Cooking Up Magic

Steve Charles—Dan is a middle-aged guy from Arkansas who lives in the old bank across the street from Fletcher’s of Atlanta, the culinary treasure where Fletcher Boyd ’72 is chef, owner, greeter, and head magician.

“Fletcher likes to color outside the lines,” Dan says of his Atlanta, Indiana neighbor.

Talking with me later that beautiful June afternoon on the bench next to the Atlanta Music Hall, Fletcher told me where he got some of that artistry and creative thinking (though Fletcher would wince at such words used to describe him.)

His grandfather was a vaudeville magician who owned a magic shop in Indianapolis in the middle of the last century.

His great grandfather ran a restaurant downtown (as did Fletcher in the 80s—a very successful one, at that).

He ate out a lot as a kid—most nights, in fact, and all types of cuisine.

And he credits Wabash for some of his creativity. He sure talks like a liberally educated man.

“There’s really not much difference between magic and cooking,” says the chef, whose magic show, humorously based on the history of food (with Fletcher playing Julia Child, among other characters) is part of the restaurant’s fare. Those who have tasted his culinary magic agree. Fletcher calls it “contemporary Hoosier electic,” and restaurant critics say no one does it better than Fletcher’s.

What keeps Fletcher coming back to work, though, are the people—those he works with, and those he cooks for.

Spend an evening at Fletcher’s—as I did for an article we’ll publish in the “My Little Town” issue of Wabash Magazine in Winter 2008—and that joy is obvious. Even during a night when the air conditioner wasn’t working. The comfort is in the food and good company.

Here are some photos I took. They probably won’t make the article—I messed up the lighting—but I like them for the genuine interest and pleasure you see on the faces of Fletcher and his guests. I’ll throw in a shot of Robert Vankirk and Jamie, Robert’s girlfriend. The former president of the Wabash Cooking Club (where Fletcher made a tasty presentation earlier this year), Robert rode the dinner train to Fletcher’s and is writing a review for the article.

Enjoy the photos. Better yet, get out to Fletcher’s and enjoy the food! My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Killer bees and memories

Steve Charles—Reading of Wayne Hoover’s moving tribute to a friend lost in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 (click here to read more), I was reminded of another alumnus on a two-wheeled, long-distance trek of a different sort.

Kevin McCrea ’88 and his wife, Clara, are taking their honeymoon in the form of a motorcycle trip around the world. They left New Orleans March 1 and have thus far visited 10 countries, ridden over 5,000 miles, ridden at altitudes of over 13,000 feet, and have fallen a combined total of 15 times! (Kevin, once a professional motorcycle racer, now the owner of Wabash Construction in Boston, MA, and a motorcycle safety instructor, would be quick to point out only three of those falls are his!)

Thus far they’ve seen some beautiful and not-so-beautiful country, found themselves in the middle of political demonstrations in Peru, and met other unexpected challenges (like killer bees) while making many new friends. But back in April, it was an old friend—Mark Schneider ’88—who came alive in Kevin’s memory as he crossed the Mexican border. Kevin’s Phi Psi pledge brother, Mark was killed in a traffic accident in the Caribbean years ago, but as the digital clock on Kevin’s motorcycle instrument panel showed 10:01—a time Mark had once printed on a t-shirt he wore to promote a band by the same name—Kevin was reminded of a road trip he and Mark had taken, and, as Kevin writes, “what a great, idealistic person Mark was, how much he meant to me and still means to me."

We’ll have an edited version of Kevin’s remembrance of Mark in a future issue of Wabash Magazine, and you can read it now and keep up with Kevin and Clara’s progress at:

It’s interesting how—both in Wayne Hoover’s bicycle trip and McCrea’s motorcycle journey— taking the time to take to the road honors so well the memory of one friend while bringing back to mind so vividly the memory of another.

Commencement: A Father’s Perspective

Steve Charles—Bill Cook ’66 is one of the finest teachers and scholars to have graduated from Wabash. (Scholar with a capital "S"—this photo of Bill was taken Sunday as he waited in the Chapel for Baccalaureate to begin and passed the time with a little "light" reading.)

The Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at SUNY at Geneseo, and an authority on the life of St. Francis of Assissi, in 2005 he was a finalist for one of the nation’s most prestigious teaching awards.

Bill is also a father—a father who on Sunday experienced the joy of seeing his son graduate from Wabash. He passed along this memory of the event. After reading it, I just had to post it here.

The Best of Both Worlds
Last Sunday I sat in the bleachers on the Green of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and watched Eric Cuong Thanh Huynh receive his bachelor of arts degree in history. It was sunny but not too hot, breezy but not windy. There were no long speeches, and the graduation took a total of 75 minutes. It was the perfect day.

Let me back up a bit. Forty-one years ago, I walked across that same platform on that same Green and received my bachelor of arts degree in history. Even at that time, I imagined how wondrous it would be to see a son of mine (Wabash is a College for men) follow me across that platform. However, I dared not dream it too much. As my kids looked for colleges, Wabash did not appear to be a good fit for any of them for a variety of reasons. I had hoped that Angel would look at Wabash, but its distance from Geneseo and its lack of coeds meant that I was hoping in vain, and I did not try to make Angel fit Wabash.

When Cuong—he added the name Eric when he became a US citizen during his freshman year at Wabash—started to look at colleges, I suggested Wabash because I thought it would be a good fit. He was not interested. Hence I encouraged him to look at places that in some ways resembled Wabash, especially Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. When I asked him one last time if Wabash was worth looking into, he said ‘yes,’ and we were soon on a plane to Hoosierland. He had a good experience there and decided to apply, as did his good friend Devin Bennett, who also graduated last Sunday.

Cuong was accepted to Wabash, though I would still not quite allow myself to look ahead four years to his graduation. By the time he heard from Hamilton, it did not matter, for he had chosen Wabash. I sent him out alone to look one more time, and he came back with a fraternity pledge pin—not my fraternity but one he found as a community he wanted to be a part of.

Cuong and I drove out to Wabash together in August, 2003. He appeared pretty calm; in fact, Cuong rarely appears excited or disoriented. I had a sense he was nervous about being so far from home and nervous about being in a place with only one person he knew. A few weeks later, when I flew out for what was my first of many visits, I sat in the stands during a football game and watched him with his pledge brothers on the sidelines. Cuong was fine and had made friends.

Like most college students, Cuong had some academic successes and some disappointments. He had a pretty good first semester. In fact, he had a professor whom I had studied with during my first semester 41 years earlier; we got the same grade from him. I joked with Cuong that Professor Barnes must have grown soft in his later years, but he knew I was not serious, and Jim Barnes and I had remained in contact so I knew it was not so. If Cuong earned a B from Jim, he was going to be fine academically.

Cuong thought about majoring in English but finally decided on history. I think Cuong relied too much on cramming and last minute research, but he succeeded in fulfilling all of his graduation requirements.

Whenever I was with Cuong, be it in Crawfordsville, Geneseo, or somewhere in Europe, I got to see the effects of a fine liberal arts education on him. I saw it more clearly than he did, especially since I saw him only from time to time. It was thrilling to see him, imperfectly to be sure, derive the benefits of a first class education. He knows more than he thinks, and thinks better than he knows. Wabash had worked some of its magic on Cuong as it had on me, and I suppose that his is as indelible as mine.

So there I was at Commencement, 2007, singing every word of the College’s fight song and alma mater since I had sung them countless times during four years in the Glee Club. I saw a few alumni I knew who were now associated with the College. I chatted with Cuong’s friends and their parents. I gave a big hug to Devin Bennett. Before commencement, the College’s photographer took pictures of legacy graduates, those who had relatives who were Wabash men.

When John Kennedy received an honorary degree from Yale, he proclaimed to have the best of both worlds—a Harvard education and a Yale degree. I felt like the man who really had the best of both worlds—a Wabash degree and a son with a Wabash degree.

The tears flowed. Life just doesn’t get much better than this.

—Bill Cook ’66

Little Giant Faculty Take on the Marathon

Steve Charles—Professor John Zimmerman stopped by my office Friday and asked me if I knew how many Wabash faculty and staff members were running in Indy’s 500 festival Mini-Marathon over the weekend.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe one, two?”

Try 12. Add two more if you count spouses and friends. And that’s just my best guess after looking over the race results page.

I like to think I have some idea about most of our professors’ avocations, but this one really took me by surprise. Twelve of our faculty and staff colleagues spent Saturday running 13.1 miles with 30,000 people in the streets of Indianapolis.

And two more—Professors Dave Timmerman and Greg Redding (left)—missed the Mini because they were competing in the Flying Pig (definitely the best name for marathon) a full marathon run through the streets of Cincinnati. That event’s results page shows the two of them finished together, having run 26 miles in 3:34:17!

Professor of Art Doug Calisch was our top finisher in Indy, running the 13 miles in 1:46:12, or a pace of about eight minutes per mile. It was the sculptor/photographer’s best time since his first mini in 1998. The older he gets, the faster he gets!

Library Assistant Bill Helling was just six minutes behind Doug, and computer science professor Dave Maharry, rhetoric professor Todd McDorman, and psychology prof Bobby Horton finished about three minutes later.

Dave Maharry tells me that running your brains out like this was “a fun day—very much like a huge circus.”

Center of Inquiry Administrative Assistant Christina Gilbert and Assistant Director of Admissions Marc Welch were four seconds apart at 1:57;33 and 1:57:37. College physician Scott Douglas and Director of Financial Aid Clint Gasaway (taking it easy this year, having not trained for the race) came in next, followed by chemistry professor Ann Taylor and our computer doc, Rod Helderman. This was Rod’s first mini-marathon, and he admits he was feeling pretty tired at the end. But he was still running when he crossed the finish line.

Anita Klein, wife of Director of Admissions Steve Klein, and Kitty Haffner, Wabash friend and supporter and wife of Herm Haffner ’77, also finished the 13 mile course in a little over 3 hours.

The average time for the race was 2:30, so most of our runners were easily in the top half of the field. But having covered that race for magazines a couple of years and watching the effort it takes, I’m impressed with anyone who finishes that thing.

And surprised at how many strong faculty and staff runners we have on campus.

And embarrassed that I’m still sitting on my butt typing this on this beautiful day, when I ought to be out getting some exercise.

Time to go home and wipe the dust off my bike.

The image of a flying pig comes to mind.


Professors Doug Calisch, Dave Maharry, Bobby Horton, and Todd McDorman got together for this photo after the race.

Restoring a piano, remembering a mentor

Steve Charles—Last year, the first “half” of the gift of Jill and John Failey ’72 to Wabash—a new Steinway concert piano—was debuted in Salter Hall by world-renowned pianist Andreas Klein. The blend of the Failey’s generosity and Klein’s virtuosity as he played that new Steinway just a week before students sat at the same piano for their recitals was a great moment for the Wabash music department.

Sunday’s student and alumni recital celebrating the final half of that gift—the restoration of the College’s Bosendorfer Grand Piano—was even better. (See a photo album here.)

The audience was considerably smaller, the level of playing perhaps not on par with Klein’s mastery (though I’ll confess to preferring our students and alumni—they are remarkable musicians in their own right.).

But this was virtuosity of the heart. This was a reunion of teachers and past and present students. This was the restoration of the piano my colleague Nancy Doemel calls “the best example of the way in which Wabash knits together the needs of our students and faculty with the generosity of our donors.” This was a piano worn out lovingly by those students over the past two decades, restored to better than new by piano technician Michael Sowka. The worn-out pieces replaced, the once-cracked sound board repaired but still aged with twenty years of memories—more sonorous, more resonant, and sweeter sounding than any new piano could be.

For men like John Failey and his teacher—pianist, Wabash librarian, and long-time piano teacher Diane Norton—it was, in part, a restoration of the memory of Diane’s late husband, Wabash professor of music Fred Enenbach. A gifted musician, composer, and ensemble director, Enenbach helped obtain this piano for the College in 1983. He was there when the piano arrived at the Chapel, as Nancy Doemel recalled in her fine notes for the program:

“By that time, Fred was extremely ill with cancer, but by the end of the delivery and tuning, he was seated at the Bosendorfer, his head bent over the keyboard, eyes closed, tears streaming down his cheeks, filling the Chapel with the Bosendorfer’s rich sounds.”

Last Sunday, those sounds were heard again. The piano come to life beneath the hands of current students, some of the most gifted pianists we’ve had here in years. And alumni Steve Zusack ’06 and Ken Turchi ’80 returned. A student of Norton’s who took up the piano late in life, Turchi played Aaron Copland’s “The Cat and the Mouse” (a “scherzo humoristique” and the way Ken played it, it was every bit as fun as it sounds!).

Then Failey, who under Enenbach was one of the College’s first music majors,played the final number of the recital, as Norton turned pages for him. And when he finished triumphantly this very difficult Gyorgi Ligeti piece, his teacher by his side and beaming with pride, you couldn’t help but think of Fred Enenbach, the people he loved, the lives he touched, the legacy this instrument represents, and the joy it will bring future students and audiences.

Diane Norton wrote a tribute to Enenbach in the program, which I’ve excerpted here:

“When Fred and I were married in 1972, it was apparent that he had embarked upon a strong campaign to find a wonderful piano for performances, as the instruments we had in the Chapel and Yandes Hall did not meet the needs of a growing department with an extremely active concert schedule.

“When the Development Office provided the means for procuring a fine instrument, it was a dream come true.

“Recently, our daughters Elisabeth Enenbach and Anne Enenbach Gering, reminisced about watching the unloading of the Bosendorfer on the mall in late summer 1983. Fred was in the local hospital receiving treatment. When the call came from professor Stan Malinowski that the piano had arrived, however, Fred’s physician, Sam Kirtley ’71, inserted a shunt in his arm, and the two of us dashed to campus.

“Fred played the opening notes of a Ravel duet the two of us had performed often, then we played through our favorite duet repertoire for about two hours.

“The next time I played the Bosendorfer was for Fred’s memorial concert in the Chapel in March, 1984.”


In photos: John Failey plays an encore, John Adams’ “China Gates”; Failey gets a congratulatory hug from his teacher, Diane Norton; Failey talks after the recital with fellow pianist Kyle Prifogle ’09.

Joyful improvisation

Steve Charles—It’s not every day that a jazz Hall of Famer hears college kids play and instantly asks them to sit in with his band.

Especially not in Crawfordsville.

But that’s what happened Wednesday at the spring concert of Wamidan, the College’s world music ensemble. (Click here and here for photos from the concert.)

Indiana Jazz Hall of Famer Larry Clark’s group, Profile Unlimited—which also features jazz masters Frank Smith and Peter Kienle—was the guest act for the evening. Arriving early to set up, they caught part of Wamidan’s final run-through. Clark was especially impressed with the drumming—so impressed that he invited Bernard Meyer ’08, Taz Ahmed ’07, Teye Morton ’08. and Steve Hernandez ’08 to join his group for rehearsal. They then accompanied Profile Unlimited for the first two Afro-Cuban numbers of their set

“These drummers are amazing,” Clark told the Salter Hall audience later in the evening. “You don’t find drummers like this many places. You should be proud of them.”

The whole ensemble did us proud Wednesday night.

It was the final concert for four seniors—Crawfordsville High School’s Alix Hudson, whose is both an instrumentalist and a dancer; Fisayo Oluwadiya, co-founder of Wamidan’s musical partnership with Depauw and whose beautiful singing and spirited dancing have been highlights of Wamidan concerts for the past three years; James Boyd, a talented musician who has done practically everything for the group and was Wednesday night’s emcee; and Taz Ahmed, whose CD with his group, AJOB, was the number one CD in Taz’s home country of Bangladesh earlier this year.

That’s a lot of talent, and we’ll miss them next year.

But one of the highlights of Wednesday evening bodes well for next year’s edition of Wamidan. It came during the Honduran dance Steve Hernandez had introduced to the group. Teye Morton and Bernard Meyer were among the dancers in the piece. They’re great drummers, but less comfortable dancing (on stage, at least). But the Honduran dance needed them, so Bernard and Teye were good sports about it and helped out.

Still, I knew Teye wasn’t that happy about it.

So I was really surprised when he and Bernard broke into an improvised set of moves at the end of the piece. They had tall of us cheering them on.†It was the kind of spontaneity and teamwork we aim for in Wamidan, and it was especially rewarding to see these two students take that risk as dancers. They turned our performance into a party, and the improvisation kept coming throughout the night.

Much of the credit for the freedom they felt to experiment that night goes to visiting professor David Akombo, whose work with the ensemble concluded with this concert.

His last words to the group before the performance: "This is not a competition. Just go out there, relax, and enjoy yourselves."

But it’s also interesting that all this improvisation occurred on the night a Hall of Fame jazz player was in the house.

Helping Larry Clark set up his drums during the intermission, I asked him what he thought of what he’d seen and heard the first half of the concert.

“Beautiful,” he said. “Just beautiful."

In photos: (top right) Taz Ahmed enjoys his collaboration with Profile Unlimited; (lower left) Hall of Fame drummer Larry Clark.

New Ways to See

Steve Charles— “Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.”

That first line from her prize-winning poem “Song” was my introduction to the much-honored poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly. “Song” is a powerful, beautiful work that haunts me still. And any poet who starts with the command—“Listen”—like an apostle, or a village shaman—is not to be trifled with. I respect anyone who can so finely choose her words and craft her work. But a poet with such vision, with words that cut straight to the heart, and images that keep me up at night? Maybe not the person to bring to your kid’s birthday party.

So yesterday I walked with trepidation into the class in which Ms. Kelly planned to critique and “workshop” poems by students of our own poet, Marc Hudson.

I hadn’t seen their work under Marc’s teaching. Would it be like the post-adolescent drivel that so often populates undergraduate poetry collections?

Would Ms. Kelly rake the little “arteests” over the coals?

A revelation was at hand (and it was no rough beast.)

We have student poets at Wabash!

I’ll give you a few lines to taste.

From Bernard Meyer’s poem, “The Breaking”:

    I feel like the ocean that remains silent
    when the drowning body screams
    as it is swallowed whole—feeling,
    in essence,
    the part of the witness,
    and the murderer.

From Neil Cook’s “EVV,” named after the Evansville airport:

    There is no train station
    in my hometown. There are
     freight trains, but no
    place to go to say goodbye.
    Nowhere to run along
    outside the window, waving
    and crying and shouting, "I love you!"

From Nic Bitting’s “Winter Waters and Skies”:

    A red-tailed hawk circles above me
    painting his wings into
    winter sky.

And this image from Nick Gregory’s “After the Storm”:

    Quiet now
    The aimless bodies drift apart
    Two white puffs rare across blue sky
    Sprout trails of fabric that hang
    and writhe like the drowned folds
    Of a wedding dress lost at sea.

And Ms. Kelly is as generous and skilled a teacher as she is a poet. She told the students she was impressed with the variety and freshness of their work. She involved the entire class in the discussion, and the student poets seemed inspired. Cook and Meyer were still talking about the session an hour after the class, which Marc and Ms. Kelly extended so that we could workshop more poems.

“She opened my eyes to the whole poem in ways I hadn’t seen," Marc said about her work with Bernard Meyer. And Marc is the finest nurturer of young poets I know.

After such a day, and after Ms. Kelly’s reading last night, I was reminded of a line from a 1980s Bruce Cockburn song, “Maybe the Poet”:

“Maybe you and she may not agree, but you need her to show you ways to see.”

Brigit Kelly does that for me in her poetry, and did so with her teaching and reading Thursday.

But as a 52-year-old man, I was surprised to have my jaded eyes opened by men 30 years my junior.

It’s part of the exhilaration of working here. Students you think you know surprise you— they get better at what they do, more aware of themselves and their world, become wiser before your eyes.

My faculty friends speak of the genuine pleasure of learning from their students. I think I got a taste of that yesterday.


In photos: (upper right) Brigit Pegeen Kelly talks with students as she signs books following her reading; (lower left) Neil Cook and Bernard Meyer take a closer look at their work following Ms. Kelly’s workshop.

Sounds of Spring

Steve Charles—I was walking back to Kane House after lunch today when I heard the high notes of an alto saxophone reverberating off the walls of the Schroeder Career Center and Professor Hall Peebles house. I looked down the sidewalk to see senior Jake Lundorf, barefoot and in shorts and t-shirt, strolling along the street on this 80-degree spring day and playing his saxophone.

What a joyous sign of spring—the sound of live music in the middle of the day. I was reminded of my own student days at Hanover, Butler, and Trinity College in Wales, where warm days were always accompanied by instruments or voices from the open windows of practice rooms in the music department. It’s a sound I’ve not heard here since Dan Hartnett used to haul his cello onto the mall.

Jake is a psychology major, but he wants to teach. He said he’d been inspired to play outside by Professor David Blix’s story of another musician who used to play in the arboretum on beautiful, warm days.

"I’ve been pretty quiet on campus my four years," Jake said. "But on a day like this …"

Jake was really wailing on that sax—the sort of jubilant, lung-burning howl that could make guitar player like myself envious of Jake’s gift if I wasn’t enjoying the sound so much.

He finished his playing in the arboretum in the place of benches, stones, and spring flowers called the Petty Patch. It was donated by Phil Coons and Elizabeth Bowman in memory of poet-botanist-professor Robert Petty, a man who wrote about the natural world "burning with life." He would have loved Jake Lundorf’s response to that fire on this beautiful spring day.

A prayer for Susan

Steve Charles—It’s alarming how illness can slowly drag those we love out of our sight, out of the essential role they play in our daily lives. A friend and co-worker misses work a few days, then weeks, then months. You keep deluding yourself; she’ll be back someday, you say.

But the weeks pass, the latest project and deadlines preoccupy you, and soon you hear that this person who used to be so much a part of you is spending her days, every minute, fighting for her life.

That’s what Susan Cantrell, senior writer for our Wabash Public Affairs team, is doing today in Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. A series of health issues over the past several years have converged to put her there, but learning of her fight reminded me of how much we’ve missed her here at Wabash.

When I interviewed for my job at Wabash 12 years ago, Susan was the last person to talk with me. I’d been a nervous wreck meeting with all the deans and directors, but Susan’s disarming laugh and warm welcome put me at ease. Soon she had me talking about the things that mattered to me—things that, in my anxiety, I’d set aside trying to impress or figure out the deans.

As scores of Wabash students and professors that she has interviewed over the years will tell you, Susan creates a safe place for conversation. It’s both her vocation and simply who she is. She’s done it professionally as an aide for Senator Charles Percy, in her work with CBS in New York where she interviewed the social and political elite of the city, and she’s done it at Wabash as director of public relations and senior writer.

But she’s created that same safe space for years for her colleagues here at Wabash. And on that day 12 years she helped me to ask the one question I needed answered about Wabash.

“Is this a place you can believe in?” I asked her at the end of the interview. “Is this a place where the work you do can make a difference?"

Susan didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yes,” she said. She warned me that, like all institutions, Wabash had its quirks and flaws, some endearing, some enraging.

“But, yes, Wabash is a place you can believe in.”

Then, without realizing it, she proved it to me. She spoke about the people she loved here. “Love” is the only way to accurately describe it. Professors whose intellect, concerns for their students, integrity, or wisdom inspired her. Students whose curiosity and guts amazed her. Men and women, alumni and staff members whose knowledge or compassion had left her in awe.

She talked a little about the history of Wabash, but in terms of its people. (She had just written “The Pioneer Papers,” some of the best writing ever done about the College.) For Susan, Wabash has always been about the people. I left her office wanting to become a part of this place she so loved.

For 12 years as I’ve watched Susan’s roles at the College change, one thing hasn’t—her ability to show us why the person she’s writing about should matter to us. That, and her insistence that we matter to each other more than we dare say.

I’ve tried to learn that from her as she’s edited my work, written for me, or advised me regarding Wabash Magazine. I’ve tried to drink that in whenever I hear her laugh (probably the most recognizable laugh on campus), remembering how she truly delights in others and always takes time for them.

And now, writing this, I realize I’ve been in denial for many months, afraid to face the fact that it’s unlikely that Susan will be back working with us again, at least in the way we have worked together before.

I mourn that loss.

But Susan’s life has always been so much more than work. So call this a prayer—may Susan survive this latest illness, just as she has so many others. May she draw on the same power that creates that wonderful laugh of hers, and may she not be alone in her fight. May we see her again, soon, and begin to figure out together how we navigate that transition from co-worker to friend in this Wabash community that she loves. A transition we’ll all face someday.

For now, I’ll send a card. Cards and messages seem so inane and without power in the face of a debilitating illness. But Susan believes in the power of words, the surprising impact of the quiet, kind gesture. Her own words about Wabash professors, alumni, and students have been envelopes of light for so many during her years working here. She could use some sent her way now.


Susan Cantrell
Room B566
Methodist Hospital
Indianapolis, IN 46202

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.