The Friday Letter Archive

A collection of the president's weekly messages to the Vandal family


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Friday Letter 2015-02-20

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Dear Friends,
Next week I’ll have the pleasure of attending my second Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow. Jazz Fest is a signature event for the University of Idaho, bringing together students of many ages, faculty and staff, and community members from all over. Mary Beth and I are looking forward to experiencing it together.
What Jazz Fest does so well is combine the thrill of music and performance with the joy of teaching and learning. This year’s lineup stands out, with acclaimed artists such as Diane Reeves, the Air Force’s Airmen of Note ensemble, and many more. You’d have to travel far to find a comparable lineup of jazz musicians together in one place. In fact, Yahoo Travel recently declared our festival the one “Can’t-Miss Event” in Idaho.
But next week is about more than music. It’s also an opportunity for education. In 2014, the Jazz in Schools program, a key piece of the festival, brought discovery through jazz to 42 area schools and 4,000 students. Many of those students will be on campus next week, as well, attending workshops and performing on the large stage. Jazz is collaborative improvisation, embodying an important life skill. Jazz musicians contribute to the whole through their instrument or talent, but not without listening, yielding the floor and participating in harmonies — sometimes leading, sometimes following, and together making something unique and beautiful.
Importantly, while students are practicing those skills, they’ll also be getting a first-hand look at the university that we hope will be the setting for their college career. Not all of those students will be musicians or even study music, but it’s inspiring to see how music and culture can help young people find their path.
Many honors have followed our University’s work with students and our long history of amazing music. The festival has received the National Medal of the Arts award — the first instance of that award being bestowed upon a public university — and the Peter McGrath Community Engagement Exemplary Award, which recognized the innovative learning, discovery and engagement offered by the festival.
Of course, this event also celebrates the spirit and example of Lionel Hampton. More than just a musician, Lionel Hampton stood up for justice in our world, as a leader of one of the first integrated jazz bands and as an early supporter of South African leader Nelson Mandela. That heritage reminds us of the power of the arts — and its accompanying public stage — to be a catalyst for positive change in the world. We are proud of our part in that legacy.
I hope to see many of you over the course of the week. Mary Beth and I will be taking in the music and enjoying seeing students learn and grow. And we’ll be grateful for the behind-the-scenes work of festival staff, University of Idaho student workers and the small army of volunteers that help make this wonderful experience possible. Now in its 48th year, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival continues to thrive.

Chuck Staben portrait

Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben
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