A Trip to Carnegie Hall: “America in Weimar: On the Margins”

Author: Olivia Griffin, junior

This March, the Fordham Honors Program funded a small student group to view Carnegie Hall’s performance of “America in Weimar: On the Margins” by the American Composer’s Orchestra. As a member of the Cherokee Nation, and a student from Oklahoma, I petitioned for this concert trip because of its important representation of contemporary Indigenous Classical music through family friend Jerod Tate’s performance. Two other students, Natalie and Andy, came with me to view the performance, and I’m so grateful I was able to share this unique musical experience with them. 

Olivia, Natalie, and Andy with Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate

The theme of the concert, “America in Weimar,” provided an eclectic and diverse selection of music. The Weimar era, which was roughly 1918 to 1933, revolutionized a new musical style in an “experimental laboratory” of sound that transformed classical music. Black American music influenced the region, particularly by artists like Duke Ellington, who brought jazz into conversation with European classical composers. The first few songs of the concert focused on songs from this era; for example, George Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony, Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady and Solitude, and a jazz opera- The Threepenny Opera. After intermission, the concert shifted thematically towards contemporary American music inspired by Weimar. Tonia Ko premiered her piece Her Land, Expanded, which was inspired by Swiss church bells and featured a video of jungle foliage. However, the finale was my favorite performance, as it resonated with my roots in Oklahoma and championing Indigenous culture.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a family friend of mine from Oklahoma, had his New York premiere of “Clans” from his Lowak Shoppala‘ album. Tate is a Chickasaw classical composer who is extremely innovative in his expression of native culture through the Western music tradition. The Washington Post has selected him as “22 for ‘22: Composers and Performers to watch this year” and he is a Cultural Ambassador for the U. S. Department of State. His performance was a reimagined ancestral meeting of the Chickasaw animal clans: Bird (Foshi ̍), Alligator (Acho’chaba’), Squirrel (Fani’), Skunk (Koni), Panther (Kowishto’ Losa’), and Raccoon (Shawi’). Each clan was represented through a model wearing Chickasaw regalia designer Margaret Wheeler’s creations. It was incredible to see Jerod and his son on stage performing, and the audience thought so too as they erupted into a five minute-long standing ovation for him. I was filled with pride at seeing an audience full of fellow natives, including members of the Chickasaw legislature! We mingled with audience members after the show and heard from the organizers of the American Composer’s Orchestra. Overall, it was an honor to represent Fordham at this hub of new culture and music. Thank you to Dr. Meneses and the Fordham administration who made this opportunity possible! 

Showcasing Honors Talent with the Student Art Gallery

Author: Megan Schaffner, senior

It’s no secret that the Honors community is full of incredibly talented students. From scholars to actors to everything in between, Honors students have a wide set of skills that make them unique, well-rounded individuals.

In the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, the Student Activities Committee decided to create an Alpha House Art Gallery in order to exhibit photography, paintings, and poetry created by Honors students. The gallery, first unveiled during the annual Honors Fall Fest event, was an immediate hit!

From then on, the Alpha House Art Gallery was updated each semester with new artwork by Honors students. This spring, although we could not be physically together due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Student Activities Committee wanted to keep the Art Gallery alive.

Thus, we are proud to announce that the Spring 2020 Study Art Gallery is available in digital format. Please use this link to view Honors students’ amazing work!

From Honors Music Major to Budding Concert Conductor

Author: Kristina Lazdauskas, junior

With support from the Honors Program, I participated in the Choral Institute at Oxford this summer. The ten-day program consisted of lectures on the philosophy of music-making, masterclasses in conducting technique and culminated with a final performance in which I conducted in concert for the first time. 

I applied for the Ambassadorial Grant to help me with this opportunity because I knew that it would prepare me to apply for a graduate degree in Choral Conducting in the future. My studies as a music major have focused primarily on music history and theory rather than performance. I knew that the practical experience I would gain at the Choral Institute at Oxford would complement the academic side of my major and help me put what I’ve learned in my classes at Fordham into practice. 

The immersive nature of this institute was invaluable. Though I arrived having had virtually no experience, conducting daily in the masterclasses and receiving real-time critiques from conductors Dr. James Jordan and Dr. James Whitbourn helped me to improve my technique and musicianship quickly. Daily lectures on conducting delivered by music faculty from Westminster Choir College and Oxford University also helped me to gain a deeper appreciation for the philosophy behind conducting. These talks encouraged me to think critically about the way in which the conductor’s performance is influenced by their self-perception, which aligned well with the ideas about the self which I had begun exploring in my Honors Early Modern Philosophy course and which I continue to explore in the Honors’ Religion in the Modern World course. Now, I am expanding on this question of the role of the artist’s self and its impact on conducting in an independent study, and it’s one that I hope to investigate further in my research as I progress through the major. 

Studying in Oxford also afforded me opportunities I couldn’t have had elsewhere. I was able to sing mass with the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church Cathedral, view original medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and observe featured conductors in rehearsals with the Institute’s choir-in-residence. Furthermore, the program opened up to me an amazing support network of fellow conductors and singers equally interested in fostering human connection through the collaborative art of choral singing. 

My experience at the Choral Institute at Oxford has been a shaping force in my studies. I’ve narrowed my research interests to the history and philosophy of conducting, and I am more confident now that I want to pursue choral conducting in graduate school. I am extremely grateful to the Honors Program for supporting me in this endeavor. 

Honors at La Morada

Author: Jack McKernan, first-year student

Honors students at La Morada.

This past Wednesday, a group of Honors students and staff made the hike down from the Rose Hill campus to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx to have some challenging discussions about the issues of gentrification and immigrant rights, as well as learn about how locals are fighting back. In the process, we got to enjoy a delicious meal at “La Morada,” where one can find New York’s best Oaxacan food, and some have said, the best Mexican food north of the border.

When you step off the Bx15 bus that takes Fordham students right from the Plaza to the doorstep of the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the message painted in bright red on the door: REFUGEES WELCOME. The folks at La Morada are not shy about their activism; rather, it is a core part of their identity. As legendary Fordham professor Dr. Mark Naison said, La Morada is “the center of immigration and anti-gentrification activism in the South Bronx.” In addition to serving food to the community, they hold workshops, fundraisers, and rallies to support their neighbors. When you enter the restaurant you’re immediately drawn to the various banners calling for an end to deportations and other criticisms of US foreign policy.

Some of the many flyers at La Morada’s entrance.

Their activism hasn’t gained them many fans in law enforcement, however. It came to a head on January 11, when Yajaira Saavedra, whose family owns and operates the restaurant, was arrested without warrant or stating probable cause by undercover NYPD as they attempted to carry out a sting operation against the restaurant. Saavedra was eventually released as community members crowded the 40th Precinct, but her upcoming court date means her status is still unstable. That hasn’t stopped her activism or her incredible spirit, as she took the moment to tell her story and the story of the restaurant to the Honors group, as well as indulge us in a selfie outside the restaurant.

Dark Chocolate Mole and Chicken, one of the five different mole dishes La Morada shared with us.

In addition to their activism, La Morada’s Oaxacan roots mean that they have a solid indigenous identity, and that was reflected in the fantastic meal served. Our main course featured five (!) different Moles, which doesn’t even comprise the entire selection offered on their menu. These were the capstone to a meal which already had us salivating with Guacamole, Rice and Beans, and Sopes, not to mention the various fresh juices and teas that were passed around. As she spoke at the end of our meal, Yajaira was sure to be clear that the delicious food  we had just enjoyed is culture that will be erased if the gentrification of “SoBro” or “The Piano District” (as it is somewhat ridiculously marketed by developers) is to continue.

Yajaira poses with Honors students waiting for the bus.

The main lesson learned from the experience– aside from where to take someone in dire need of good Mexican food– is that as Fordham students, we should be conscious of the impact we have on the communities and neighborhoods we interact with. We should step off our home neighborhood of Arthur Avenue to explore the rich diversity the Bronx has to offer and help to break down the psychological barrier between Fordham University and the community we are within.

SAC Showcase: Bronx Music Heritage Tour

Author: Kelsie O’Leary, sophomore

Three years ago, the Honors Program initiated a student-led advisory board to assist in creating co- and extra-curricular programming. Since then, the Student Activity Council has developed into a ten-committee organization with focuses varying from Arts & Entertainment to Community Engagement & Social Justice. Last year, in an effort to encourage students to learn more about history and culture in the local neighborhoods, the Bronx Culture Committee was formed.

This month, Bronx Culture Committee Chair Kelsie O’Leary (‘21) organized an opportunity for Honors students to visit the Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC). The students enjoyed a walking tour around the Crotona Park East neighborhood led by Co-Artistic Director of BMHC, Elena Martinez, where they learned about the rich history of hip-hop and jazz music in the Bronx.

The Honors students with Bronx Music Heritage Center staff members,Elena Martinez and Bobby Sanabria.

The Heritage Center is located near many historical areas of the Bronx, including Charlotte Street. The opening scene of the controversial 1981 film, Fort Apache the Bronx, was shot right outside its door. The film depicted the Bronx as a hostile, crime-ridden borough, and community members fought against this negative portrayal during the film’s production. Despite their protests, the film was still released. Stereotypes, like the ones in the movie, are still being combated by the Bronx community today.

A photo of the protests that students were shown on the tour

After the tour, students saw inside the Heritage Center, where a dance class had just finished. The current exhibit, titled #papielmaestro, displayed a series of photographs of musician Ray Santos, documented by his daughter. The other BMHC Co-Artistic Director, Bobby Sanabria, spoke with the Honors students about the current programs and events offered at the Heritage Center, including dance and music classes, poetry nights, live performances, film screenings, and more.

Overall, the trip was great and the students learned a lot from Elena and Bobby. The Bronx Music Heritage Center is an amazing organization that everyone should visit if they have the opportunity!

Bronx Food Tour

Enjoying good food and company at the Bangladeshi restaurant
Enjoying good food and company at the Bangladeshi restaurant

The Honors Program celebrated our location in the NYC borough of the Bronx with a food tour of the East Bronx. We met our tour guide, Myra from NoshWalks, in a historic area by Westchester Square, and started off with some delicious Dominican snacks before heading off on a walk down Westchester Ave.

img_1307Besides Dominican food, we were able to sample Trinidadian, Bangladeshi, and Salvadoran foods, while getting to see a new part of the Bronx. Highlights included a mural of the 6 subway and a historic church with a graveyard whose stones show the names of Bronx streets.



The group at the end of the tour, outside the Salvadoran restaurant
The group at the end of the tour, outside the Salvadoran restaurant

Despite some rain, we enjoyed getting a “taste” of the borough we call home, and returned to campus with a deeper appreciation of the Bronx.

Socrates Now!

Katie DeFonzo, Class of 2018

About this time last year, members of the Fordham University community were treated to a stage production of Plato’s Apology performed by Yannis Simonides. Simonides was raised in Athens but received his M.A. in Drama at Yale University, and throughout his career his interest in his heritage has been manifest through his involvement in performing ancient Greek tragedy. The performance resonated in a unique way with Honors Program freshmen, who had recently finished reading and discussing this work in their Ancient Philosophy class.

Yannis Simonides; Image: Choreo Theatre Company
Yannis Simonides; Image: Choreo Theatre Company

This Platonian dialogue, which is written as a speech directed to the Athenian jury at the trial of the philosopher Socrates, was made all the more engaging because Simonides took on the role of Socrates arguing for his innocence. Simonides simultaneously infused parts of the philosopher’s speech with irony while maintaining the underlying seriousness of a person trying to defend his beliefs. Lyssa Dussman felt that Socrates Now “was cool because [Simonides] showed me a different perspective of how [the Apology] would be performed out loud. I pictured Socrates as calm and contemplative because he is a man about logic and reason.” Following the performance, Simonides took questions from the audience and discussed, among a wide variety of subjects, his experiences performing in other venues and Socrates’ view of justice. That people around the world are still reading and now performing the Apology is a testament to the timeless nature of the questions that Socrates challenged the jurors not to leave “unexamined.”

Image: Encyclopedia Britannica
Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

This event was co-sponsored by the Fordham College Rose Hill Honors Program, the Manresa Scholars Program, and the Philosophy and Classics Departments at Fordham.

First Year Trip to the Cloisters

Katie DeFonzo, Class of 2018

Photo by Reyna Wang
Photo by Reyna Wang

Mid-spring semester, first year students in Professor Nina Rowe’s Medieval Art History class braved the cold and rainy weather to hop on the A train and visit the Cloisters Museum in northern Manhattan. This trip to the Cloisters, which houses reliquaries, sculptures, paintings, and other works of art from the Late Middle Ages, brought to life the distant time period about which students had been reading in their textbook and in various scholarly articles throughout the semester. According to Pat Goggins, “The trip to the Cloisters was enriching in how it highlighted aspects of medieval art that aren’t readily apparent through a slide show. The interaction of light with the building and the artwork helped me to gain a more complete perspective on the art we studied.”

Photo by Reyna Wang
Photo by Reyna Wang

While at the Cloisters, students spent time deciding which work in the museum they wanted to write about in a formal analysis due at the beginning of April. Students were asked to consider how the display of objects from the Middle Ages in a museum affects one’s understanding of those objects. Although the four possible works were made a focus of the museum visit, students explored the entire museum and I especially enjoyed seeing several medieval tapestries and the collection of illuminated manuscripts in the lower level gallery, which Cornell Overfield described as “enough to sate any blackletter calligraphy fetish.” Explanations offered by Professor Doolittle, who also visited the museum, related the design of the museum to monasteries of the Middle Ages and helped students to better understand the importance of religion in the lives of medieval Europeans.

Photo by Reyna Wang
Photo by Reyna Wang

Visits to museums such as the Cloisters are certainly a reminder of one of the many benefits of being a student in New York City: being able to see in person some of the world’s most famous works of art and historical artifacts.

Photo by Reyna Wang
Photo by Reyna Wang

Photo by Reyna Wang
Photo by Reyna Wang