Arts in Mind Symposium

The origin of this symposium began during an ecological adventure in Baja California with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Society (NGS), focusing on the bounty of wildlife in the oceans of the region--both the Pacific side, and the Sea of Cortez between Baja and the mainland of Mexico. The region is well-known for its plethora of marine mammals, including at least 6 species of whales, and several varieties of dolphin, often in huge pods. For some whales, this is a favored breeding ground for them during the winter months, alternating by migration with life in the high arctic thousands of miles away, given a rich abundance of preferred food. Prominent among them are Humpbacks. These are highly intelligent and cooperative creatures that uniquely possess a remarkable penchant to produce sophisticated and mysterious songs. It is in this context that Gary Paige (URMC faculty and Director of AIM) and Flip Nicklin (NGS photographer and whale specialist) met on ship. Over two weeks, discussions explored questions that in many cases seemed naïve, and yet were met with unclear or even unanswerable replies. Clearly there is much to be learned. We tend to focus on our own terrestrial ecology, and yet threats to our environment (e.g. global warming), affect the aquatic ecology as well. Change is upon us, and on a progressively incremental path. That said, much has, in fact, been learned over the past half century, and progress continues. The concept of a symposium on the subject was spawned, both to learn what is known, and to provoke understanding of what remains to be addressed. Conversations next transferred to UR colleagues, particularly in terms of formalizing the symposium in relation to ecology, social behavior and art, to include an overview of the oceans, the role of whales, and ultimately the remarkable behavior of humpbacks and their unique musical communications. However, an additional element for a more compelling experience was needed, and that was provided through conversations with faculty in the College (Missy Pfohl Smith, Director of the Dance Program and the IPA) and the Eastman School of Music (Jim Doser). What began as a chat about an existing musical work featuring whale-song (rare) morphed into the concept of a new work to be developed by Matt Curlee in honor of whale-song. This was quickly followed by the natural inclusion of dance to provide a synergistic physical rendition.

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Humpback Whales and Their Extraordinary Mystery of Song