Charleston: a city of cobblestone streets, palm trees and southern charm

Classmates from the Charleston course, professor Jack Sullivan and conductor Joe Miller (bottom left) posed outside of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul.

By Megan Lupo

With multiple museums, a prominent city market, stream of horse and carriage tours and restaurants filled with classic Southern comfort foods, the vibrant yet quaint town of Charleston, South Carolina takes pride in their culture and history all-year long. The celebration of art and music only intensifies when the Spoleto Festival USA commences and disperses its entertainment into the area’s churches and theaters each spring. 

The 17-day festival was created in 1977 when famed composers Gian Carlo Menotti and Christopher Keene, amongst others, wanted to create an American equivalence of the annual event in Spoleto, called the  Festival of Two Worlds in Italy, according to the Spoleto Festival USA’s website. Resembling the essence of European charm, the Charleston location proved to be “intimate enough that the festival would captivate the entire city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide an enthusiastic audience and robust infrastructure.”

Taking in the sights and atmosphere of Charleston during the 2018 festival was junior accounting major Alyssa Bromke on a week-long class trip to the city taught by chair of the English department Jack Sullivan, as part of his American Studies course. 

“My first reaction to Charleston was awe. There was a suburb feel and friendliness with a city hustle and setup,” Bromke said, reflecting on her time there from May 30 to June 7. “Charleston had a new city feel, while having a rich history and landmarks.”

Needing global and cultural liberal arts credits, Bromke said she did not want to passively learn about culture in a classroom setting. She wanted to be present in experiencing another place’s way of life. 

In doing so, she found an appreciation for the performing arts, as each show she saw was both innovative with and faithful to its art form. 

“I enjoyed the festival so much. It brought so many new and creative spins to many of the things that have been around for hundreds of years, such as operas,” Bromke said. 

“The performances that Sullivan’s class saw included the operas “The Secret Marriage” and Pia de’ Tolomei, the concert of composer Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem,” a theater production of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” and a Westminster Choir concert at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul.

Since the 1977 start, the Westminster Choir had been featured in the festival. Their first conductor was Joseph Flummerfelt, who served as the director of choral activities at Spoleto for 37 years, according to the Rider website. Joe Miller is the current conductor and artistic director for choral activities. 

“Being the artistic director for choral activities for the festival is artistically rewarding and personally fulfilling,” Miller said. “The commitment of so many people, including a committed artistic staff and a tour de force board of directors, to enrich the musical fabric of the United States and to bring together so many voices from around the world is inspiring to our students and to me.” 

As for Westminster Choir’s future in performing at the festival after Kaiwen Education assumes control of Westminster Choir College (WCC), Miller, who is also the director of choral activities at WCC, said that the choir is expected to continue in its performing tradition.

Commenting on what a devastation losing the Westminster Choir would be was Jessie Bagley, the director of marketing and public relations at Spoleto Festival USA. 

“That would certainly be a huge change in the way the festival operates. We would try to do whatever we could for that not to be the case because they are such an integral part of the festival and have been for the entire life of the festival,” Bagley said. “We’re keeping up on the news and having them in town this festival feels really special. They’re putting on amazing concerts, just like they always do. We’re staying involved, so we know what’s going on.”

Working her eighth year, Bagley, who grew up in Charleston, said that the festival had always been a monumental part of her life. 

“I remember my first Spoleto experience at the [Charleston Gaillard Center] before it was renovated [from 2012 to 2015],” Bagley said. “I saw Savion Glover, who was a tap dancer. I still remember that performance. It was so much fun.”

For Bromke, her most memorable performance at her first Spoleto experience was “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” about the lives of painter Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella. 

“That was the most amazing play because it showed a man for the first five minutes and the rest of the time was a flashback on his relationship with his wife,” Bromke said. 

Bagley understood Bromke’s sentiment of immense joy after such a show.

“[The festival] means so much. You can talk to someone who’s maybe only been [to the festival] a few times or maybe just one time, and it impacts their life in a big way,” Bagley said. “We also have people who have lived here longer than the festival has been around, and they’ve come for 42 years.”

Settled into her Rider apartment for the 2018 academic school year, Bromke reminisced about her time in the Southern city, missing the picturesque views and rich history. 

“This class was not only worth the time but worth the money,” Bromke said. “The four weeks I would have spent in a classroom would have only given me a quarter the knowledge and memories that I got in a week in Charleston.”



Published in 9/19/18 edition.

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