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Among the greatest pleasures in life is the gift of art.  The human ability to create pieces of art that motivate action, lead social reform, and shock the world into thinking deeply about a cause is often overlooked in our age of fast-paced, technological commentary.  The art community is ever evolving to respond to the social, political, and cultural events of the world, to contribute differently in a discussion saturated by voice through the use of changing art media.

The News Creative blog aims to follow these movements of the art community, following all the latest news of emerging stories of creative culture. We invite you to explore the recent posts on the Home page, or to visit the About page for more information about our passion for the arts.

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Hodgson Wind Ensemble Brings Heavy Hitting Themes in United States Premiere of Scraps From a Madman’s Diary

The Hodgson Wind Ensemble of the University of Georgia returned once again with another groundbreaking installment of their fall performing series this past Thursday evening.  Under the direction Cynthia Johnston Turner, this pre-professional student ensemble displayed their famous strategy of programming powerfully themed concerts with an agenda; Turner often uses music to start conversations about pressing social and political issues of our time, reframing classical works in a modern light while also commissioning and introducing newer works that are directly born from this age of controversy.

Last month, the Wind Ensemble tackled the topic of climate change in their smartly titled performance, “Fire and Ice.” This time, however, the theme selected is as equally hard-hitting: mental illness and mental health.  With an even added level of anticipation, the Wind Ensemble delivered the North American premiere of Catherine Likhuta’s controversial oratorio Scraps from a Madman’s Diary.  Transcending the realm of standard concert band performance, the ensemble created a ground-breaking, provocative, and at times, deeply unsettling holistic musical experience that no doubt made a lasting impression on all who attended.

The evening began when unannounced trumpets sounded from the lobby balcony, startling idle patrons with the unconventionality of beginning a formal concert from outside of the auditorium.  As guests bewilderedly looked about, they spotted a small brass ensemble nestled in the overhead walkway, expounding the heraldic bright notes of Michael Cortes’ Fanfare Valor.  With gusto from dramatic timpani rolls and the rich epic layering of brass sound, this ceremoniously sounding piece excitedly announced the arrival of the Wind Ensemble and, as guests continued to file into the concert hall, the epic and powerful sounds of the fanfare ushered them all the way to their seats with eager anticipation for what was to follow.

When the lights finally lowered, the musicians on stage fell silent as Turner walked across to take her place on the center podium.  They shared one collective moment of silent breath, and began.  Discordant woodwind trills filled the ears of audience members; first on the program was the two-movement piece Dragon Rhyme by prolific composer Chen Yi, who is known for blending Chinese and Western traditions in her music.  Although perhaps unsavory to the American ear, the opening measures clashed in the suspended intervals common to Beijing opera.  Through rousing repeated eighth note passages and furious sounding brass, Yi’s work evoked the image of a majestic dragon in the second part, creating a layered and multidimensional work that mimicked the liveliness of eastern culture.

When Turner’s arms finally came to rest by her side at the conclusion of the piece and silence fell once again, graduate conducting student Bradley J. Esau took his turn on the podium to lead John Adams’ Lollapalooza.  A metrically tight dance of intricate and cascading runs, Lollapalooza showed off the ensembles’ trombones and tubas as they repeated just one of many cyclical chains of sound.  Mirroring the internal rhyme of the piece’s title (da-da-da-DAAH-da), the chains represent a kind of idée fixe that can dominate the mind, and while the piece is technically no piece of cake, the ensembles’ evident preparation allowed the listener to become lost in the complex pool of sound as it ebbed and flowed like an idea trapped and bouncing about in the mind.

Rounding out the first half of the program was the emotive Funeral Music for Queen Mary (after Purcell) by Steven Stucky.  Here was when the Wind Ensemble flexed their famed ability to elicit powerful emotional responses through performance as they honored the deeply visceral feelings of grief prompted by this transcription of Purcell’s funeral music for Queen Mary II of England.  Although there is no such thing as a perfect performance, the ensemble came just about as close as possible to delivering a flawlessly moving interpretation of Stucky’s piece with their expert intonation wholly sustained even through the loudest of louds and softest of softs.

With the first half of the concert concluded, another surprise yet again came to the audience. Instead of beginning a typical and expected intermission, the lights remained low; Turner turned to address the audience.

“1 in 4 of us lives with mental illness,” she said into a microphone.  The formal atmosphere of the hall immediately melted away into a feeling of intimate vulnerability.

“This is a significant part of our society that we often feel uncomfortable talking about, because we don’t understand it or because it frightens us,” she said through the still silence.  After a pause, she continued: “Avoiding conversation about mental health will not help anyone.”

With that, a recorded piece by Badie Khaleghian (titled Just As You Are) began to play from the auditorium’s speakers.  A woman’s somber voice began to speak over sustained keyboard drones; “One person commits suicide every 16 minutes,” she said.  The piece continued on with overlapping voices, each saying another fact or personal experience with mental illness.  A soprano could be heard lightly singing in the background, flowing throughout the spoken words and riding on the soft chords of the piano until finally all faded away.  The audience sat transfixed in silence.

This purely electroacoustic piece set the tone for Likhuta’s work to follow in a constructive way.  Providing a soberness for the dramatic depiction of insanity, the audience was then prepared to enter into the “madness” of Likhuta’s piece, reminded of the heavy importance of mental health in our society.  After a brief set change, the time had finally come for Likhuta’s premiere.

The Wind Ensemble sat on the right of the stage in the dimmed lights as singers from UGA’s top vocal ensemble, the Hodgson Singers, filed in to the stand on the left.  The lights remained low.  The voices began singing in an eerie suspension of intervals; “Friday, the 18th of July,” they sang.  Joined by the instruments, the chorus continued on to sing the 13 journal entries of the “madman” that traced his jagged and spiraling descent into mental instability.  At times requiring dramatic theatrics, Likhuta’s work called for not only musicians, but performers of the highest caliber to effectively convey the deeply unsettling experience of the narrator’s madness.  More than once, the material of the piece entered into a realm of disturbing darkness; it became painful to watch the confusion of the madman being portrayed as he switched in and out of his surrounding environment and the imagined world in his brain, not knowing which was true reality.  In the height of the oratorio, the two conflicting sides of the madman’s brain finally met, and he realized in a terrifyingly creative scene of musicality and theatrics what has been happening in his life.  In the falling action of the performance, the music turns softer and more introspective as the madman grasps to understand his mental illness through reconciling the scraps of consciousness found in his diary.

When the final note sounded, a pregnant pause filled the space between the overwhelming sounds that just concluded and the rapturous applause that exploded from the audience as they shot from their seats.  In a deafening ovation to the musicians and composer, the first ever North American audience of Catherine Likhuta’s controversial piece showered curtains of applause over the ensemble for nearly five minutes, expressing a sincere appreciation for this profound work.  The Wind Ensemble’s performance aimed to break the stigmas surrounding social misconceptions of mental illness, hopefully beginning ongoing conversations on how to raise awareness for social health not only through talk of this performance, but in our everyday lives as well.

Watch the performance of “Scraps from a Madman’s Diary” here.

Video courtesy of Catherine Likhuta YouTube

Wind River presents chilling cinematic art with a gripping cultural message

**SPOILERS***

Taylor Sheridan, screenwriter and actor, makes his directing debut with the release of the 2017 crime thriller, Wind River.  Based on the true story of a Native American girl’s death in rural Wyoming, the film shows the harrowing nature of real life on the Wind River Native American Indian Reserve.  Here, the crime rate is 6 times that of the national average, the poverty level is at 80%, and teenagers are statistically twice as likely to commit suicide, according to a report conducted by the New York Times in 2012.  Sheridan tackles the project of conveying this gloomy, frozen wasteland through film, and succeeds with gripping results.

The subtle artistic choices made by Sheridan float so seamlessly throughout the narrative that one would easily overlook the creativity of the production in favor of the absorbing murder/mystery plot.  Sheridan’s work, however, didn’t go unnoticed by critics, as he took home the Directing Prize of Un Certain Regard at the Canne’s Film Festival in 2017, a testament to the artistry of the film and the effectiveness of the meaningful message it conveys.

The movie opens with a breathtaking establishing shot of a midnight, snow-covered frontier.  In the light of the large full moon overhead, a woman can be seen madly sprinting through deep snow.  She sprints, her wet coughs and the howling wind the only sounds we hear, until finally she collapses motionless in the snow.  As the shot remains wide, the crippling isolation of the expansive frozen wilderness makes us question why the woman is running so aggressively in such a desolate landscape, and where does she plan to go?

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a wildlife officer who hunts pests that prey on the livestock of local farmers, discovers the woman’s frozen corpse in the outskirts of the Wind River Indian Reservation.  A thick curtain of blood has cascaded and frozen from her mouth; her shoeless feet have turned sickly gray in the cold.  He recognizes the Native American woman as 18-year-old Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille), who was once friends with his daughter, who went missing three years earlier.  An autopsy shows that Natalie suffered a rape, ran six miles in the snow barefoot, and died when her lungs froze and burst from inhaling the sub-zero winter air while running, clearly desperate to escape from something.  To investigate what appears to be a homicide, a young but tough Las Vegas FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), arrives on the scene, painfully unprepared for the biting cold and unforgiving brutality of “life on the Res”.  Clearly an outsider, she convinces Lambert to aid her in hunting the criminal, or criminals, responsible for the murder.  They immediately plunge into a chase of spiraling madness, hoping to bring justice to Natalie and her distraught family.

As Cory and Jane dive deeper into the mystery of Natalie’s murder, they also encounter the dejected Native American residents of the reservation.  Sheridan paints a portrait of the hopelessness and despair that easily consumes the reservation, smoothly commenting on the injustice of the poor living conditions and minimal commodities afforded to the residents.  Many characters, including Natalie’s older brother, are seen turning to alcohol, drugs, and crime in an attempt to placate the anger of societal strains that confine them to the snowy walls of the biting Wyoming winter prison.  The natives’ distrust of Jane as an outsider and the lack of urgency from her coworkers back home further emphasize this subtle theme of isolation, and continues to cause rifts throughout the movie.  It is through the search of light in the midst of so much dark that unites the cooperating characters to avenge Natalie’s death.

Among the most notable creative skills Sheridan displays in Wind River is his ability to draw meaning through polarization.  Colors, angles, characters, and music all pair with their own contrasting opposites, creating a powerful and dramatic dichotomy of both narrative and technical storytelling.  In addition to this exercise in contrasts, the use of jump cuts and creative camera work produces effects that fully place the viewer into the rocky world of Wind River.  In hunting scenes with Cory and Jane, for example, the camera switches from peaceful establishing shots of the Wyoming wilderness to close frames of handheld camerawork that show a perspective of watching the characters move from within the trees.  This effect amplifies the tension of the scenes, making the audience feel as though Cory and Jane are being watched and hunted themselves by the many predatory forces, both concrete and metaphorical, at work in the film.

In the pinnacle of the plot, Sheridan culminates the best of his directing vision in a final encounter between suspected Pete (James Jordan) and Cory.  Pete wakes to find himself sprawled in the snow, hands tied and barefoot, atop the highest, coldest mountain in the area.  Beside him, Cory sits on a rock, patiently looking down at the sobbing man in the slush.  Wearing a stark white snow suit and bathed in the blinding white light from the reflecting snow, Sheridan presents Cory in a striking Christ-like image, emphasized by the understanding that this is the final moment of judgement for Pete; Cory gently prods for the confession of Pete’s sins. “Did you rape her?” he quietly asks the hysterical man, and when Pete finally admits his crime, Cory mercifully cuts Pete’s hands free and leaves him on the mountain, providing him the same chance for survival that Natalie received. Pete doesn’t make it far.

Although the entire film is fraught with violent images of fighting, rape, and murder, perhaps the most disturbing moment comes in the final 45 seconds in the form of 19 black words, projected over the frame of Cory and Natalie’s father (Gil Birmingham) sitting in silent memorial of their daughters. The words read, “Native American women are the only population without any record of missing people.  Nobody knows how many are missing.” With these final chilling facts, the screen cuts to black, and the viewer is left questioning the state of humanity and the overlooked injustice of Native American life.  Framing the entire 107 previous minutes of the film in an utterly jaw dropping and terrifying new light, the true story of Natalie Hanson’s murder seems utterly meaningless knowing that her death, and subsequently her life, have no statistical significance in the American public.

Even though only his first directing debut, Sheridan, much to the credit of finding a story crucial to the American public, crafts a motivational creative vision begging for active change on the behalf of a grotesquely unrepresented minority.  Wind River no doubt will stand as a chilling cinematic allegory for generations to come.

Free Art Friday Sparks Scavenger Hunt Through Athens

It’s Friday in Athens, and while for most this simply means the start of the weekend, for some it means that the race is on.

A group of local artists are dropping small pieces of original art throughout the city as a part of Free Art Fridays.  The sensation began as artists began sharing Instagram photos with clues leading art hunters to the location of hidden pieces.  As the photos are posted, followers of #fafath race through the city to be the first to claim the prize and to share the news of their free art with others on social media.

Some participating artists choose to reveal their true names to followers, while some opt instead to cloak their identity behind their art.

Instagrammers sadbot_ath, saintblondie, and athulhu frequently create signature pieces of free art to hide, yet very few know the true artists behind the photos.

Tyler Boyd, a third-year psychology and pre-pharmacy major at UGA, met the man behind “Athulhu” after he commissioned a personalized piece in the artist’s signature style.

“I heard from someone else that they had a special piece made, so after seeing his free art,” says Boyd, “I thought about asking for my own.”

He personally messaged athulhu on Instagram, and the artist agreed to make Boyd a unique piece.  When he met Boyd to deliver the art, athulhu handed him a drawing of his trademark character, wearing a Redcoat band uniform and playing a mellophone.  Boyd, a second year mellophone player in the Redcoat Marching Band at UGA, was ecstatic.

“He didn’t ask me anything… what he makes is totally random,” he explains.

Boyd also went on the hunt to find a planted #fafath piece, claiming Saintblondie’s swirled Easter egg piece at the Athens train trestle behind Mama’s Boy restaurant, as well as a jac-o-lantern piece planted by Athulhu in the Milledge Avenue Baptist Church pumpkin patch on Halloween of 2016.

“Everyone needs a piece of free art from Athulhu,” shares Boyd.

Be on the lookout for hidden treasures scattered throughout Athens every Friday to take on the #fafath challenge!

SLAM! UGA English students build community through poetry

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Photo/Rachel Gadra

As a soft rain trickles down the large window panes of Hendershots Coffee bar in downtown Athens on Tuesday night, a quiet yet confident voice rings out inside the dimly lit cafe.  A pregnant pause settles in after the voice fades away, and slowly a chorus of gentle snaps washes over the speaker on the small, makeshift stage.  Before long, another speaker takes her turn climbing onto this platform of confession, of liberation, and of art, and yet another voice begins curling throughout the cups of coffee and stacks of books resting on worn, wooden tables.

Lovers of poetry signed up one after one to stand before a captivated audience and to recite their favorite poems, both original and published, as a part of the Undergraduate English Association Poetry Slam held on April 18.  Just one of many events hosted throughout the year by the UEA, the intent of the slam was to help build community among English students at the University of Georgia.

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First-year English and international affairs major, Karla Nemanic shares her original poem, “An Ode to Mixed Girls.”  Photo/Rachel Gadra

“We have a great vision of what it could be,” says junior UEA executive board member, Alyssa Gill.

Formed in the spring of 2016, the UEA aims to help English students find opportunities for employment following graduation.

“English majors are so wanted on the job market,” says Olivia McCoy, senior UEA event coordinator.  “You can’t teach someone how to write, and you can tell where there’s passion and where there isn’t.”

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Olivia McCoy is a senior English major at UGA and is event coordinator of the UEA.

With April being National Poetry Month, the 8 members of the student executive board thought hosting a social poetry slam would be a great opportunity to drum up some participation going into the end of the semester. Providing a platform to speak about subjects of interest, themes of poems ranged from a variety of topics, such as racism, sexuality, depression, and politics

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Mars Hallman, a first-year international affairs and Arabic major, recites an original poem titled “space and timing.” Photo/Rachel Gadra

In addition to helping English majors find a career following graduation, the UEA also places emphasis on strengthening bonds throughout the English department and building community with other students interested in literature and writing.

“This has been our most successful event so far,” reflects McCoy, smiling as she scans the room of happy faces and chatting students.

At the end of the night, the names of 5 lucky participants were drawn from a raffle to choose from prizes of blank journals and rhyming dictionaries to encourage a continued interest in poetry.  Although these parting gifts encouraged students to participate in the reading, the greater gift was having the opportunity to build friendships and share literature with the budding English community.

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More information on the Undergraduate English Association at the University of Georgia can be found on Twitter and Facebook.  

Trumpet Master Phil Smith Reflects on Time at UGA

On the fourth floor of the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia, there is an unassuming door labeled plainly as “Philip Smith.”  Although most students catch their breath as they walk by this door, inside you will most likely find an older gentleman with a cheery disposition listening to Mahler or studying old scores.  If you should knock on the door, he will open it, flash you a wide smile whether you are a familiar friend or mere acquaintance, and, in a distinct yet warm northern accent, invite you in to shoot the breeze.  On his bookshelf you will see resting among piles of old sheet music endless books on the technical study of trumpeting, a well-used Bible, and sepia photographs of students, friends, and family.  This is Mr. Philip Smith.

Although it would be difficult to guess by his quiet humbleness and friendly demeanor, Smith is considered the master of virtuoso solo performance on trumpet.  He performed as the principal player in the New York Philharmonic for 36 years, garnering attention as a seemingly inhuman musician of both perfect technical and lyrical skill.  His list of awards and accomplishments includes soloist guest performances with international ensembles, tours across Germany, Japan, and Brazil, and featured performances of the master works such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.  Because of this legacy, the musical world gently sighed in farewell 3 years ago when Smith announced his retirement from performing.  Students of the University of Georgia, however, swooned at the discovery of his next plan.

In 2014, Smith and his wife moved from New York to Georgia as he accepted a professorship at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music teaching brass fundamentals and ensemble performance to eager students.  Three years later, the music department is still star struck by Smith’s casual presence.

“People often ask, ‘Why did you end up going to Georgia?’, and it was simply because someone asked,” recalls Smith.

Having given guest lectures several times at the university throughout the years, Smith already felt familiar with the facilities and faculty of the school of music prior to calling Athens his permanent home.  When the school lost longstanding trumpet professor Fred Mills in 2009, the dean of the music school, Dale Monson, extended an invitation to bring Smith on full time.  Smith however, wasn’t quite ready to leave the New York Philharmonic just yet.  It wasn’t until 2013, as his world flipped upside down with receiving the news of a diagnosis of focal dystonia, that he considered stepping down from the coveted first chair position and leaving the stage behind.

Beginning as a small air complication in the minute muscles of his face, Smith found that in warming up for a master class at UGA in August of 2013, he wasn’t able to play notes in a familiar scale. “That was the first hint that something was wrong,” says Smith. “It was the first time in my career that I never played anything in a master class.”

A month later, as he readied himself for a final season with the philharmonic, he quickly realized the gravity of this seemingly insignificant complication as he began to experience a complete inability to play. “I went from not even thinking about playing and from being able to play anything and everything to not even being able to play a C-scale. That rocked my world,” reflects Smith.

Dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes the muscles to randomly contract, holds the body captive in often painful cramps.  Marked by slow rehabilitation and immense patience, the road to recovery presented a blow to Smith’s identity as a musician and teacher.   “I’m not coming,” he told Monson following the diagnosis, “because you’re not getting who you think. I’m not going to be able to play.”

Despite his inability to perform, the school still yearned for Smith to join as a professor to share his knowledge and experience with students.  Hoping to find a quiet place to “put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Smith and his wife relocated to Georgia and he began a new chapter of life as a professor.

While Smith admits that overcoming dystonia presented a wealth of challenges and frustration, he found a silver lining: “I think it’s made me a better teacher, as I’ve had to work on things myself. It’s made me a little less frustrated with others. I’ll say, ‘They’ll get it,’ as I’ve had to say, ‘You’ll get it,’ to myself.”

Across the board, Smith’s students corroborate his proficiency as a professor. “He’s an incredible teacher,” says undergraduate music major Lillie Smith.  “He always knows exactly how to say things and always says exactly what he wants, musically.”

What extends beyond Mr. Smith’s immeasurable knowledge and skill is his compassion and investment as a teacher, with his favorite aspect of coming to UGA always being the students: “Academia is not performing; It’s not fair to compare the two. But the one thing that I love here more than anything else is working with all the kids.”

He and his wife often open their home to all students of the trumpet studio, extending invitations for holiday dinners and group socials.  He makes it a priority to make them feel welcome and comfortable as members of the musical community.  “The best way I can describe him is with the phrase ‘fearless leader, humble servant,’” says Sydney Hasler, member of the trumpet studio and brass band.  Smith even mentioned plans for a celebratory cookout following the brass band’s success in a national competition this March. “I just think that’s part of it,” says Smith. “That’s important to me.”

Just as musical greats mentored him in his early career, he now hopes to play that role, taking sincere personal interest in both the struggles and successes of all his students. “It makes it easy to get the best if there’s a mutual respect. Maybe they’ll end up being a teacher, maybe they’ll end up being a professional performer, but they’re no less important as people. That to me is a lesson in of itself. We learn to love folk, to encourage folk, and to build people up.”

With August marking the three-year anniversary of Smith’s arrival to UGA, he reflects on his experiences since leaving the stage behind.  In addition to teaching students in the trumpet studio, he helped reform a British brass band, the same type of ensemble he first began playing in at the age of 8 with the Salvation Army Band.  In addition to training students to become top musicians, his goal is to help make the University of Georgia a destination for students pursuing a world class music education.  As he sees it, the greatest challenge to this is the strict, university-wide GPA requirements for students auditioning to the school of music, something considered a second priority in comparison to talent at major music conservatories.  “We’re all about sports here at UGA, and I love that, but if we’re willing to let talent triumph in that situation and work with kids in their academic standing, then maybe we need to think about that in the art schools as well,” poses Smith.

Although Smith’s list of achievements continues to expand even through retirement, he claims that the best thing he’s done in life is to simply live and share music: “It’s not so much about accomplishments, but my greatest accomplishment has been being blessed to live a life that’s been a lot of fun, from a performance standpoint to working with kids in Athens, Georgia, and everything in between.”

New music chamber ensemble at UGA features art collaboration

One small music ensemble at the University of Georgia is testing the limits of modern composition.

Incongruency, a new 8 member student chamber ensemble, performed a collaborative concert on April 9th at 5pm to demonstrate the flexibility and changing potential of modern music.

Between the four black walls of the Dancz Center for New Music, frequently referred to as “the black box”, musicians Alexis Letourneau, Tyler Jones, Sean Askin, Mitchell Powers, Kathryn Koopman, Sahada Buckley, Noah Johnston, and conductor Matt Sedowski kicked off a creative concert experience combining music and art.

In the midst of the intimate concert setting, artist Logan Shirah sat with the musicians and used color to portray the sounds swirling around him and the audience.  Illuminated by the florescent glow of small black-lights posed throughout the room, Shirah freely painted along with the music to create an original piece inspired by the recital.

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Artist Logan Shirah painted live to the music of the small chamber ensemble Incongruency. Photo/Sahada Buckley

Modern music typically features complicated rhythms and unconventional chords.  Without the strict constraints of meter and key that were once imposed on musical minds, most modern composers now have the ability to flow freely through sound to create innovative and organic pieces.

Kenneth Hubbard, a fourth-year economics major and trumpet player, shares how he appreciated the creativity of the concert.

“If something’s incongruent it doesn’t really fit together,” reflects Hubbard.  “To me that kind of makes sense with modern music because a lot of people don’t think that the sounds fit, or you wouldn’t look at a chamber ensemble that’s trumpet, flute, clarinet, and three strings and think that it fits, but it works.”

He continues on to share his experience attending the recital.

“I enjoyed it because when I hear modern music it feels very cinematic to me,” says Hubbard.  “People often say, ‘Well, there’s no melody,’ but there doesn’t need to be because you can picture the feeling.”

This mirrors the sentiments expressed by the musicians as they wanted to incorporate the visual element of experiencing music through Shirah’s painting.

Art and Environment: How one professor is making classic poetry come alive digitally

On Tuesday April 4, Professor Thomas Herron of East Carolina University traveled to UGA to share his recent, innovative work with eager English students as part of the colloquium series hosted by the Wilson Center for Humanities and Arts.

Bringing together the digital humanities, visual art, and literature, Herron has created an online virtual world to show the environment in which master poet Edmund Spenser wrote most of his epic, Elizabethan poetry.  As Spenser often drew inspiration from the rolling hills and regal castles of southwestern Ireland, the project aims to help students and scholars understand how Spenser’s environment shaped his writing.

Herron began by traveling to Ireland to take photos of the settlements of Munster and Kilcolman Castle where Spenser was thought to have lived while writing his most famous work, The Faerie Queene.  From there, students artists at ECU made sketches and drawings to recreate the photos.  The final step was to digitize the sketches using software such as Photoshop to piece together the 3D virtual world.  Adding music and realistic sound effects, including the croaking of frogs native to the swampy lands, Herron brought life to the words of Spenser and can now share his work to help place students in the world of Edmund Spenser.

Thomas Herron is an associate professor of English at East Carolina University.