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The Arts: Living Well in Both Worlds

By Julia M. Klein

Harvard's name usually comes in for some heavy tarnishing when the subject of the performing arts is raised. The University is "very provincial" in its attitude towards the arts, Martha A. Gray, director of the Summer School's Dance Center, says. "It's very pathetic how they treat people on the Faculty in the arts."

Leon Kirchner, Rosen Professor of Music--and one of the people in that category--agrees. Kirchner says he's getting tired of repeating the same old arguments about the importance of music performance in a community "which has not been very understanding of non-verbal forms of intelligence."

Traditionally Harvard has not looked kindly on awarding credit for courses involving performance. Nor is the University particularly noted for its financial generosity to the extracurricular organizations that have served as the main outlet for artists at Harvard. "When there are economic problems, the arts are the first to be cut," Kirchner complains.

But if Harvard stubbornly slights the performing arts in the winter, its rigidity thaws in the summer sun. Both Gray and Kirchner credit that thaw partially to Thomas Crooks, director of the Summer School, under whose aegis has grown a program of arts performance and instruction unlike anything in the winter University.

The different parts of this program--which includes forays into theater, dance, music, arts administration, and even woodworking--call for varying levels of expertise; some are designed for trained professionals, others accept the rawest beginners. As a whole, the program serves a dual function, Crooks says: it allows student artists "to perform as professionally as they can under professional supervision," and it provides a service to the Boston community by alleviating what otherwise, Crooks says, would be a local "cultural famine."

With the successful development of the summer arts behind him, Crooks, unlike Kirchner, is optimistic about the future of the performing arts at Harvard. "The pressures for educating the other half of the brain are growing every year," he says. "People here say, 'We don't want to become a conservatory.' Of course we don't. A conservatory doesn't want to become Harvard either--of course it doesn't. But some people can live well in both worlds and benefit from it."

And for those people, the heat and humidity notwithstanding, the Summer School provides a far more congenial habitat than its winter counterpart.

The Dance Center

The Dance Center is perhaps the Summer School's most ideal blend of classroom instruction and actual performance, of hard-core professional training and enthusiastic dabbling.

At the core of the center's program are four dance concerts presented by members of its resident company of professional dancers and choreographers, and by students in the program. Performers at night, the company metamorphoses in the daylight hours into a faculty which offers courses ranging from "Modern Technique" and "Ballet" to the less tiring "American Dance History, 1792-1976."

The schedule for students and faculty is heavy--classes often from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rehearsals at night, informal workshops every Wednesday evening. "You can dance six hours a day, and then some," according to Gray, who is already the victim of a sprained ankle.

The intensity of the collaboration between the pros and their protegees--most of whom Gray says are intermediates--is balanced, ideally, by its informality. The four-year-old center aims to create "an atmosphere of hanging around together," Gray says.

"The students who come here are very questing," she says. "They say 'Here I am involved in a crazy art from which people say is going to spell doom for my life.' They need contact with people who've found some answers."

The Repertory Theater

Harvard's most elegantly appointed theater is already decked out with red, white and blue streamers to publicize the opening of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple--the first of three Harvard Summer School Repertory Theater offerings.

George Hamlin, producing director of the Loeb, calls the Rep the most visible of Summer School arts programs, both because of its successful 16-year history and because "we do more than anyone else"--48 performances worth.

The Rep is not the most democratic ensemble, at least when it comes to participation in its performances. While Dance Center students pool their talents with professionals on-stage and off, theater students must content themselves instead with the handful of Theatre Arts courses offered by the Summer School--in the summer the Loeb becomes the exclusive province of professionals.

Hamlin recruits members of the Rep from New York, Boston and various drama schools, and he says the recruitment process is not much of a problem. "This theater and summer operation have a tremendous reputation across the country. If I were to ask someone if he wanted to be in the company, he would automatically say yes," he says.

This summer--in addition to the opening play by Shaw, which will open July 4 and run through July 24, the Loeb will host Life with Father and That Championship Season for 12 nights each. All three are geared to fulfilling the second need Crooks outlined--providing what Hamlin calls "background enrichment" for Summer School students and the community at large.

The Summer School Chamber Players

This most select of Summer School musical organizations is Kirchner's four-year-old brainchild, and its composition and rehearsal schedule are both very much in line with his ideal of musical training--intensive immersion in the theory and practice of music by a group of top-flight musicians, both young hotshots and more experienced pros.

A long-time advocate of granting credit for musical performance combined with analysis, Kirchner has always focused his efforts on the upper crust of Harvard musicians. "Unless you have a high-powered, hot center, the other stuff turns to garbage, like finger-painting," he says. But while Music 180, the advanced performance course Kirchner pioneered, remains relatively elite--last year it accepted only 29 of 100 applicants--the course seems downright plebeian alongside the Chamber Players.

For the Chamber Players, Kirchner culls from 180 the top musicians at Harvard (this year, Lynn Chang, Robert Portney, Richard and Judy Kogan and Yo-Yo Ma), selects another seven or eight young musicians from across the country ("the best students" of "the best teachers"), and then invites four or five pros, mostly Marlboro Music Festival alumni, to join in a series of Monday night chamber concerts throughout the summer.

According to Kirchner, to really perform well, the very best must work very hard--"to the bone, to the point of almost suicide." The Chamber Players live and breathe music about 10 to 12 hours a day, split between rehearsal and practice time. In general, one "elder" plays in each ensemble to provide musical guidance for the younger musicians, but Kirchner stresses that young and old interact with "real equality" throughout the intensive program. "We criticize each other," he says. "It's part of growing up in music."

This year the Chamber Players are presenting five concerts, each featuring a work by Schubert and an American composer--including one piece by Kirchner himself.

Kirchner considers the Chamber Players only an "infinitesimal thing," compared to the "powerful curricular approach" to the arts which he feels is really needed at Harvard. But next year, even the Chamber Players face extinction because of University budget cuts, unless President Bok or Dean Rosovsky intervenes.

"Bok has been good to the arts," Kirchner says. "But he's got to be better."

The Cantabrigia Orchestra, Chorus and Band

Musically-inclined Summer School students--and other community members--who aren't exactly Chamber Players material will still have plenty of opportunities to exercise their musical talents this summer.

The Summer School Orchestra and Chorus, both directed by Michael Zearott, require auditions, but the standards are not too demanding, and the spectrum of people accepted is fairly wide, according to Julie Montgomery, who handles promotion for the Summer School arts program. Orchestra members generally include all stripe of musician from ardent high schoolers to professional union members anxious not to pass the summer without performing.

Once through auditions, chorus and orchestra members rehearse twice a week and begin and end their concert season in August with separate performances in Sanders Theater.

Woodwind, brass and percussion players who don't make the orchestra needn't despair: there's always the Summer School Band under the direction of Tom Everett. They don't even require auditions. And they only rehearse once a week. "We just want to give people an opportunity to come together and make some music," Everett says.

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