If you missed the first week of classes, concerts and workshops of a new summer program at Western Maryland College called the Common Ground on the Hill, you owe it to yourself to attend one of the sessions this week. There will be instruction on playing the hammered dulcimer, writing songs or throwing pottery. If you can't make the daytime classes, you can attend an evening concert.
Organized by Walt Michael, a WMC graduate, the program is in the traditions of the 18th century lyceum and Chautauqua movements. Beginning in the 1830s, the American lyceum movement was designed to provide adult education through lectures, concerts and community discussions. Lyceum audiences participated in stimulating programs on the arts, science, history and public affairs. After the Civil War, the lyceum movement faded and was replaced by a similar program developed at a Methodist camp meeting in Chautauqua, N.Y.
Although H.L. Mencken, in his columns in this paper, loved to mock the Chautauqua program for its pretentious intellectualism, the summer lectures and classes gave thousands the opportunity to break out of their ordinary routines for a few weeks each summer. A cross between a revival meeting and a country fair, the Chautauqua program was the highlight of the summer for many.
Mr. Michael and his partner, Robyn Byrd, have organized a similar program that focuses on common themes that people share. They would like to offer an alternative to the political, racial, social and economic polarization that has fragmented the U.S. "We are camped out in different parking lots. It is very scary and dangerous," Mr. Michael said.
Mr. Michael believes that the arts -- particularly music -- are the appropriate vehicles for breaking down barriers and building bridges between people. A professional musician for 25 years, Mr. Michael has developed an attractive selection of classes and concerts. Classes have been held on freedom songs from the days of the underground railroad to the civil rights movement, Civil War songs and a history of congregational singing along with classes on playing instruments from the banjo to the Irish Uillean pipes.
Common Ground is planning a full schedule of classes and concerts this week, and it is not too late to partake of this inspirational program.