The Connection between Things: A Reflection on Development Day

Posted on Apr 18, 2017

Our ATLE Blog series continues with a reflection on Faculty Development Day, April 13, 2017
The Connection between Things: A Reflection on Development Day

By Dr. Sarah Etlinger

When you are in the presence of greatness, you know it because you can feel it. There’s a delicious expectation of something amazing to come. On Thursday, April 13, 2017, I felt all of that, and more, while witnessing Prof. Paul Laprade’s presentation. Perhaps the expectation was even greater coming on the heels of his much-deserved “Faculty of the Year” win. The point is that greatness graced us during that hour, and touched me deeply in ways I’m still trying to parse.

The concert began with an enthusiastic version of “Do Lord”, a Black spiritual that the Chamber Singers had previously performed in celebration of Black History Month at RVC. However, the star of the show was undoubtedly the Brahms piece, performed in the original German. Prof. Laprade gave us a brief discussion of its history, and then presented—with help from the choir—differences in both interpretation and execution. Singers stood in different places so we could hear the difference in tonality and timbre. Then singers sang in English and German, accompanied, of course, by Paul’s own (good-natured) polemic on the value of singing in the original language. The choir moved on to more spirituals (Glenn Burleigh’s arrangement of “Order my Steps” was sublime) and other selections. A standing ovation followed.

What’s fascinating to me about this discussion of Brahms was the connection it seemed to have to almost all our disciplines—and I don’t think we really noticed it until Paul was unraveling it for us. In that few minutes of explication, Paul showed us how deeply connected music is to many other disciplines. We got a close-reading lesson in the discussion of “Mutter Hand” (Paul interpreted it as the mother’s womb, and connected that idea as a motif throughout the lyrics, using both musical tones and language changes to signal hope and then chaos); a lesson in German and issues of translation (Foreign language). We were treated to a discussion of music pedagogy (a run-down of high school concert choir techniques and how college differs); a neurobiology/psychology lesson in how the brain interprets sound and how the positioning of the singers, both in formations and in body carriage, affects the sounds we hear. I think this also ties in to Physics. I learned about history through the discussion of Brahms’ life and when Paul presented the significance of the African spirituals. We were also treated to a brief linguistics lesson, too. Finally, we had a lesson in politics through the presentation of the final song written by a young Mexican immigrant, looking for a place to call home. All this in less than an hour of choral singing. I still can’t believe how profoundly interdisciplinary it all was.

The interdisciplinarity didn’t stop at this presentation, though. Throughout the day I was constantly thinking about all the connections made. In the Title IX presentation by Rick Daniels, I was reminded of my ethical and civic responsibility to act on behalf of my students, not just for their good, but for the good of all of us. I was reminded that my classroom needs to be a welcoming space for everyone in the presentation on captioning; experiencing the difference between a poorly captioned video and a good one was eye-opening to say the least. And in the breakout session I attended, presented by Joe Haverly and Miki Bacino on integrating Eagle into face-to-face classes, I saw how regardless of discipline, good pedagogy needs to take center stage. What we are here to do is to illuminate our fields, our expertise, to our students in a way that they can translate it into their own lives, and I think showing the inter-connectedness of it all is something I ought to do more of in my own classes.

This brings me to my final point: this kind of work is so vital to what we all do, each day. It is so vital to our mission as a college, and as professors. Yes, as an English professor I work in the more subjective areas like language and writing; part of my schooling was always therefore somewhat interdisciplinary as I had to learn history, philosophy, psychology, economics, linguistics, language, and art to understand the literature and theory I was reading. So maybe I am more attuned to the interdisciplinarity of things. However, even I was blown away by the vastness of these connections when listening to my friend Paul’s beautiful concert. It strikes me days later that there were probably things I left out in my list above; how could I have kept track of it all and still enjoyed the music? Because, after all, that’s the goal, isn’t it? To create art so that we might connect with one another, or to give another pleasure? As Paul himself said during his lecture, the job of the arts is to frame how we “respond to humanity.” What are we missing, then, when we do not have this kind of connection? Given the recent circumstances at RVC, and nationally, I think these questions are far more than rhetorical.

I wonder, too, what else I am missing from my other colleagues’ disciplines? Yes, I think it’s vital to encourage and support the arts. But I keep wondering where I can find productive, meaningful, even beautiful connections in chemistry; in math equations; in a history lecture; or in a business analysis. It all comes down to this: I want to hear my colleagues discuss their fields and how they approach them. Do they, too, revel in the beauty of a perfect formula? Do they, too, gain almost subliminal satisfaction from delivering a perfect care plan? Is there art deeply embedded in the sciences? Without these kinds of presentations from faculty, we’ll never know. So while this piece is ultimately one praising and encouraging the arts, it is also one that calls for more of this kind of work for us all to witness on these days. How often are we in the presence of greatness without knowing it? Shouldn’t these encounters come more often in our lives? I think so, because I think it’s for the good of humanity.


By Dr. Sarah Etlinger, Communications and Humanities Professor

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