Denison University announces Professor of Music Ching-chu Hu has been named director of the Vail Series. The Vail Series encompasses all performing arts, and reaches out to the entire campus across academic fields and interests. Hu finds this broad perspective vital to the mission of the liberal arts.
The interdisciplinary nature of the arts
“Our model of engaging performers highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the arts,” Hu says. “The Vail Series has a rich history of bringing world-renowned performers to campus, but even more importantly, our students have truly unique opportunities to interact with them in classes, in performances, and even in one-on-one conversations. This is something I want to embrace, continue, and build upon.”
“I also want to provide performances that will resonate from that night and beyond. I hope our community will be impressed by the concerts, learn from them, and take away from the experience memories that will last a lifetime.”
Though music is Hu’s metier, the composer and musician has a history of inclusivity across the arts. He founded Denison’s TUTTI Arts Festival as a way to create connections across a number of disciplines.
“TUTTI means ‘all’ in Italian,” Hu says. “Though TUTTI launched in 2004 as a traditional composers event, the plan was always to grow it into a full-blown new arts festival.”
Today TUTTI brings new ideas and new works to campus every year. “We involve other departments and offer collaborative opportunities with artists, students, faculty, and the community,” Hu says. “We cross-pollinate across the traditional arts, music, dance, theatre, and visual arts, and we bring in artists who are inspired by a huge range of themes, such as data and science. This creates natural bridges into all areas of the liberal arts.”
Building long-term connections
In addition to bringing such artists as Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile to campus, the Vail Series partners with academic programs to offer rich opportunities for students to develop long-term relationships with visiting performers. Denison’s Ensembles-in-Residence program, for example, currently brings two ensembles, Third Coast Percussion and contemporary string quartet ETHEL, to campus several times over the academic calendar, an association that continues over several years. The longevity of these partnerships nurtures a deeper connection with the artists as individuals as well as master performers — and opens unexpected avenues.
Long-term visiting artists have the time to develop their personal passions and share them with students. Case in point, one member of ETHEL has a keen interest in sustainability and spent many hours with students at the Homestead, the college’s solar-powered, sustainable community. Another member talked with Denison athletes about ways to cope with performance anxiety, which is also a career focus for him.
Expanded opportunities lead to fulfilling careers
Denison is a leading college for students who are passionate about the arts. Talented faculty teach their passion, and the liberal arts provide knowledge from a vast range of thought and experience. Many graduates go on to careers in music, theatre, cinema, and dance, and many continue to express their arts in their personal time as well.
One of the Vail Series’ signature offerings is its internship program. Student interns have myriad opportunities to learn behind-the-scene skills that open new career paths. “A number of students have gone on to become impresarios who stage and promote artists and music events,” Hu says “In fact, some of them have come full circle and introduced their artists to us.
“And visiting artists have made introductions to other artists and other opportunities for students,” he adds. “It’s been wonderful to see. These connections remove an invisible wall and demystify the artists. Students can meet with and learn from people they admire as well as artists who are new to them.”
Students also talk with amazing artists off stage and have conversations they would never get anywhere else, Hu says. “And because we are in a learning environment, we are able to create these opportunities in the classroom as well. Often students don’t understand how incredible this is until they graduate and begin paying for tickets to see these icons. That’s when they realize how special their experience, such as having Bobby McFerrin in class, was.”
Moving forward, Hu is thinking about new ways of showcasing what Denison can do, and even exploring opportunities outside the academic year. “Vail and TUTTI and the Ensemble-in-residence programs connect artists and students in multiple settings. I am excited about how this energy can spill over across and beyond campus.”