VOLUME 8, NUMBER 1
SPECIAL ISSUE: REAPING THE REWARDS OF
THE PLAN FOR MOUNT HOLYOKE 2003
goals: Encourage greater integration of the performing and expressive
arts in the curriculum and College life Support excellence
and innovation in the sciences and strengthen linkages among those
fields and with others in the curriculum
Hannah Kolak's experience
at the College is testimony to the power of the liberal arts to
broaden and inspire. She arrived four years ago an avid cellist
intending to major in physics. She is graduating as a double major
in music and physics who now plays two other instruments (organ
and piano) and has studied voice. She has won prizes for excellence
in not only physics and music, but also in Russian (she has just
started learning German, as well); and plans to pursue a doctorate
in musical composition at Boston University. "Hannah is perhaps
the epitome of what studying music in a liberal arts context is
all about," says Associate Professor of Music Larry Schipull.
"She came with no intention of studying music but, after taking
courses, she found that she enjoyed knowing about music in a way
she hadn't before. Music is now a consuming passion for her."
||Hannah Kolak '03 plays the
cello in the new science center's Kendade Hall.
Kolak says that she
"felt her worlds colliding" during her first year at the College.
It was then that she took her first music theory course and "loved
it," and when she began a study of "the mathematical behavior
of strings": in other words, why stringed instruments make sounds.
While Kolak retained her interest in physics and excelled--Sean
Sutton, professor and chair of physics, calls her "a remarkable
physics major, one of the best I've seen in twenty years of teaching"--her
first course in composition convinced her that her future was
in music. Kolak says simply, "Mount Holyoke has allowed me to
pursue anything I have wanted to explore."
During her senior
year, "exploring" has meant focusing on a multifaceted thesis.
A recital at the College in March featured her compositions for
voice, wind ensemble, and organ, and she conducted the wind ensemble.
In addition to her work on the concert, Kolak wrote a paper in
which she reflected on her own compositions and compared two compositions
by contemporary composers. She first chose "The Covenant," by
Ralph Shapey, a piece for soprano and sixteen players dedicated
to the thirtieth anniversary of the state of Israel. Searching
for a piece similar in style, she became captivated by the theatrical
opera-cantata "Final Alice," one of Pulitzer Prize–winning
composer David Del Tredici's explorations of the fantasy world
of Lewis Carroll. A soprano sings and narrates an established
text accompanied by an orchestra in both pieces. "I liked the
similarity in format of these compositions, among other things,"
says Kolak, whose scientific background is evident in her approach.
"Finding the right pieces was like setting up an experiment with
'controls.' I needed certain things to be present to make comparisons."
While Shapey is considered
an atonal modernist composer and Del Tredici is regarded as a
tonal postmodernist, it is not surprising that Kolak feels the
two have "more in common than you would think." Her paper, she
says, "draws larger conclusions about divisions [in contemporary
music], focusing on integration rather than boundaries." For Kolak,
blurring boundaries--and being in harmony while doing it--is all
part of a Mount Holyoke education that has struck a perfect chord.