Johns Hopkins Magazine -- April 1999
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APRIL 1999

H U M A N I T I E S    &    T H E   A R T S

A poet whose time has come... music's complicated business... asserting authority through anthroplogy... "18 Dances"

Hadas at home
Photo by
Cynthia Haven
Rediscovering the classic in poetry

She has been called one of the most gifted poets of her generation. Others have praised her "uncanny eye," "urgent sympathies," and "rich imagination."

Rachel Hadas's life has not been short of kudos, and her pace seems to be building with the years. Last year--the year she turned 50--saw the publication of Halfway Down the Hall, a collection of new and selected poems ("in them, antiquity illuminates the present," said Grace Schulman, poetry editor of The Nation) and also a new translation of Euripides' lyrical Helen.

In an era that is rediscovering the classic in poetry, Hadas's time has come: she holds a master's degree in poetry from Hopkins's Writing Seminars ('77), as well as a Radcliffe BA in the classics. Her father, Moses Hadas (1900-66), was one of the leading classical scholars of our times.

Her heritage has given her a wise grounding in modesty. "One of the important things I learned is that there's no such thing as originality in poetry--it's all a matter of variations on what has gone before," she says, as she relaxes into an upholstered chair in her upper West Side apartment. "This is very important in the aesthetics of Latin poetry--the Greeks had already done it."

Her father was 48 when she was born; she was 17 when he died. After graduating from Radcliffe, she left for Samos, where she married a beautiful Greek islander with a fourth-grade education. The marriage ended four years later, but she had found her vocation. Her years in Samos gave her a solid grounding in the modern Greek tongue. "My ancient Greek really died giving birth to modern Greek," she says. In addition to translating Seneca, Tibullus, Baudelaire, and Hugo, she has translated Konstantine Karyotakis (1896-1928), perhaps the first to do so into English.

In recent years, Hadas has become best known for the poetry anthology that resulted from her AIDS poetry workshops, Unending Dialogue: Voices from an AIDS Poetry Workshop (Faber & Faber, 1991).

"All the people I worked with are gone--but they left their poetry behind, and that meant a lot to many people--family, friends," says Hadas. "People are being influenced by them. Composers are setting their work (to music). I feel like I am holding their afterlives in my hand."

With a dozen books, a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry, an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant in poetry, and an award in literature from the American Academy/Institute of Arts and Letters, Hadas is in the forefront of American letters. Parnassus called her "an urban poet and an urbane one"--and clearly she is wedded to the intellectual life of New York City, where she's content to stay.

"Most of my adventures are interior," she says. "I am quite satisfied with an externally unadventurous life. I'm extremely suited to my life. I'm extremely lucky." --Cynthia Haven

by Bruno Paciulli
Entrepreneurial musicians

While the occupational path is straightforward for many fields, music is not one of them. "The music profession is more complicated and entrepreneurial than it has been in the past," says Robert Sirota, director of Hopkins's Peabody Institute. The next generation of musicians, he says, must "have what it takes to build new audiences and revitalize the profession. They will not sit around waiting for someone else to save them."

To address the complicated business of the music business, the Peabody chapter of the Hopkins Alumni Association has inaugurated a new seminar series that will debut on April 13 with a panel discussion at Peabody's Griswold Hall.

The seminar is aimed at current Peabody students and recent graduates. "The goal is to address career issues that go beyond academics," says Deborah Lazenby, Peabody's assistant director of alumni relations. What constitutes a career in music? Performance? Teaching? Conducting? Running a record company? Some combination of two or three? How do you get started? Where are the holes in the road?

Panelists will include Ed Goldstein (Peabody '78), director of the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble and the Baltimore Jazz Orchestra; Andrea Jackson-Gewirtz (Peabody '92), an announcer for National Public Radio; and James Harp (Peabody '82), chorus master of the Baltimore Opera and an organist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. --Dale Keiger

"Civilizing" the Philippines

At the victorious conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States purchased the Philippines from Spain. After putting down a local rebellion, the U.S. found itself with something it had never had before: a colonial possession halfway around the globe. The U.S. now ruled the Philippines, a country it knew nothing about. According to a Hopkins historian, the new American governors tried to assert--and justify--their authority partly through the emerging discipline of anthropology.

Paul Kramer, assistant professor of history, says the Americans sponsored anthropological studies to construct a "pragmatic empire." That is, the U.S. claimed that it was not going to be an oppressor or exploiter; instead, the Americans would study the Filipino peoples to identify where they needed to be "uplifted," so that over time the "properly tutored" Filipinos would assume control over their own affairs.

This "pragmatic" approach had another goal, Kramer says. There was strong anti-imperialist sentiment in the U.S. after the war, and after American troops put down the nationalists' revolt. By sponsoring scientific research, says Kramer, U.S. officials hoped to convince critics that American occupation of the islands was worthy as a scientific enterprise that ultimately would benefit Filipinos by "civilizing" them.

American governors established the Bureau of NonChristian Tribes to conduct ethnological surveys and anthropological studies that would tell how best to "uplift" the population. Some members of the educated Filipino elite collaborated on these studies, says Kramer, sharing knowledge of their countrymen in return for political patronage.

But there were also those in the Filipino elite who resisted American rule; they conducted their own ethnography and published their findings to demonstrate that the Philippines had civilization and culture long before any Westerners arrived.

"Whose account of the Philippines really matters?" Kramer asks rhetorically. Were the Filipinos backward natives unfit for independence, as argued by American ethnologist Dean Worcester? Or were they diverse peoples with long cultural traditions? Says Kramer, "A lot of the struggle between the American occupiers and Filipinos [was] over anthropological terms."

Americans blundered when they mounted an exhibit at the 1904 world's fair in St. Louis. Officials imported 1,100 Filipinos to demonstrate how well the natives could become civilized under firm American guidance. The exhibit included marching Scouts, examples of "uplifted" Filipinos, and a large number of tribesmen, meant to represent the "naked savages" who needed American rule. Public attention focused on the "savages," Kramer says, alienating the Filipino elites. The Philippine Assembly's Lower House, a legislative body of elected Filipinos, cut funds for anthropological research, and later outlawed the ethnographic photography of naked tribesmen. They also argued that whatever "uplift" they had needed for independence had been achieved; it was time for the Americans to go home.

By 1920, says Kramer, the U.S. government saw less need for formal rule and began handing power over to Filipinos amenable to American interests. Formal political independence was achieved in 1946. --DK

A "provocative" statement

During more than two decades as a guitarist and record producer, David Starobin (Peabody '73) has come to know a wide variety of contemporary composers. For his latest recording, he coaxed compositions from 18 of them. The result is Newdance: 18 Dances for Guitar, which has been nominated for a 1999 Grammy Award.

"I wanted to make this album a provocative statement about style, and I think I've largely succeeded," Starobin says. "I intentionally chose composers who would create large juxtapositions of style. I wanted to be able to put a piece of Latin popular music next to the kind of bracing atonal piece like Elliott Carter would write."

Newdance includes Carter's "Shard," a propulsive piece written in the composer's 90th year; a tango, of sorts, from John Anthony Lennon; a piece from Richard Wernick inspired by Yemenite wedding music; and "Open Up Your Ears," which composer Bryan Johanson describes as "a notion of what Jimi Hendrix might have played like, had he played on a classical guitar."

Starobin, who now heads the classical guitar program at Manhattan School of Music, began studying at Peabody when he was 14, with guitarist Aaron Shearer. "In those years there was no Metroliner and I was coming from Long Island, so basically I was spending 10 hours on the train to grab this one-hour lesson," he recalls.

Newdance has been issued on the Bridge label, which is owned and operated by Starobin and his wife, Becky (Peabody '73). "I thought there was a need for certain production standards and repertoire choices that was not met by the larger companies," Starobin says. "So I took a gamble and started the company." Bridge also has a 20-year contract with the Library of Congress, to restore and issue recordings from the library's collection of performances held at its Coolidge Auditorium.

Starobin will perform with the Peabody Symphony on May 8. He is to be honored by the Peabody chapter of the Hopkins Alumni Association as a distinguished graduate. --DK