committee has tried to incorporate these workshops for our students whenever the guest performer is willing. Maria Bachmann and Jon Kilbonoff, who earlier in the day taught a piano master class, prove the wisdom of that committee’s efforts.

A performer who so loves the instrument and the music and so honors a student’s yearning to play that she takes the time to truly teach—that’s a musician. And Bachmann’s joy and devotion weren’t lost on our students. Such commitment made an impression on them they can carry with them in whatever vocation they choose.

In time, like all teachers, such a musician will leave a legacy beyond her own performing. She has certainly reached these Wabash students in ways that will resonate long after she plays her last note at tonight’s concert.

Monon Memories

Jim Amidon — The HDNet television production truck rolled out of Crawfordsville late Saturday evening, effectively ending this year’s edition of the 113-year annual tradition known as the Monon Bell Classic.

Wabash won the game over archrival DePauw 23-20 on a cold, overcast day and with terrible field conditions. Even with such awful weather, the rivalry game set another new attendance record when more than 11,600 hearty souls layered up in sweatshirts and coats to cheer on their teams.

About an hour after the game, I started to put the contest and the many components of “Bell Week” into a larger context. Here are some of the memories that stand out:

1) Placing the Co-Motion fund-raiser to benefit the Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter and the Julian Center in the hands of the Sphinx Club produced incredible results. Wabash students Tony Caldwell and Jason Siegel took leadership of the program, worked closely with Wabash alumni Bill Padgett and Paul Jefferson, and built a partnership with their counterparts at DePauw.

For years, Wabash and DePauw Co-Motion organizers have struggled to get momentum. Tony, Jason, and the Sphinx Club are all about momentum. While final dollar totals are not quite firm, Wabash will have raised over $4,500 and DePauw just over $6,500 for a total donation for domestic violence shelters of more than $11,000.

Co-Motion stands out because even though the Sphinx Club pledges and actives really wanted to cheer, scream, and watch the football game intently, many continued to walk through crowds with collection buckets, trying to make a difference in the lives of people they don’t even know.

2) Thursday night, alumni from Wabash and DePauw gathered in Indianapolis for the annual Monon Bell Stag. Yes, some people have a problem with the fact the event is for men only, and I can see that argument.

At the same time, each year when I attend the event, I am continually amazed at the level of camaraderie and respect alumni from both schools have for one another. The evening features lots of good-natured barbs and more than a few office bets on the outcome of the game. In the end, the alumni of the two schools adore the tradition of the rivalry and they come together for food and fellowship.

The other neat thing about the Stag is the Spirit of the Monon Bell Award. Each year, the men of Wabash single out an alumnus from DePauw to honor, and vice versa. This year, Wabash chose DePauw alumnus Max Hittle, an Indianapolis attorney who has served his alma mater as president of the alumni board and member of the board of trustees. The DePauw men honored Dr. Jim Cumming (pictured above), a Wabash alumnus who is one of Indiana’s finest pediatricians. He, too, serves Wabash on its board of trustees.

3) Tailgating has become an art form in Crawfordsville, if only for one weekend every two years. What I saw when I arrived to meet HDNet Friday afternoon was just the beginning: RVs being parked, positions staked out, campfires started. By 7 a.m. Saturday morning — even in the misty rain and increasingly cold temps — the tailgate lots were completely full.

I walked through the tailgating area several times, meeting up with old friends and Wabash alumni I hadn’t seen in 10 or more years. At every party at which I stopped, I was warmly greeted with handshakes and hugs; we picked up on conversations that ended two, five, and 10 years ago.

4) I was also thinking about Doctor and Mrs. Richard Walker and their sons, Matt and John. There’s a whole new era beginning in the “battle for the bell.” Crawfordsville native Matt Walker is likely to be the coach at DePauw for a very long time, which means increased community interest in the outcome of the annual Monon Bell game; he brings another compelling story line to a rivalry filled with stories.

I’m real sure the Walkers would like to have been celebrating a victory Saturday night. But I’m also real sure Mom and Dad Walker were very, very proud of their sons Matt and John.

5) Finally, as I was drifting off from exhaustion, I felt a smile creep over my face. I started thinking about how lucky I am — how lucky WE are — to have this incredible sports rivalry that can at once bring out the best in us and bring us all together.

I think about the thousands of colleges and universities around the country, and none of them — not Ohio State and Michigan or Harvard and Yale — have anything close to the Monon Bell Classic.

Chapel Talk, Community Photo Kickoff Bell Festivities

The Wabash Community rallied for Saturday’s Monon Bell game and gathered for the first ‘community picture’ in 21 years Thursday. 

The annual Monon Bell Chapel talk featured rousing comments and thoughts of appreciation for community support from Chris Griesl, Adi Pynenberg, Patrick Millikan, and Will Certain.

Head coach Chris Creighton almost seemed to shake the storied Chapel walls as his fevered remarks echoed to the near capacity group of students, faculty, and staff.

 He asked each student, faculty, and staff member to reflect on why they came to Wabash. “At some point, for every person here, deep down inside you wanted to be great,” Creighton reasoned. “You knew this was a school that would beat you up in a lot of ways but would also lift you up to your potential.”

He said some 800 students from all around the country must have had the same thought: “I want to be a difference maker. I want to be great.”

The Little Giant coach admitted he didn’t know all in the room but respected each and everyone present. “I want to be like you,” he said.

He then directed his comments to freshmen. “The bar has been raised higher than it’s ever been raised before. Your job is to hang on for dear life until winter break.” 

But he had words of advice for the upper classmen as well. “Are you still pursuing greatness or have you figured out how to write all those papers? Have you settled for good or are you continuing to raise the bar?” 

He asked all students and members of community to come out for the Bell game. He suggested the football team was no different than any other students – all striving to be great and perform their best.

Following the raucous Chapel session the entire Wabash Community gathered in the football stadium for a community photo. It’s believed to be the first time such a photo was taken since 1985. Click here for a copy of the community photo and pictures from the Chapel Talk.

What’s With The Co-Motion?

Jim Amidon — It began about 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, seconds after the final horn sounded in Wabash’s football victory at Denison University. Officially — at that moment — it became “Bell Week” at the College.

Anyone associated with Wabash — alumni, faculty, staff, football fans, casual observers — realize what the short phrase means. Bell Week means the college shifts 100 percent of its attention to the Monon Bell football rivalry with DePauw University.

Wabash freshmen stand guard around campus through the night to keep safe the famed Monon Bell and keep would-be vandals away from the college grounds.

Banners are made and hung from fraternity and residence hall windows.

And Thursday morning at 11:00 a.m., true to tradition, the entire community will gather in the Wabash Chapel for a good, old-fashioned pep rally. You’ll never listen to anyone as impassioned as football coach Chris Creighton during the Monon Bell Chapel hour. The coach is so capable of firing up the crowd it’s simply a shame the game is still 48 hours off.

By noon on Saturday, Crawfordsville’s population will swell by over 10,000, if only for a few hours, when fans from DePauw and Wabash alike pack into Byron P. Hollett Little Giant Stadium for the 113th Monon Bell Classic.

We’re hoping for a big crowd for another, more important reason than just the game.

Students from Wabash and DePauw are again organizing the Co-Motion fund-raiser, which each year harnesses the emotion and energy associated with the Monon Bell rivalry and puts it to good use.

Students have been collecting funds and raising awareness of domestic violence issues. Money they raise through student and faculty challenges, plus donations collected at the game, will be donated to the Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter and the Julian Center in Indianapolis.

The Sphinx Club, Wabash’s campus spirit organization, has led this year’s effort. As of last Friday, the students had collected close to $1500, getting them half way to their goal. They’ll get a big boost when they shake down students, faculty, and staff heading to Thursday’s pep rally, and donations from a big crowd this Saturday will surely push them over the top.

I find the whole concept quite remarkable. During Bell Week, when testosterone is at an annual threshold, the students of Wabash and DePauw attempt to step back to realize how violence in the home rips families apart and shreds our communities.

Co-Motion is just one small element of Bell Week, but it just might be the most important piece. The fund-raiser lifts up two aspects of the Wabash mission statement: “act responsibly” and “live humanely.” By better understanding the horrors of domestic violence — and raising money to help the shelters —†maybe our students will live up to those lofty ideals; maybe they’ll graduate from Wabash and become good husbands and fathers, and leaders in their communities.

And that’s what the co-motion is all about.

Go Wabash! Win the Bell!

In the photos: Members of Phi Gamma Delta help out at the Family Crisis Shelter early on a Saturday morning.