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College of Liberal Arts News

Portland News Station Highlights Psychology Professor’s Synesthesia Research

A recent story on Portland's KATU News about an unusual sensory phenomenon called synesthesia featured the expertise of Mark Stewart, Willamette psychology professor and department chair.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition where people involuntarily join the information from one sense with a perception in another sense. For example, they might associate a taste with a certain sound, or see a color whenever they view a particular letter of the alphabet.

Stewart has spent much of his time at Willamette researching this condition. "Synesthesia has been described as a very small peep hole into understanding human consciousness," he said in the story. "What interests us is understanding more about how the brain organizes information."

Stewart teaches courses on sensation and perception, research methods, neuroscience and human experimental psychology. His recent work on time-space synesthesia will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Cortex. Learn more about him here.

To watch the KATU story, click here.

Willamette Sends Off the Class of 2009

It was sunny outside when the CLA Class of 2009 made their procession into the tent on The Quad in mid-May. The graduating class numbered 432: Their post-graduation paths are just as numerable.

"Rouse yourself to action,” President Pelton urged the graduating class. “Rouse yourself to engagement with something bigger than yourself. Use your talents to make this old world a new one."

Emmy Award-winning journalist and political commentator Juan Williams delivered the commencement address and was awarded an honorary degree, along with singer/composer Bernice Johnson Reagon and journalist/author Timothy Egan. Williams, who worked for 23 years at The Washington Post, is a National Public Radio senior correspondent and a political analyst for the Fox News Channel.

"Incredible journeys await all of you," Williams said. "Now it is time for you to surprise your parents, surprise your teachers, surprise yourself. It's time for you to take the risk that's required of people who make a difference."

Willamette Student Wins Coveted Composition Award

Willamette University student Phil Taylor ’11 was recognized with a BMI Student Composer Award, one of most coveted and prestigious awards for young composers in the Western Hemisphere. He was honored May 15 at a ceremony in New York City.

His piece, Metamorphosis, takes its inspiration from Johannes Brahms, who wrote one of the only regularly performed works for violin, horn and piano. “It’s such an unusual combination,” Taylor said. “I felt I had to try my hand at it.”

Taylor first heard his composition performed live in April. “I was thrilled to actually hear real instruments play the work that had only existed in my mind. It was everything I had conceived, and more.”

Taylor began playing piano at age 11 and wrote his first composition two years later. “Playing and creating music have always gone hand in hand for me,” he said, “and composition is a bit like performing. You put your heart out there to be accepted or critiqued by the public.”

His contemporary classical compositions feature rich, multi-layered textures. Taylor’s mentors at Willamette include composer John Peel and pianist Jean-David Coen. “Dr. Peel made me the composer I am today,” Taylor said, “and Dr. Coen taught me all I know about being a musician. That has carried over into the subtlety and sensitivity I try to bring to my compositions.”

Taylor’s second love is literature, and he has featured the poetry of Oscar Wilde and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his song cycles. Nature is also a primary inspiration.
“Music is my life,” said the sophomore, who is contemplating graduate school in composition. “It will be a big factor in what I choose to do.

“Many people think that classical music is dying,” Taylor said. “Audiences are aging and there is a perception that composers are growing less responsive. But there will always be some sort of audience for classical music, and there are so many fresh variations within what we call classical music. Modern music ranges from extreme minimalism to thick textures and from the dissonant to the consonant. It also crosses over into other musical forms. I believe that with that kind of variety, there will always be an audience for classical music.”

The BMI Student Composer Awards are co-sponsored by the BMI Foundation and BMI. Awards are made on an annual basis for compositions submitted by students actively engaged in the study of music. The nonprofit foundation, based in New York City, was established in 1985 to support the creation, performance and study of music.

Taylor’s eight fellow winners this year hail from institutions such as The Juilliard School, The Manhattan School of Music and the UFMG Music School in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Related Links:

Willamette University Department of Music
BMI Website News Release

Senior Fund Drive Surpasses Last Year’s Turnout — Despite the Economy

The Senior Fund Drive, administered by the Office of Annual Giving, has shown us that this year’s graduating class is at least as inclined to support the university as past years’ classes. Slightly over 150 seniors gave throughout the year, and this proportion of the class — 35 percent— is a pleasant surprise given the state of the economy.

Additionally, senior participation rates are tied to college rankings such as those in U.S. News & World Report — so the benefits of participation go beyond the strictly financial.

To learn more about the Senior Fund Drive, visit the annual giving website.

WU Women Rowers Finish 11th at NCAA Championships

Last weekend saw the best rowers in the country compete at the NCAA rowing championships in Camden, N.J.

The Willamette University women's varsity eight+ took fifth place in the Division III Petite Final at the NCAA Championship Regatta on Saturday, May 30 at Cooper River Park. As a result, the Bearcats finished 11th overall in their first appearance at the NCAA championships.

The performance sets a new precedent for Willamette rowing. On the heels of other recent successes on the east coast, the Willamette crew team, under the direction of Susan Parkman, has taken the program to a new level.

Related Links:

Full NCAA Championships news release

Athletics website