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The glow of winter arts programming radiated from Engelhard Hall in December and January as St. Andrew’s welcomed Counter)Induction, a national darling of contemporary chamber music aficionados; and Sarah Meister, a former curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography. Counter)Induction’s visit was this year’s featured Haroldson Masterclass Concert, and Meister was on campus to deliver the first in-person, on-campus Payson Art History Lecture since 2019.
Haroldson Masterclass Concert
Counter)Induction brought its eccentric energy and nuanced take on contemporary music to Middletown on December 2. The reason this ensemble won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award for Adventurous Programming was on full display, much to the delight of Sophie Mo ’24.
“The entire concert was weird, but that good weird, you know?” says an animated Mo. “The composer, Doug [Boyce], talked to us about the incohesion and cohesion in a piece, and how the space in between creates dissonance in music. It was just really cool.”
Director of Instrumental Music Dr. Fred Geierasbach was thrilled to welcome the ensemble, as he and Boyce are old friends and bandmates.
“Back in college, Doug and I were in a funk band together and shared a proclivity for avant-garde music,” he says. “Having Counter)Induction to our school was a wonderful experience. Students lingered for quite a while after the performance, captivated by the pianist's extended technique demonstrations and the vibrant conversations with each of the visitors.”
The trio that evening—cellist Caleb van der Swaagh, clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and pianist Ning Yu—played a selection of 19th century movements by Johannes Brahms and Louise Farrenc. The real magic for Mo, however, came when the group moved on to a more contemporary piece penned by composer Boyce. It was then that the mood turned electric—so much so that weeks later, Mo is still starry-eyed. “It was just like this frenzy of sounds all mashed together,” Mo, a cellist, remembers. “Then there would be this moment when you get into this clear, like, ‘Oh, okay. A melody, a motif.’ But then it went right back into these insane, jumbled, weird and crazy notes. That was the best part for me, seeing someone kind of just break all the rules.”
At one point, the pianist popped the hood on the piano and began to play by plucking the actual strings instead of tickling the black-and-whites. “At first I was confused because the sound she produced was so unusual. I had never seen someone use that technique before,” Mo says. “But I think part of the point of that was to show how one way to play an instrument doesn’t mean it’s the only way.”
It’s an idea that comforts Mo, who describes herself as a musician who likes to "guess and check and feel her way” through a piece. “I’m the kind of person who just goes to the music studio and fiddles for hours, trying out new things,” she says. (It appears to be working, by the way: Mo is headed to Delaware’s All-State Orchestra this year, an achievement she credits to Geiersbach’s invaluable tutelage).
Prior to the concert, students had the opportunity to take part in a masterclass with Counter)Induction. The chamber music group, for which Sophie Xu ’23 serves as first violin, got to play with the pros. “Caleb, the cellist, just did this absolutely insane solo,” Xu says. “It was really cool. Something he taught us in the masterclass was the idea to really feel the beat of the music and how playing at a faster pace can make the emotion stronger.”
What Xu most walked away with was the idea that sometimes the emotion and intention behind a note is more important than the note itself. “I think my understanding of music went to a whole new level because of this class,” Xu says. “We focused on feeling the emotion of the piece, but also performing the emotion of the piece. Counter)Induction taught us that it’s okay to play the wrong note, as long as the emotion behind it is right.”
At one point, cellist van der Swaagh stopped Xu’s opening cue to the group. He told her the emotion felt too strong, and that she ought to try to soften the emotion behind the cue. “I was blown away because I’d never heard that before,” she says. Something else she notes she took to heart that she didn’t think about often was that while the Motzarts of the world will always exist, there are living, breathing composers now. “I don’t think I really thought about that in this way before,” Xu says. “The composer, Doug, is composing and writing now. The music composers are making right now is what future St. Andrew’s students are going to be discussing. I love that idea.”
The only thing both students lament is that they didn’t have more time with Counter)Induction. “The composer Doug … he really talked to us,” Mo says. “We went from music to Socrates somehow and all these other places, and I wished we could have talked longer.”
Geiersbach has a feeling the trio would have stayed longer if they could. “They loved our Engelhard Hall, and were awed by the interest and attention our students showed,” he says. “It was a great night.”
You can watch Counter)Induction’s performance here.
Payson Art History Lecture
On paper, a mandatory art history lecture on a Friday night might seem like a drag. But around here, that’s only on paper. “One of the things that most inspired me about coming to St. Andrew’s was the idea that the learning far extends the actual classroom,” says Darden Shuman ’23. “Even though that extension goes into the weekend, I don’t care because guest lecturers like Sarah are so interesting.”
As evidenced by the vocal, lively crowd of students, faculty and parents who spent an intimate evening together on January 6 discussing why photography matters, Shuman wasn’t the only one entranced by former MoMA curator Sarah Meister’s lecture.
Meister, who for 20 years worked at MoMA, recently left the museum for a position as executive director of Aperture, a nonprofit arts organization and publisher of photography. She noted to the crowd that she felt galvanized to leave the museum not because she didn’t love her tenure, but because she felt a responsibility to use photography as a tool to reach more people and tell more stories.
“Many in positions like mine find fine-artist photography to be the pinnacle,” Meister said. “That thinking creates hierarchies, and by creating hierarchies, you are inadvertently suppressing, and only telling stories that privilege certain populations over others. There is a promise and a power bound up in the medium of photography. That matters.”
Walking students through an assortment of her favorite photos, from Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins (1967) to Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother (1936) to found vintage Polaroids from the ’50s (“’Unknown’ is my favorite photographer,” Meister said), Meister invited students to shout out their gut reactions to the images. (After many enthusiastic Saints callouts, Meister noted she underestimated how invested the crowd might be and perhaps they ought to switch to a raised-hand protocol.)
Meister’s enduring thesis statement for the evening—that not only do photographs carry power, but that that power rests in the hands of us all—was punctuated by an ask: “Look longer,” she implored students.
“What really struck me most about this lecture was that it was so centered in arts,” Shuman says. “I loved that we were talking about art in a way that felt academically important. To see the life this woman has built for herself was really inspiring.”
Shuman was particularly taken with Lange’s Migrant Mother, the image famous for bringing the hopelessness and poverty that Americans endured during the Great Depression into hyper focus. “I recognized the image, but not the story behind it,” she says. “It was cool to learn why it was so famous.”
While Shuman says she’s personally interested in art history and loves to spend time in art museums and galleries—a nod to a beloved tradition her grandmother started on family trips—Shuman herself won’t pursue arts. “But what I think is important for students is that we are exposed to a woman like Sarah. I think a lot of times a kid might say, ‘I want to major in English lit’ or ‘I want to pursue art history’ and an adult says, ‘Well, what are you going to do with that?’” Shuman says. “And then we maybe start listening to the rational part of our brain instead of giving into a passion. But this lecture proves you can make a career in the space of art. I think that’s an important message.”
Ike Lawrence ’23, too, walked away with a message: “Take a breath,” he says. “I think this lecture went hand-in-hand with something I really advocate for, and that is one of the reasons I came here, and that is the St. Andrew’s phone policy. Something my generation needs to work on is the idea she talked about, of ‘Look longer.’ Even just walking around campus here: It’s so beautiful. Without phones, we are forced to take in that moment and look around. I feel really thankful for that perspective that St. Andrew’s has given me.”
Lawrence says that it’s lectures like these that prove something to him: he’s grown up since he entered St. Andrew’s as a new sophomore. “I felt a level of appreciation and admiration for this lecture that I think I can credit to now being a senior and thinking about the world differently,” he says. “MoMA is a very big deal in the art world, and to have her come speak to us in this very personal way is the kind of thing I can really appreciate and value.”
Like Shuman, he, too, found himself drawn to one of Meister’s images. For him, it was Arbus’ Identical Twins. “At first glance, it’s two twins that look identical,” he says. “But the more you look at it, you begin to see all the differences until it feels like they’re not the same at all. I found that really fascinating.”
Both Shuman and Lawrence have enough senior sense to wish the students coming up behind them do precisely what Meister’s asked: Look longer. Appreciate. Reflect.
“I hope students continue to develop appreciation for talks like this, and see how unique and cool it is that St. Andrew’s cares enough about our learning and our development to bring in experts of this level,” Lawrence says.
Adds Shuman, “Seeing meaningful conversations like this take place, even on a Friday night, is a privilege. I know that this is St. Andrew’s investing in me.”
You can watch Meister’s talk here.
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