Enlightenment, entertainment on tap at Wednesday noon series at Hopkins Music, lectures draw faculty, neighbors

April 02, 1997|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Every Wednesday at noon, the Johns Hopkins University serves a menu of free culture for one hour. Listening to Liszt or, say, a lecture on the history of teatime is presented to the public as food for the soul.

Those who flock there, mostly from the nearby North Baltimore neighborhoods, learn enlightening things such as the fact the English peddled opium to the Chinese to have foreign exchange with which to buy tea, the first popular beverage in the English royal court that wasn't alcoholic.

"It's a wonderful break to my week," said Elizabeth Fraser, a weekly regular who works at the Space Telescope Science Institute, as more than 100 people ambled out after a piano concert on the university's Homewood campus last week. "Today I really needed it."

The Wednesday noon series, which runs in fall and spring, was originally conceived as "a chance [for the Hopkins community] to see what the crazy old professors are doing," said Sidney Mintz, 74, who teaches anthropology.

Mintz gave a talk Feb. 26 on tea as a "sign of commonality" for the British, "the way baseball is for us." He broke the audience up when he referred to tea as "a blessing to the world's worst cooks."

The series began in 1971, according to the woman who makes it happen, Mary Ellen Robinson, director of the special events office. "It started as an interesting noontime diversion to give Hopkins people something to do," she said. In 1975, it was opened to the public.

Senior citizens are the most avid attenders. Self-described "old ladies" Phyllis Rivers and Charlotte Bloom, from a sewing club in Wyman Park, made their way down the Shriver Hall steps after a "fabulous" piano performance by Bill-John Newbrough, the 24-year-old winner of the Peabody Institute concerto competition.

Members of the Morning Out Club from the Keswick adult day care center for those adults with early Alzheimer's disease also go. One, Ina Savage, 55, of Roland Park called Newbrough's music "the best piano concert I'm ever going to forget."

Robinson, a vivacious 58-year-old woman who has worked at Hopkins for 18 years and is married to a retired chemistry professor, said she designed the spring series to highlight Baltimore's bicentennial year, which explains the "preponderance of local people" giving talks, including Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the Visionary Arts Museum, and Dan Blank, director of training at the National Aquarium.

Hoffberger will speak April 9 on "the visionary experience common to religious leaders, inventors and artists." Blank will talk April 16 on training and taking care of marine animals.

The program, said Robinson, has "something for everyone." She named depth, diversity, educational content, entertainment value and enrichment as the ingredients in her mix.

In the fall, the emphasis was on politics and the elections, but Robinson, who became on expert on the eclectic through "reading a lot," threw in a lecture on restoring the USS Constellation for naval history buffs.

Professors are not paid, but outside artists and speakers are generally given honorariums of $200 to $300.

A Baltimore actress, Cherie Weinert, portrayed four of "Shakespeare's spirited women" in a one-woman show where she created the characters of Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew," Rosalind from "As You Like It," Isabella in "Measure for Measure" and Cleopatra.

"I loved that space," said Weinert. "To attend to the spoken word takes a special kind of audience. It's a gift Hopkins gives to the surrounding community."

"The series is the kind of thing Hopkins should do more of," said Mintz, "to go beyond the four years we provide to a tiny, privileged fraction of our youth. The other kind of education has to do with all those kinds of nonmeasurable aspects of life in the civilized society."

Robinson, who is retiring in June, said that if she had one wish, it would be that "more Hopkins students would come. You do see staffers, faculty, but you don't see many students."

To buck the trend, she scheduled the Johns Hopkins student gospel choir on the last Wednesday of the series, April 30. "[Students] will cut class to come to that," Robinson said. "The choir will bring the house down."

Information: 516-7157.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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