Harmony, for art's sake

Common Ground on the Hill tries to bring people together through learning.

SUMMER In Carroll County

July 03, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

The creators of Common Ground on the Hill, who believe that art represents the highest intentions of all cultures, are at the threshold of a second decade in their pursuit of peaceful solutions to conflict through artistic traditions.

"There is no better way [to understand each other] than through the arts," said Walt Michael, founder and executive and artistic director of the two-week event. "Artists have one agenda - to reflect the beauty within their culture and their understanding of the world."

This marks the 11th year for the traditional music and arts event and draws hundreds of students and artists from around the world each summer to the Westminster campus of McDaniel College. Classes and workshops are held each day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in a variety of music, dance and writing traditions.

The event kicks off today with a fine arts reception in the Rice Gallery of Peterson Hall from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. An orientation, scheduled for 8 p.m. in Baker Chapel, is open to all participants as well as those who are curious but haven't decided whether to sign up. Those who are interested may register on the spot.

More than 100 artists and musicians will teach such classes as 21st Century Southeastern Native American Philosophy and Religion, Latin American guitar, Enlightenment 101 - The Blues and Chinese painting.

The first week will focus on traditions from different cultures, while the second week will be dedicated to songwriting, guitar, recording and arts.

The event's organizers, who say that everyone has at least a little bit of artist in them, encourage people of all skill levels to take classes.

"The intimidation factor is very low," said Linda Van Hart, who teaches metalsmithing at McDaniel and who has been Common Ground's visual arts coordinator since its inception. "You're in classes with people like [Grammy Award-winning folk musician] Tom Chapin and they're fellow students learning along with you."

Van Hart pointed to the dozens of classes and lecture offerings as an illustration of Common Ground's mission.

"We offer alternative ways of thinking," she said. "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem you have looks like a nail. When you get more tools, you're not afraid to use them and the way you look at problem-solving is different. ... You can come up with more peaceful alternatives."

For the fourth year, the event includes the Nonviolence Institute, which examines nonviolence traditions such as the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Underground Railroad.

The event's flagship course, the Search for Common Ground, is titled, "The Immigrants in Us/The Immigrants Among Us." It seeks to answer such questions as, "How can we retain our ethnic identity and achieve human community?"

As part of Common Ground's lecture series, a new class called "Film and Social Change" will be taught by Daniel R. Collins, an Emmy Award-winning film documentary producer, published poet and musician.

Michael said he also added classes dealing with Islamic traditions because that part of the world has been such a newsworthy topic and he wanted participants to learn more about it.

Ira Zepp - professor emeritus for religious studies at McDaniel and author of eight books, including A Muslim Primer: Beginner's Guide to Islam - will lead a lecture titled, "Understanding Islam."

Another new class examines Islamic art and architecture. A class on the oud - "the grandfather of all guitars," Michael said - will be taught by Rahim AlHaj, who was born in Baghdad and has been playing the instrument since he was 9 years old.

"It's a great opportunity to come and study and learn from doers - more so than educators - how to play music," Michael said.

During both weeks, concerts and dances that begin at 8 p.m. are open to participants as well as the community. Other evening events include a gospel choir and orchestra, which will perform from 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. each evening during the first week. The second week includes student showcases, faculty concerts and song circles in the evenings.

Sandwiched in between the two weeks is the eighth annual American Music and Arts Festival, which has drawn up to 5,000 concertgoers in years with good weather.

The two-day festival, to be held next weekend at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, will feature more than 75 musicians, dancers and storytellers.

This year's headliners include Hot Tuna, an acoustic blues group and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers celebrating rock, blues, folk and country music. Other festival performers include Tom Chapin, Dr. Loco with Thomas Montoya, and the Sankofa African Dance Theater.

Michael, a leader in the revival of the hammered dulcimer who has toured as a professional musician for more than 25 years, started Common Ground because he wanted to pass on the traditions of art that he felt were falling by the wayside.

"It was a way to enrich my local community with people I've known from all over our country and the world ... as well as local artists," said Michael, the college's artist-in-residence. "There's a saying, "Bloom where you're planted." People think [they] need to go to New York City, but that's not true."

Common Ground on the Hill is held at McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster. For tuition and schedule information, call 410-857- 2771, e-mail cground@qis.net or go to www.common groundonthehill.org.

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