A Look Back on 40 years of the Lunch Hour Series

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Source: Maggie Reid

Maggie Reid, Features Editor

Since 1978, Utica College’s Lunch Hour Series has been a way for students, faculty and staff to take a break on Wednesday afternoons.

Depending on the program provided that day, at 12:30 musicians fill the Library Concourse with the sounds of music or authors fill Macfarlane Auditorium with sounds of their spoken words.

The Lunch Hour Series came began when the Social Cultural Committee sponsored a series of events in Strebel from 1970-1978. These events brought well-established musicians to Utica, and would lead to the series becoming a permanent event.

“Professor of Philosophy Dr. James Caron went to Dr. Thomas Sheldon, the president of the college at the time, with the idea of creating an informal time at noon where individuals on campus and the community could pause, grab a bagged lunch [or bring their own], and for an hour away from the daily pressures of classes and meetings, enjoy music, talks, or other events like readings from poets, writers, or scenes from plays,” said Professor David Moore, director of the series.

The next year, they decided to make it a full-fledged series and the genesis, according to Moore, was spring of 1978. The first full year was 1979, which is why the 40 years of the series will be celebrated in the spring.

The series was renamed in the fall of 1992 after receiving a donation.

“History Professor Harry Jackson and his wife Mary Ruth Jackson donated a large stipend to the college as an endowment to help keep the series going,” Moore said.

For the last 40 years, the series has continued to bring many fine writers and musicians who live in Central New York, as well as national and international writers.

“There has been music, writers, poets, high school ensembles, different musical groups, and players of Utica has done a couple scenes at one point,” Moore said. “There has been gallery talks and miscellaneous talks. A variety of content over the years.”

The programs usually go about 45-50 minutes, however, some performances take longer than others, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Last fall,  we had the Finger Lakes Guitar Quartet, and they kept going for almost an hour and a half,” Moore said. “People stayed to listen because it was so good.”

Although some classes, such as music,  are assigned to come to the series and write responses, there is a benefit to attending on one’s own time because it gives a cultural experience to students, staff, faculty, and members of the Utica community, according to Moore.

“Attending a Lunch Hour performance is like adding real whipped cream and even a cherry or two on top of a  schedule otherwise packed with classes and meetings,” said Moore. “Something different, rewarding, and a real treat.”

Professor of English Gary Leising believes that attending the series is important for students because they might not get this opportunity once they graduate.

“These kinds of events don’t often happen outside of college,” Leising said. “It is a great opportunity to see something that a lot of students end up  missing once they get out into working world, an opportunity people don’t have throughout their entire lives.”

Planning for the series usually happens a year in advance in order to make sure certain performers are booked.

“A lot of them are people I know, that have been recommended for the series, and sometimes somebody will send something to the Arts and Sciences office saying that they do a certain kind of performance, and so I keep a file of all those,” Moore said.

Professor Suzanne Richardson helps select which writers will be included in the series.

“Usually it’s writers I am interested in, read recently or heard buzz about,” Richardson said. “It is a tiered process, the first tier is a big named person who is well known in the writing world and has won awards. From there, I go to the second tier which is people who are local or people I know who are good, but who haven’t gotten a book out yet.”

Richardson tries to ensure that the writers she chooses are diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as subject matter.

“I try not to bring the same people over and over, “ Richardson said. “I don’t think that is a educational experience for students to keep seeing the same people.”

Upcoming programs include Reeds and Keys on Sept. 26, an evening reading by Christine Kitano on Oct. 3, which will be held in Barnes and Noble in New Hartford, violinist Shem Guibbory and pianist Sar-Shalom Strong on Oct. 17. Next semester, poet Natalie Scenters- Zapico, who has just been awarded the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry fellowship, will be attending on April 3. A full list of the series is available on utica.edu/jackson. For a full archive of recorded lunch hour series performances, visit  https://utica.libguides.com/archivevideo and click Lunch Hour Series.

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