President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
This Is Princeton
March 24, 2004
How many places are there where, in one gala event, you can listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning authors read from their works, hear original musical compositions and pieces from the jazz, operatic, and classical repertoires, see modern and traditional dance, and be entertained by a stand-up comedian—all performed by members of the same community? There probably aren't very many, but one of them is Princeton.
The intention of the undergraduates and deans who organized the event, as they wrote in the program notes, was to demonstrate "what makes Princeton a dynamic place." Perhaps even more remarkable than the range and quality of the performances was the fact that participants represented all walks of University life—freshmen through seniors, as well as graduate students, faculty members, staff members and alumni. Here are the elements of the program that the students appropriately named, "This Is Princeton."
"How we compose"
The evening opened with Eli Goldsmith '04, senior class president, chair of the Honor Committee, and a politics major. His senior thesis is on the censorship of musica fitting topic considering that Eli is a singer-songwriter who toured with Ice T and other hit groups before he was out of high school. He debuted that evening as a solo artist, singing one of his original songs, "A Casual Thing." Kevin Cotter '96, a concert pianist focusing on classical improvisation, also performed an original composition. Many of the students know Kevin as the member of the Annual Giving staff who works closely with the youngest classes. He is also a two-time Olympic rower and won a senior thesis prize for his work in genetics. Other musical performers included Irwin Hall '07, a gifted saxophone player who has been playing jazz professionally since he was 11, and Ken Grayson h'02, the foreman of the electric/elevator shops and a member of the staff for over 25 years, who sang blues-jazz selections accompanied on the piano by Adrian Banner *03, a member of the mathematics department.
For classical enthusiasts, there was the Princeton University Quartet, composed of students from Manhattan, Tennessee, Ohio, and Connecticut, performing the first movement of Czech composer Bedrich Smetana's first string quartet, "From My Life." For opera lovers, there was a performance by Anthony Roth Costanzo '04, who has performed professionally on Broadway, at Lincoln Center, at the Kennedy Center, with several symphony orchestras, and on the movie screen.
"How we move"
Examples of "how we move" included the diSiac Dance Company, dancing a hip-hop medley, and The High Steppers, Princeton's first step dance troupe. Sympoh Urban Arts Crew, Princeton's one and only break dancing crew, is proud of its tradition of attracting members from different backgrounds who have trained in different genres. On this particular evening it even included a graduate student—the only dancer performing in a suit. The international diversity of the Princeton community was represented by the student members of Ballet-Folklorico de Princeton, who performed the intricate dances that are a trademark of the rich cultural tradition of Mexico.
"How we recite"
Dan-el Padilla Peralta '06 read Greek and Latin selections that included Catullus and Sophocles, followed by his own translations. Dan-el, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 5 from the Dominican Republic, was last year's recipient of the Freshman First Honor Prize. John McPhee '53, a member of the faculty of the Council of the Humanities who has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism, read from his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about geology, Annals of the Former World. Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the Howard G.B.Clark '21 University Professor in the Humanities, read his poetry. Jason Lawrence will soon receive his doctorate in computer science, but he also has a budding career as a stand-up comedian. Having debuted at the Graduate College's D-Bar, he successfully made the transition to the much larger stage at Richardson.
In their introductions of the program's pieces, the organizers made clear that they hoped to give faculty and staff "a glimpse of how Princeton students excel outside of the classroom" and to allow faculty, alumni, and staff artists to "demonstrate to students that artistic expression lies within all of us and can be a lifelong pursuit." They succeeded. The grand finale, featuring the coed a cappella group, the Katzenjammers, brought together performers and audience in a rendition of Old Nassau. It was an evening that deserved a rousing chorus of "In praise of Old Nassau, we sing"—and dance, and perform, and recite.