Robinson to perform, share expertise on ragtime music genreBy Julia Morse
The Chicago Society will offer something a bit different than its usual repertoire at its upcoming event. There will be no debates on politics or world issues, no discussions of economics; this time, the students want music.
After an evening with some of the country’s leading journalists last month to discuss the topic “Media and the Public Interest: Debating the Role of the Press in a Democratic Society,” this 4-year-old student organization will now welcome renowned musician Reginald Robinson.
A 2004 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, Robinson will headline the Chicago Society event, “Rediscovering Ragtime: An Evening with Reginald Robinson,” at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, in Fulton Recital Hall.
The 20 active Chicago Society members, ranging from first- to fourth-year College students, are no strangers to welcoming outstanding guests to campus. Since the group was formed in 2002, it has hosted the United States Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson, United Nations Legal Officer Standler Trengove, and famed comedians Azhar Usman and Dan Nainan. Last month’s debate in the Oriental Institute featured Chicago Tribune publisher and CEO David Hiller, Chicago Tribune deputy managing editor James Warren, editor of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Washington correspondent for The Nation John Nichols.
“We brainstorm as a group and talk very seriously about who we want to join us for an event and why,” said Chicago Society member Tyler Zoanni, a second-year College student, who helped organize the upcoming event. “We meet every week, and we meet religiously.”
Until this point, all of the Chicago Society’s events have focused on politics, economics, international policy and other global issues.
“We’ve really never had an event like this,” said Chicago Society marketing director Sabahat Adil, a second-year student concentrating in Anthropology. “We want the community to get something great out of this. There’s so much to learn from Robinson.”
Robinson, 33, a South Side resident who has lived in Chicago his entire life, is a famed pianist and composer. He specializes in performing semi-classical, ragtime, Latin American and early blues and jazz music, while educating people across the country about ragtime and its place in history.
“Educating is definitely a passion, but it’s an important job too,” Robinson said. “These days, people don’t really understand ragtime.”
On Thursday, Robinson will talk about the history of this musical style, while integrating projected images and live performance that will mirror the historical information he presents. “It won’t just be a concert and it won’t just be a speech,” Robinson added. “I will share the music, but I also need to explain where the music comes from.”
Zoanni said, “This is a chance for us to learn about something that we probably know very little about through a really fun, interesting performance.” Zoanni pointed out that Robinson’s goal in educating young people through the music of previous generations perfectly correlates with the University’s mission and what the Chicago Society aims to accomplish through its events.
“That’s what the University of Chicago’s all about, taking tradition and history and incorporating it into modern conversation,” Zoanni said.
He added that he and fellow Chicago Society members have been preparing for Robinson’s visit for almost a year. Their guest also anticipates a positive experience. “This is really an honor, a thrill,” Robinson said. “I’m so happy about it. It’s going to be exciting.”
Chicago Society President Dan Michaeli, a third-year concentrating in History, said presenting exceptional, interesting opportunities for students of all different backgrounds to come together is the most important thing the group aims to achieve.
“This is a world-renowned expert in ragtime, and ragtime is such an important part of American history, but it isn’t really talked about,” Michaeli said. “We’re drawing attention to it through this event.”
The event is open to the public and will be followed with a reception where participants can meet Robinson.
The Student Government Finance Committee, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Civic Knowledge Project and the University’s Department of Music are providing financial support for the event.