Easily Amused “Con-lege!”

At first glance, they may seem as two independent kingdoms, traversable only by those brave enough to cross the treacherous chasm of College Avenue. On one side stands the iconic Main Hall cupola; facing it across this dry moat is the equally impressive—but somewhat less iconic—Memorial Chapel Steeple. These apexes serve as the axis mundi of each realm: Lawrence’s College and Conservatory, respectively.

Typically a student’s life will revolve exclusively around one or the other, but orbits collide frequently. Such collisions are usually mutually beneficial and on friendly terms. However, many citizens of either kingdom will tell you that international relations, on occasion, can become contentious. Both seem to harbor an attitude that denizens of the opposing side of College Avenue tend to be peculiar, or otherwise inscrutable. Some may even use less-than-charitable adjectives to describe the “culture” of the other.

Despite this, many have suspected for a while that these kingdoms are secretly unified under the command of a shadowy cabal, directed by a mysterious monarch known only as “Marky Mark.” Even if this conspiracy theory proves to be true, in the eyes of many Lawrence citizens, the College and Conservatory appear to be firmly divided along the main artery of downtown Appleton. On one side there are lecture halls and laboratories, and on the other, recital halls and practice rooms. Each space seems to accommodate a different sort of education, and to some degree a different sort of student.

Or so I thought. As a College student who sometimes likes to pretend he’s a Con kid, I can avow that this doesn’t have to be the case. Indeed, involvement in the College and Conservatory can complement each other in many ways. Many of you already know this—other College students dabble in the Con and some Con kids haven’t had enough of College academics after passing Freshman Studies. A few intrepid souls are even working toward College and Conservatory degrees simultaneously. I’m making this appeal to people who would consider it unthinkable to cross the chasm in either direction.

I was attracted to Lawrence in part because of the Conservatory, even though I knew I would not be pursuing a music degree. This is because I knew from experience that academic work is complementary to musical study—or any applied art form, for that matter. I had the good fortune to attend a fine arts academy called Interlochen for my latter two years of high school. Interlochen combined academics with several hours of music each day—lessons, rehearsals, practice, etc. Teachers often catered to their audience with musical metaphors and homework that could be completed in the practice room. I had an incredible experience there. Looking back on it now, I can see that the integration of academics and music was crucial.

Neuroscience majors will cringe at this sort of pop-psychology, but to generalize, the processes of learning facts, concepts and relations utilizes different parts of one’s brain than the process of practicing an art form. The former calls primarily upon the brain’s left hemisphere—the side that orders, analyzes and delineates. The latter calls primarily upon the right hemisphere—the side that integrates, intuits and imagines. I believe that being regularly involved in both types of activities is mutually reinforcing. Even if it doesn’t technically cause one to “use more brain-power,” you will certainly think and learn in different ways. This gives one a greater perspective as to how learning happens. In a sense, it’s a way to learn how to learn. I also think it allows one to appreciate subtle connections and resemblances between various disciplines. This sort of appreciation is one of the goals of a liberal arts education.

To illustrate my point, a big realization was that at a certain point, the study of any art begins to involve science, and vice-versa. To play an instrument at a high level you need to have a solid understanding of music theory. The discourse of music theory incorporates mathematics at the moment you start to learn about frequencies, overtones, modalities, harmonies, subdivisions, etc. Likewise, advanced mathematics, while still being full of left-hemisphere-dominated analysis, eventually requires you to call upon your intuition or sense of aesthetic to find the right theorem or equation for a problem or to fathom an extremely complex concept. To be fair, I barely passed Calculus I and haven’t experienced this firsthand, but mathematically-inclined friends have assured me it is true.

There are many other unexpected ways in which disciplines as foreign as pottery and physics coalesce. But don’t take my word for it. Whatever orbit you find yourself in, don’t avoid collisions with the other. Ask someone from the other “kingdom” what they are learning about—you will likely find parallels to your own studies and learn something interesting, even if you don’t have a revelation as to the underlying common object of all human endeavor. Lawrence goes out of their way to facilitate collaboration, dialogue and involvement across College Avenue. The jury is still out as to whether “Marky Mark” and his accomplices are behind it all. Regardless, the more people that take advantage of these opportunities, the better.

Yes, the College and Conservatory are different in many respects. No, their cultures are not identical. No, not everybody is obligated to take classes in both in order to have a fulfilling educational experience. But everyone should at least consider crossing that dividing line every once in a while.

 

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