All that jazz
Okaythis thing, David Matthews says, moving in front of a keyboard, I kind of know how to get some sound out of this. The second-year graduate student in the music composition program taps a few keys, and the instrument lets out a long, sustained groan. More students start to trickle in, dropping their backpacks in a pile and assembling themselves around a drum set, two keyboards, and three pianos.
Its Saturday, and most people are enjoying a long-awaited day off. But for eight students in Bellefield Hall, a three-hour introductory studio engineering class is about to begin. The students digitally record their own music, edit it, and then copy it onto CDs. And they do it all in this modest-looking room with low ceilings and burgundy-colored carpeted walls.
Dave Granati, the instructor, begins speaking before hes through the door. Well probably try to lay down about a four-minute piece of music, he says, because the assignment will be to put some overdubs on it. The students start moving around the room, twisting microphones onto stands, and running cords across the floor.
Granati asks for a volunteer to do a sound check. Michael Foulk, a sophomore music major, pulls out a guitar, and says he can also sing. Perfect. Granati sets him up with microphones. Then, he and the rest of the students retreat to the adjoining mixing room where two speakers will enable them to hear Foulks music while they watch him through a sound-proof glass wall. The recording session has begun.
Edward J. Humes
Bills excellent adventure
|Native dancers in Mongolia perform for Pitt students outside the countrys capital, Ulaanbataar.
He had never been outside the United States. He didnt think hed ever travel. With about a year left until graduation from Pitt, Bill Laboona computer science and political science major in the Honors Collegewas ready to embrace life in a cubicle at some high- tech firm. But then he got an e-mail that offered him a temporary reprieve.
The e-mail noted a trip to Mongolia to participate in a research project. Four months later he and five other students, on their way to Mongolia, were having lunch in Moscow near Red Square.
Finding handy seating on a World War II monument, they dined on a very European lunch, freshly baked bread and cheese. Suddenly, a Russian police officer, toting a submachine gun, ran toward them screaming unintelligibly. The group was about to learn a valuable lesson. The Russians take their war monuments seriously, Laboon explains.
From Moscow they boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway. A little more than a week later, after a two-day stop in Siberia, they arrived in the capital of Mongolia.
Students in the Honors College program are exposed to the Mongolian culture, language, and its economic development. From this exposure they craft a research paper. The program is unlike other exchange programs because it includes undergraduate research.
Laboons research paper focused on the economic development of a Third World culture. He noted how Mongolia is isolated from the rest of the world.
There are few airports, many have dirt runways. Most roads arent paved. The Trans-Siberian, the nations lone railroad, offers direct service to Moscow, but a non-stop trip takes six days, and onboard amenities dont include air conditioning or showers. In talking with government officials, Laboon discovered the country has been focusing its educational endeavors on improving the sciences, math, and computer science. Yet only the central part of the country has Internet access, and the system is archaic.
Not only did the students have an opportunity to learn more about the country, they also learned how to tackle diverse situations, like dealing with a translator, conducting research in a country with spotty records, and understanding cultural differences.
Even in these unsettled times, Laboon says his future travel plans include more than to a cubicle.
Touched by an angel
In the Old World paradise, the rain came in great sheets. The church was sweaty. The choir was told not to expect much of a turnout. Perhaps that was for the best.
Weeks before that concert on the Croatian island of Hvar, the Heinz Chapel Choirs Erin McPherson had struggled with her solo part in Ave Maris Stella. Singing in Latin, with a soft and distant voice, she couldnt get it quite right, couldnt touch the spirit of the ancient hymn.
|Members of Pitts Heinz Chapel Choir on tour along the Dalmation coast in Croatia.
David Turnerwho was choir president during last years tour of Croatia and Italyremembers his apprehension about the performance. To heighten his anxiety, the low turnout turned into an unexpected standing-room-only crowd at the ancient stone Cathedral of St. Stephen. In the crowd, an elderly man in the front row caught the eye of Turner. Others noticed him, too. Choir director John Goldsmith later learned the man was a retired fisherman who was in his 90s.
The performance would be without accompaniment. Goldsmith struggles to explain the appeal of singing a cappella, the choirs forte. He compares it to something he says non-singers might understand: its like being wrapped in a blanket fresh from a clothes dryer. A warmth that washes over you. Turner says the music touches your heart.
Thats what happened in Hvar.
McPherson remembers singing her solo as never before. Touched by the choirs performance, the old man in the front row began sobbing. Great tears slid down his ruddy cheeks. Others in the audience began crying, too. Then, members of the choir cried. It was hearing the voice of your very soul, says McPherson. Someone told her she had the voice of an angel. This church has never heard music like this, the parish priest said. Ever.
When the concert ended, the applause went on and on. Finally, the crowd drifted out of the church. The experience left some of the choir stunned. One member swears he left part of himself in the cathedral.
McPherson found herself lingering after the performance. The rain had stopped. Eventually, she ventured into the warm night, opting to walk back to the hotel instead of taking the shuttle.
Kris B. Mamula
One night stand
I wanted to be naked for this reading.
Poet Gail Giewont speaks these words into the microphone at Fuel and Fuddle, a restaurant a few blocks from the Cathedral of Learning. Shes not naked. Instead, the 23-year-old graduate student wears a colorless frock buttoned to the neck.
She recounts for a tittering crowd of primarily Pitt graduate students from the English department how she struggled to reconcile her want of public nudity with the prospect of potential arrest for indecent exposure. I thought of standing behind a screen, she says, or wearing a flesh colored body suit.
Then, she starts to unbutton the dress. The spectatorsmost of them regulars who attend every week to listen to their classmatesshift in their seats, nervous as children anticipating a racy scene in a movie theyre watching with their parents. Glasses cease clinking. Forks pause midway from plate to mouth.
But then . . . The last button freed, Giewont yanks off the dress with a flourish. She stands akimbo in a speck of red dress. A black bra and stockings peek out from underneath. . . . I realized I dont have to be naked.
The restaurant seems to erupt.
People were actually complimenting me on that [discarded] dress, she says to the rowdy crowd as she points to the puddle of cheap fabric behind her. My God, people, my mother would wear that!
Giewonts mother might blush at her daughters verse, all sweaty nuns, hot palms, and odes to a God who is without His pants. In breathy, seductive rhythms, she reads a chronicle of her Catholic girlhood. But this is no candlelight vigil.
Readers at Fuel and Fuddle compete with circling waiters and pints of beer for attention. Less formal than its parent series at Hemingways Caféwhich hosts more published writers than fledgling authorsthe Thursday night reading series is sort of the black sheep of the MFA program. Virgin readers welcome the renegade vibe.
We bond at these nights, says co-organizer Erin Teegarden, who is in her second year of the program. The camaraderie of the crowd certainly helps ease the nerves of green students. But the writers here are seldom mooning wallflowers.
Teegarden closes the night with the only poem of hers that she knows by heart.
You had me like a snake in a stapler, she hisses, narrowing her eyes to slits. The crowd roars in recognition, responding as if she were a rock star, not a student poet. Teegarden describes a brief affair gone bad, lapsing into the musical rhythm of a hip-hop MC. The audience moves with her, freed from the headiness of their daily routines, anticipating the coming weekend, and cheering poetry that is relevant, funny, accessible, alive.
|WPTS-FM radio sports director Matt Schliesman
When Notre Dame played Pitt last fall, Pittsburgh residents had their pick of radio coverage. They could listen to the Panthers broadcast team over classic rock station WRRK. They could listen to Notre Dames version of the broadcast (boo, hiss!) over all-news KQV.
For the hardcore Pitt fan, however, there was only one real choicestudent-run WPTS-FM. Broadcasting 17 watts from the top of the cathedral, PTS can be a tough catch outside Oakland, though the station is also available on the Internet at www.wpts.pitt.edu.
While WPTS provides a uniquely student perspective on athletics, the stations sports director, Matt Schliesman points out that listeners shouldnt expect mistake-free broadcasts. You have to look at it as a lab, he says. All WPTS hosts are volunteers, most carrying a full load of classes. Schliesmana senior majoring in journalism and historycredits a hard-working crew of sports buffs for shouldering the load.
Besides nearly all Pitt football games, PTS is making a special effort to spotlight sports that dont get much coverage from commercial radio, including womens basketball and Pitt baseball. We like being part of the scene, Schliesman says. The station also offers a sports call-in show weekday afternoons.
At most games, two WPTS sportscasters work together, with one providing play-by-play, and the other offering color commentary. WPTS is definitely pro-Pitt, Schliesman says, but at the same time, broadcasters try to be objective. We have some people who take things very seriously, he says.
While WPTS doesnt get any special treatment from the University or from Heinz Field personnel, they arent given second-class status, either, and receive the same privileges accorded other members of the media. That includes a seat in the press box, where student volunteers rub elbows with nationally-known sportscasters. One Pittsburgh broadcaster even grumbled that the students had a better view than his station. At Three Rivers Stadium, we were on the fourth-level in the end zone, Schliesman says. When we walked into Heinz Field for that East Tennessee State game, it was like going from the outhouse to the penthouse.
From the cheap seats at Heinz Field, Dave McKenzie listened to the marching band thumping out Hail to Pitt. And he had a problem. Some people would describe it as a ge-nagging problem.
Since 1910, during the bump-bumpety-bump-bump-bump in the fight song, folks in the bleachers have called out, Alleghenee, genac, genac, genac. Last season, many students werent cheering, McKenzie says.
It wasnt a life-and-death issue, he knows, but it was nettlesome, nevertheless. McKenzie, a senior history major, and his friends have been genacking since freshman year.
In October, McKenzie, the opinion page editor at the Pitt News, took his crusade public in a column. Lets remind people that theyre at the home of one of the most storied programs in college football history, he wrote. Pitt football has a glorious past, and we should remember that.
McKenzie and his roommateboth the sons of two alumniare steeped in University history, and they tried hard last season to lead their neighbors in the cheer. He and I are always big on Pitt traditions, McKenzie says.
Ironically, Dave McKenzie grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and had never attended a Panthers game before college. He learned Hail to Pitt from his father, George (CAS 69).
I just remembered him singing the song when I was little, Dave McKenzie says.
Now, hes teaching people to genac, but results are mixed. We have had cases where people looked at us really funny, McKenzie says, sitting in his cubicle at the newspaper.
Alas, pockets of resistance remain. You wont hear me yelling out words that dont make sense, sniffs a copy editor sitting nearby.
Its a Saturday in August so this isnt the regular crowd shuffling into Benedum Hall. Angie Ribera steps hesitantly into one of the classrooms located on the top floor. Among those already there are two young men, new students like Ribera, who sit awkwardly at their desks.
Is that all Pitt? a young man, nodding toward the big glass windows, asks of no one in particular.
Meanwhile, Ribera eyes a seat at the back of the room, sits down and crosses her arms. Carrie Melly, a Freshman Peer Counselor (FPC), leans forward, tucks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear, and asks Ribera where shes from.
Hershey, she replies. Someone asks if it smells like chocolate there. She laughs, says yes, and uncrosses her arms.
Along with 150 new students, Ribera is visiting Pitts campus for three days of advising, testing, and registration. Shell take placement exams, meet with an academic advisor, and schedule classes. Another important part of her trip is talking with FPCssophomores, juniors, and seniors like Mellywho serve as mentors for new students. While the counselors must undergo training in preparation for these sessions, they are experts on college life simply by being students themselves. As Melly says, We know what were doing, but we can still relate.
The counselors answer questions about the dorm food, the new football stadium, Pitts late-night shuttle service.
After the meeting, everyone walks toward William Pitt Union, where a rousing game of Singled Out is about to begin. On the way, FPC Penny Samaia, a Pitt football player, tells Ribera about the time he pulled a muscle playing ball. To show where, he gently taps her on the shoulder. They are no longer strangers.
The sun slowly sets, bathing the room in a warm orange glow. Students trickle in from Forbes Avenue, two or three at a time. Inside, they kibitz. Is he your fiancé? one woman gushes to a young couple. Oh, Ive heard so much about you. I havent seen you in such a long time, how have you been? another woman asks a late arrival.
Over the quiet rumble of conversation, a lanky young man tries to get everyones attention. Hey, were going to start now. If everyone could just be quiet, Ill tell you where to go. Okay, Orthodox on the first floor, Reforms on the second, and Conservatives on the third.
This isnt the average college Friday night gathering.
Its Sabbath services, which the Universitys Hillel Foundation holds every Friday night in the new Jewish University Center.
This year is the first time all three Jewish branches can conduct services in the same building. The old facility, also on Forbes Avenue, was a tiny walk-up. Many of the Jewish students at Pitt didnt know where the offices were, or that Hillel even existed.
The $2.5 million, three-story building doesnt just provide room for religious services, it also centralizes Hillel and its activities for both Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. Students can socialize in the lobby or the lounge, complete with a pool table, television, and vending machines.
The new facility will be the home for new Jewish organizations and students alike. The Jewish Outdoors Group already meets there, and more and more students who pass by have wandered in.
This pleases Aaron Juda, Pitts president of Hillel, who says the center will be a success if people simply hang out there and be Jewish together.
Lights! Camera! Action!
W ho thinks Tombstone is a great movie?
The question from the prof rouses the students out of a late Tuesday afternoon daze, and about half of the intro to film class raise their hands.
Its interesting that your generation thinks thats a great movie. I thought the characters were totally self-obsessed. Its the best Ive seen Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell. Did you see My Darling Clementine and you dont think thats good?
The class just stares at him. Finally, a student shouts back, Did you see Unforgiven? The prof has.
Everybody says its a great movie. It was okay.
Next, its showtime. Carl Kurlander say he has chosen Stagecoach, not because he particularly enjoys the movie, but because in 1939 that movie was the first ensemble Western that wasnt a B-movie; it uses music to describe scenes, and included many complex cinematography techniques for the time. Orson Welles watched it 38 times so he could mimic some of the shots and compositions for the famed Citizen Kane.
The students react to Kurlander like hes any other professor; a few bow their heads on their desks when the lights go out, getting comfortable for the movie. Others take notes. But Kurlander isnt just any other professor. He spent the past two decades working in Hollywood as a screenwriter; most notably he penned St. Elmos Fire, a successful Hollywood motion picture. Kurlander also worked as a writer and producer for the teen sitcom, Saved by the Bell. A Pittsburgh native who drools over the thought of Mineos pizza, he decided to come here as a visiting professor for a year when the threat of a writers strike loomed last summer. Having a bona fide Hollywood screenwriter teach the film class is cool, says Yonas Redae.
As a young, black-and-white John Wayne broods on the oversized screen behind Kurlander, the prof gives a kind of a running play-by-play. He tells the class that one of the main characters in the movie is actor John Carradine, whose son Robert starred in Revenge of the Nerds.
Ooh, which [nerd] was he? asks a guy in class.
Oh, hes like the lead nerd, Kurlander says.
Perhaps its the generation gap, but the class doesnt seem to appreciate the cinematic techniques employed in Stagecoach. Kurlander seems to realize this so throughout the movie he sprinkles interesting bits of information.
While a massive stagecoach rambles across the desert, he points out, This is one of those movies where 20 people arent killed [in the first half-hour]. Dont worry, theres violence later.