Whether high or low, the arts were on display in Columbia yesterday, and everywhere a summertime informality prevailed.
While members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center rehearsed wearing shorts, sandals and flowered shirts, Baltimore's renowned abstract artist, Grace Hartigan, presented 40 years of her works in a slide show, and an Israeli acting company -- TMU-NA -- performed an original production.
On an outdoor stage, native Americans from Maryland who were wearing ornate traditional dress performed an Indian dance, and a troupe of clowns delighted children with slapstick, sight gags and juggling.
It was all part of Columbia's annual Festival of the Arts, which began last week and continues through Friday. There is an admission fee for some performances, but much of the festival is free.
Yesterday, parents and children sat alongside Lake Kittamaqundi and laughed over the antics of Circus Berserkus, the troupe of clowns.
"How did he do that?" one little girl said in amazement, when one of the clowns thrust a lighted torch down his throat.
The crowd gasped as two clowns juggled lighted torches between them and around a hapless third clown, who had seemingly been doused with gasoline.
Earlier in the day, at Howard Community College, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened its rehearsal to members of the public, who were invited at times to offer advice.
After running through the first movement of a Dvorak piece, Fred Sherry, the artistic director and cellist, turned to the audience. "Can you help us?" he asked. "There's not enough harmonium, is there?"
The audience agreed that the instrument wasn't loud enough, and James Winn, the harmonium player, turned up the volume.
"That's better now, isn't it?" Mr. Sherry asked. "It's right now, isn't it?"
The audience also saw the ensemble members stop and start, and make suggestions to one another about the tempo and about how to accept certain measures. Mr. Sherry shared tidbits with the spectators about some of the pieces, which the chamber society was to perform in concert last night.
He noted that the composer of one piece, Toru Takemitsu, writes mystery novels and commercial music under assumed names. "And he won't tell anyone the names he uses," Mr. Sherry said.
He said the composer of another piece, Gyorgy Ligeti, didn't learn for some time that his choral music was used in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Mr. Sherry, who has brought the chamber society to the Columbia festival for three years, said the open rehearsals are helpful to the musicians and the audience.
"It's a unique way for the audience to find out about the music," he said.
"We find that so many of them don't come here just to hear the music at a reduced price. They come to everything we do here and become quite knowledgeable about the music.
"And it's nice for us to get their input because they are hearing the music with fresh ears that we can't have, obviously."