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"Music is the silence between the notes." -Claude Debussy
Now into their twentieth season of production, Calvin College established the Student Activities Office [SAO] back in 1993, with Director Ken Heffner at the helm of one of the school’s most dynamic and [less obviously] evolutionary programs- the concert series. With Calvin’s unique approach to cultural engagement, the SAO has developed a well-defined, pragmatic mission, and has proven its value and efficacy over the years.
Although the practice of booking acts and setting the stage differs little from how most or many venues operate, since its inception Calvin’s SAO has made every effort to hone their focus on the experience of concert-going, and not simply the entertainment. In that very pursuit, they have attempted to produce a listening-centric environment, with particular emphasis on attentiveness, courtesy, and the practical relationship between the performers and the audience. This precept has given rise to a local, cultural interest in impassioned artists, and conversely has drawn that similar order of musicians to Calvin’s door in order to play to that very sort of captive audience. Ken Heffner describes this phenomena:
“There’s a reputation in the touring world that this is a great place to play, because you have this very attentive audience… When they’re [the audience] is quiet, you give the artist freedom to try out some more delicate things that they would not have tried at another venue.”
By providing a “listening room” environment, the SAO establishes not only a greater link between artist and audience, they contribute something different from the prevalent standard of musical venues. The model is more similar to an orchestral concert hall, and while some may be discouraged from attending seated venues, subtracting alcohol and some of the more social elements of “going to see a show” allows for a more plenary musical experience, bereft of distraction. It’s an alternative seldom seen in particular among organizations promoting music of interest to youth culture, but it is a refreshing change of pace from the organized chaos seen elsewhere.
Most especially within the larger entertainment industry, popular culture has long been its own driving force in society, and as such has been fortified by common values such as freedom of expression, and creativity. While religiosity has often been at odds with these forces, Calvin’s SAO works every day to prove that it doesn’t have to. Their mission is to arm their students with an intellectual understanding of art, and emotion, and expression. While music is only one of several fields that the school excels in illustrating to their collective assembly, it is a tool that speaks loudly with the student generation. In all reality, music is perhaps one of their greatest assets in order to encourage their students to become educated on the society and culture they live in, to interact with it, to become a part of it, and ultimately to better it.