On Culture: Special Events Provide Midweek Culture Break Mike Field ---------------------- Staff Writer What inspiration did Aaron Copland find to help him compose? What does Yo Yo Ma think about when he picks up and begins to play his cello? What is the sound and artistry of traditional Indian music? Or African American diaspora storytelling? Does God command faithful Christians to handle poisonous snakes? If universities are a collection of inquisitive minds, then these questions--and others like them--might be expected to provoke some curiosity on campus. At Hopkins, for 30 years now, they have. Two university organizations--the Office of Special Events on the Homewood campus and the Medical Institutions Office of Cultural Affairs on the East Baltimore campus--have been bringing thinkers, performers, artists, writers, poets and politicians to the Hopkins community through a variety of programs going as far back as 1965. Often free, sometimes controversial and almost never without a strong contingent of interested audience members, these events are designed to bring the various members of the university's diverse community together for an hour or more of something different. On the Homewood campus, the Office of Special Events' popular Wednesday Noon Series offers faculty, staff, students and community members an opportunity to spend a lunch hour watching a performance or hearing an author talk about a recent book. Now in its 25th year, the noon series was established to unite individuals from different schools and departments in common intellectual discovery; the series often includes the offbeat, the challenging and, sometimes, the purely entertaining. All of the Wednesday Noon Series events are free and open to the public. "I try to present things that are different," said Mary Ellen Robinson, director of the Office of Special Events and creator of each semester's noon series program. "It's not all lectures or music; some are pure entertainment. My goal is to provide something for almost everyone at least once a semester." This season's offerings include, among others, a presentation of the video of the 1994 London International Advertising Awards, a lecture and presentation of German lieder and French chansons, an investigation into the current debate surrounding the orphanage and welfare, and a lecture by the author of a book about snake handling among religious sects in southern Appalachia. The Office of Special Events advertises each semester's offering through a mailer that goes out to about 35,000 individuals at Hopkins and in the surrounding communities. In addition to featuring the Wednesday Noon Series, the brochure typically lists special concerts and other events sponsored through Robinson's office. "We are additionally responsible for the endowed lectures on campus, such as the Kent and the Pouder," Robinson said, "and we also host occasional performances for which we must charge admission to help defray costs. This season, for instance, we are featuring the Empire Brass Quintet, Andrew Roblin and the Pocono Mountain Men, and the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble." Tickets to those events range in price from $10 to $22 with discounts offered to seniors and full-time students. At the Medical Institutions, the Office of Cultural Affairs is celebrating its 18th season with a full slate of lectures, performances, readings and events. "We were established in 1977 as a pioneer venture to bring the humanities and the performing arts into the medical school environment," said Christin Goodell, coordinator of the Office of Cultural Affairs. "Our role has been expanded to include all members of the East Baltimore community, not just the medical school, but our mission remains the same: to bring together various members of the community and to enable people to get away from the focus of their jobs to experience performances and to sit and discuss issues of importance. We provide a much-needed outlet on this campus. As you might guess, we don't have a problem over here with people who are not focused." The East Baltimore office runs many different programs ranging from the purely entertaining to the intensely intellectual. Its humanities series features lectures grouped around a theme, typically one related to some aspect of health care. This semester, for instance, the series is titled "Patients and Fortitude: Authors and Their Illnesses" and includes a lecture on depression as experienced by family members of the depressed by Rose Burgunder Styron, wife of author William Styron. Others in the series--noted author Julian Barnes, faculty member Paul McHugh and writer Paul West--will look at various aspects of health and the writer. The Midday Performance Series--a consistently popular program among faculty, students, staff and patients alike--brings music, performance and other entertainment to the hospital's Hurd Hall for free hourlong events at noon on many Tuesdays during the semester. "We try to bring a great deal of diversity to the programming," Goodell said. "Within the one-hour recital format we have scheduled classical music, mime, jazz, theatrical interludes, monologues, dialogues, discussions--all sorts of events that would be of interest to our audience." This semester's programs include the classical guitar of Stephen Turley, the comedic illusion of Robert K. Strong and the choral music of holiday carols sung beneath the hospital dome. The conversation series, begun when the office was established in 1977, was designed to bring nationally and internationally renowned individuals to the medical school campus to talk about what they do. In the past 18 years the series has brought composer Aaron Copland to talk about creating music, virtuosos Isaac Stern and Yo Yo Ma to talk about performance and many others--including U.S. senators, college presidents, historians, poets, directors and editors--to talk about what they do. This season, former governor and longtime mayor William Donald Schaefer will take the pulse of the city, and science writer Laurie Garrett will talk about newly emergent diseases in two evening events. Many of the events in past years have been videotaped, and edited lending copies are made available through the Welch, Eisenhower and Enoch Pratt public libraries. In addition, the office maintains a running narrative, in notebook form, of each season's events and some of the highlights to come out of its programming. "The Office of Cultural Affairs has been a national pioneer in pulling together the arts and sciences in a medical context," Goodell said. "Many other medical institutions have copied our lead in this area. I think what makes this program particularly successful is that we recognized early on we needed to be cross-institutional and focus on providing events that have broad appeal among all our constituencies. That is still what we try to do." Information about the Wednesday Noon Series or other cultural events at the Homewood campus can be obtained by calling the Office of Special Events at (410) 516-7157. Information about the Midday Performances or other cultural events on the East Baltimore campus can be obtained by calling the Office of Cultural Affairs at (410) 955-3363.
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