Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor
Gypsy At Heart, a World Fusion and Nu Jazz group, held a concert in Ford Auditorium two weeks ago. Among the musicians sat Jeffrey Lidke, religion professor and chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Berry.
While studying abroad in Nepal during his years as a student, Lidke learned to play the tabla, a percussion instrument consisting of a pair of drums. Not only did he return with this skill, but he brought back with him many values, which he finds relevant within his area of study and within the classroom.
“I put a strong emphasis on teaching students that music, song and dance are central to many religious traditions,” Lidke said.
He explained the idea that prayer is to Christianity what music and dance are to some other religions. He is also of the view that there can never be too much exploration of other cultures’ musical traditions, and he thinks Berry could be stronger in that regard. Concerts like Gypsy at Heart are somewhat rare at Berry, and Lidke believes students get a fair amount of saturation in Western traditions and not as much in others.
“I do think that’s an area where we could be stronger,” he said.
Music has always been an integral part of Lidke’s life, and he is not the only professor who might say so. Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Eric McDowell, has kept in touch with his love for music while finding new and creative ways to teach mathematical concepts to his students.
McDowell has, with some videographic assistance from Viking Fusion, released a number of educational music videos.
“There seems to be a crossover between mathematical inclination, logic in general, and music. McDowell said “I think a lot of the ways of thinking, the precision, as well as the creativity are similar and almost necessary to have.”
In addition to maintaining what piano skills he has, he has sung and currently sings with the Three Rivers Singers, which is Rome’s adult community choir. Recently, he produced his own ragtime tune. Rags, which heavily influenced the birth of jazz, are rhythmically complex pieces of piano music that are divided into sections. McDowell’s project consists of the Berry Alma Mater, fight song and the school hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”
“I think the things you get the ‘warm fuzzies’ for tend to be the things that you, especially at an early age, grow to love and continue doing,” McDowell said.
Jim Watkins, associate professor of English, is also involved in music outside of teaching. He does, however, find his interests in music to directly coincide with his field of study. Watkins plays guitar and mandolin in a local band appropriately named “The Barbaric Yawps,” which is an allusion to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself LII.” Much of their material centers around the Americana genre, which has significant influence from American literature, a subject that Watkins teaches and has delved into quite a bit.
“Certainly, music is one very good way to understand the past and connect with it,” Watkins said.
Watkins finds great value in the history surrounding 20th century American literature. He said that there is much that students can learn from the context in which music was written.
“Certainly, music is one very good way to understand the past and connect with it,” Watkins said. “I think that that historical curiosity is something that students should cultivate, and I don’t see as much of that as I would like to see from students at Berry.”
Lidke, McDowell and Watkins use their musical knowledge and talents to try to teach new and different perspectives to Berry students while taking the time to explore different ways to comprehend and facilitate music’s connection to academia.