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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

2008 Summer Reading Program

I hope you will pardon the pun, but we are "jazzed" about this year's summer reading program. Inspired by the music of award-winning composer and trumpeter, Terence Blanchard, we have put together an interesting mix of readings that speak to the various themes associated with Hurricane Katrina—themes such as the power of nature, race and class differences, political responses to disasters, north-south relations, the development (and death?) of a city, human memory, the importance of jazz, and so on. Enclosed, please find the centerpiece of the entire set of readings: Blanchard's soundtrack, "A Tale of God's Will: A Requiem for Katrina."  Check out his website!

For many of you (and for me), reading, interpreting, and analyzing a piece of music will represent a new experience. We selected Blanchard's album precisely because it poses a difficult challenge; it highlights the type of intellectual exercise that is at the core of a liberal arts education. So much of the way in which we communicate our thoughts, ideas, and stories is non-verbal. Like studying an unfamiliar language, examining a non-written text requires more than just a casual review; in this case, it requires more than simply putting "A Tale of God's Will" on your iPod and listening to it while you work out. As such, we ask that you spend time listening intentionally to the music—reading the "text," if you will—while formulating questions or comments related to its central themes. Ask yourself what it is that the artist is trying to accomplish with a particular piece of music or a particular section of a song? What message is he trying to convey? How does the work reveal the emotions of the artist, or how does it reflect the loss felt by Gulf Coast residents? By all Americans?

 To help us better understand Blanchard's powerful score—and, indeed, the circumstances that made Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects on the Gulf Coast so memorable—we have put together six additional readings, which can be accessed through the FYE website (access to the readings is password protected). Each of the supplemental readings is meant to connect to the broad themes of Blanchard's music or to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. We thus included a chapter on the geography, geology, and engineering of the particular region affected, as well as several short poems and a commentary by Langston Hughes on the experience of black Americans. We've also included readings that should help you obtain a basic understanding of the architecture of a jazz tune, and ones that should raise issues related to race and class. Altogether, the readings should elicit more questions than they answer; after all, that is a core principle of a Skidmore education. We hope you enjoy them.

All first-year students are expected to read, contemplate, and scrutinize the entire summer reading package prior to arriving on campus. There will be ample opportunity throughout the academic year to examine and discuss the issues raised by this set of readings. The highlight of our year-long exploration is, of course, Terence Blanchard's fall and spring residencies. He will arrive on campus for his fall visit on Monday, September 15th, and there will be special opportunities for him to meet with first-year students.  

Stay tuned for more details.

All the best,

Beau Breslin
Assistant Dean of the Faculty and Director of the First-Year Experience