Guest Writer: Timothy Blaisdell
In recent years, the fine arts programs in many schools including AU seem to be undervalued resulting in budget cuts, downsizing and in some cases, being weeded out altogether.
At the end of my freshman year, several faculty members from various departments were let go; four of them were from the School of Music, Theater and Dance. I am a music composition major, so these cuts directly affected me since these were professors I studied under.
I fully understand that AU is, or at least was, in a financial crisis, so my issue is not that there were cuts. Nonetheless, I think that the arts are somewhat being forgotten in our national and local education systems, so my goal is to help shed some light on the importance of the arts. The best way I can do that is to share a personal story from this semester.
My father was born on an Air Force base in Germany and spent much of his childhood there. During that time, he learned a lot of the German language. Years later, when I was a child, he would tuck me into bed each night and say, “Schlafe gut, Ich liebe dich,” which means, “Sleep well, I love you.” These little German phrases came to be very meaningful to me.
My dad is a professor at Purdue University and teaches graduate-level fluid dynamics in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which is obviously very different from what I do as a composer. This difference further manifests itself in our personalities.
As an artist, I tend to be more emotional, and as a rocket scientist, he tends to be much more logical. This stark contrast sometimes makes it very hard to communicate effectively with my father on a personal level.
However, at the most recent Student Composition Recital, I performed a vocal quartet I wrote entitled “Schlafe Gut,” which drew its text from the German phrases that my dad said to me as a kid. The song served as a simple lullaby that a father would sing to their child.
This is the song’s translation:
Sleep well my peanut
I love you, so do not cry
But dream deep and sweet
Oh, dream be sweet
The stars come and say
Sleep well and good night
My father was able to come to the performance, and he was deeply moved by the song. It sparked a beautiful conversation between us over dinner that night. This is the power of music.
While in regular conversation he and I often struggle to understand each other; this music was an incredibly effective way for me to express my feelings and appreciation to him. He was completely surprised by it, and it is something I believe he and I will both remember fondly forever.
Granted, this is just one personal experience, but there is a deeper meaning behind this story that really speaks to the importance of the arts. We as humans are emotional creatures, but in this capitalistic world that is so wrapped up in science, technology, engineering and math, it is easy for us to forget our need for emotional connection.
Just as “Schlafe Gut” evoked an emotional response from my logical father, music and other forms of art have incredible power to bring people of wildly different backgrounds and personalities together.
Beyond being a way to bring people together, music and the arts is an effective way to ask important social questions and allow people to think and examine issues on their own.
One such example is last year in the Chorale choir, we sang a song called “Please Stay.” Its goal was to bring hope to people suffering from feelings of suicide and self-harm. Every time we sang that song, it was a very emotional experience as one might imagine, but the most meaningful part was the conversations that resulted.
After each concert, several members of the Chorale were engaged in conversation by teary-eyed audience members expressing how the piece touched them. Each person’s story was different; sometimes they had lost a family member or a friend to suicide, and other times they themselves were struggling with such thoughts and feelings.
It’s fascinating to think that the same song had such an impact on people whose situations were entirely unique. Again, this points to the power of the arts and how people of all backgrounds can find their own meaning and be impacted by it.
While I am focusing pretty strongly on the arts, this is not to say that other fields of study are not important. Obviously, as a society, we need doctors, teachers, business leaders and all other occupations, so don’t think that I am trying to in any way diminish the importance of these.
Our society is like a puzzle, and every piece is important. Music and the arts are one of these pieces, and by itself, it is not a whole puzzle, and yet the puzzle is incomplete without it.
As far as the budget cuts and downsizing of arts programs go, that is far beyond my area of expertise, and I can offer no solution, nor should I, given my naivety on the vast inner workings of our institutions financial structure.
However, I would encourage everyone to be mindful of their own emotional needs and to really consider the importance of the arts.
I hope that the stories I have shared have in some way shown some light on the impact that the arts can have, and I hope that in reading this you have, at least, a refreshed perspective on this topic.
Timothy Blaisdell is a junior music theory and composition major from West Lafayette, Indiana.