UR is currently undergoing an identity crisis that other schools would love to have – a clash between the guitar-wielding musicians of the humanities departments and the textbook-wielding pre-meds of the science departments. And so the question arises: Who is the heart and soul of UR?
First glance would tell you that this is no contest – UR is, and always has been, a science-oriented university, and, in the College of Arts and Sciences, pre-meds will always be king.
But first glances are not worth much. The college is nurturing a community where the connection to the impressive Eastman School of Music is more valued than ever, and musicians are surprisingly abundant within the student population. Can you spend a day in a freshman dorm without hearing the sounds of a hastily thrown-together jam-band emanating through the hallway?
At UR open houses for prospective students, a common advertisement involves the musicality of the student body and the proud declaration that undergraduates not studying music often have musical backgrounds and passions. Clearly UR admissions has made a strategic decision to embrace a strong musical presence on the River Campus – the frequent student concerts and free admission to Eastman events are a few of the perks. And the result is a surprising number of students – econ majors, religion majors, political science majors – willing to throw down a few riffs on the guitar or piano in their spare time.
But is this a strong enough force to overshadow the sciences? The litmus test is whether outsiders think “music” when they hear Rochester instead of “doctors.” That time has not yet arrived, mostly because the UR medical community is as prevalent as ever. For every part-time keyboardist there’s a biology recitation, and enormous science classes with legions of TAs, complimenting the largest hospital in the region and that whole curing cancer thing the UR Medical Center pulled off, all signs that the UR sciences aren’t giving up their ground without a fight.
Strong Memorial Hospital looms over the River Campus, providing aspiring doctors and scientists with opportunities to wear white coats, and taunting music students when they drive by: “You study music chords? You could have been in here, saving lives. You could have been a contender.” The city of a hospital is the reason that not even Paul McCartney could lead the River Campus Music Department to victory over the sciences.
But Eastman, the music student’s counter to Strong Memorial Hospital, keeps the rivalry competitive. Eastman is always ranked as one of the top music schools in the nation. If the faculty members themselves aren’t famous enough for you, the school also has the type of pull to consistently feature top-of-the-line performances from world renowned musicians. Without Eastman, there would be no Rochester International Jazz Festival, which brings some of the greatest jazz artists of all time to play on a yearly basis, like Dave Brubeck, who headlined the event this past year. Short of resurrecting Jonas Salk to give out polio vaccinations, Eastman will go unmatched by URMC in this area. And though Strong Memorial can brag about being able to hold more people than the entire population of Wyoming, Eastman has the glitzy, glamorous, light-bulb-adorned Eastman Theatre, known to confuse pedestrians into thinking they’re walking down Broadway. Until they see the empty parking lot across the street, that is.
Eastman’s location is a definite negative. Unlike URMC, it is not within walking distance and often seen as an entirely separate entity from UR. Furthering that notion is the Eastman faculty’s reluctance to embrace UR as their affiliated university – for years the brand “University of Rochester” was nowhere to be found on Eastman School letterheads. Credit the Strategic Plan from President Joel Seligman and company in creating a push to strengthen the relationship between the University and Eastman. But no Strategic Plan will bring the school physically closer, and River Campus musicians will need to endure white buses or parking meters for at least several more centuries.
So which program comes out on top? Who is the backbone of the UR student population? If you’re reading this in Strong Memorial Hospital, chances are you’ve got your answer. And if you’re waiting at ITS for the Eastman charter bus, you also know who makes up the heart and soul of the River Campus. By now, the answer should be obvious: the crew team.
Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.