Visiting colleges is a crapshoot. Bennington was probably the biggest one I took when I flew here from California about…. oh goodness, 4 Novembers ago to look at schools on the East Coast. I pretty much knew nothing about it when I visited
Initially I was pretty set on Sarah Lawrence. I was fairly certain I wanted to study creative writing and maybe do music on the side, but I thought I’d stop by Bennington on the way since we started at UVM and we had to pass through Bennington to get from Burlington to Yonkers.
So we stopped , I had a tour, I slept over, and I just got this whiff of a place where people cared about what they were doing for the sake of doing it, and that because they got to choose what they did, they felt a sense of ownership in their studies. That, mixed with the genuinely friendly vibe, the feeling of open sharing and interest in the deeper parts of people made me really get into this place.
The next day I sat in on a class, which (though I didn’t know at the time) sealed the deal. I went to Allen Shawn’s Beginning Composing class, where they were getting a taste of what soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones sounded like, as well as an intro to bass clarinet. Bruce Williamson, who teaches jazz ensemble and theory classes here and, oh yeah, plays ALL of these instruments, blew my mind that day, and continues to disturb me as, each term, he reveals that ” oh yeah I play flute/piano/guitar too.” But that day, the mixture of Bruce’s wizardry and Allen’s infectious enthusiasm for opening new pathways for music stirred something inside me I knew was half-there, but had never fully acknowledged, which was my urge to write music.
After I visited Bennington, I went to the “Open House” at Sarah Lawrence, which gave me an ‘official’ view of their Don system and other things, but I really missed that sense of ownership and community through sharing. It was weird, when I went to Sarah Lawrence every face I saw just about looked downturned and unhappy, and the campus layout for whatever reason just didn’t gel with me. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I’m a sucker for forests, and man do we have woods.
So when it came time to decide, I chose not only Bennington, but music at Bennington, and just because I sat in on a class.
Now for a reality check: when I got here, Allen went on sabbatical. I took Beginning Composing with Su Lian Tan, who teaches at Middlebury, who was inspiring in her own right and a joy to learn from. It made me upset, and even now there’s a part of me that really misses that seminal experience of having someone in a room with you, showing what their instrument can do, and writing what those sounds look like on paper. A few of my younger friends are taking the class with Allen, and man, there’s just nothing like it. The man just draws music out of you. I know, because I eventually took Comp Intensive, and after that class I couldn’t stop writing a Violin Sonata, which turned out to be 20 minutes long, only 5 of which I wrote for ‘credit’.
I think that’s all I’ll write for now. Next time I’ll talk about how my studies in music have progressed since, in a funny way, I’m a rather ‘mono-disciplinary’ Bennington student, —and a happy one at that, too.