College Matters | Earth, Wind and Fire

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, August 18, 2022 - 1:15pm

There are things we do, as individuals, that move us. There are things we see, smell, or observe that inspire us. Many times these things go unacknowledged; yet they are very important to us.

When we are happy (or sad), we might celebrate or calm ourselves through music. When we walk through a gallery, or grab our phones or camera to take pictures, we are remembering a moment or being inspired by what we have just seen. When we walk through nature, a forest or a garden, it is often calming. There is a sense of peace.

Let’s just get this out of the way. I am a product of the 1970s. “Earth” was the very first concert I attended, a milestone I enjoyed with my buddy. “Chicago” was the second. And yes, I’m very aware that these are now the bands featured on classic music stations.

In watching the Kennedy Awards honoring Earth a number of years ago, I learned that Earth wasn’t just a band. Yes, they played incredible music, and I can proudly say that nearly all of their songs are on my phone today. However, I learned that Earth was also much more than that. Earth started as a means to address issues within society and to help people heal through music.

Healing through music? It is the beat, the rhythm, and the lyrics, all coming together in a way that resonates deeply with human beings. Music measurably affects us physically and mentally. Research shows it reduces anxiety. It reduces overall pain levels for patients, and softens the side effects for those going through chemotherapy. It can reduce blood pressure and heart rates.

I remember a class when I was a young college student. The professor asked us to imagine the room without art, design, color on the walls, or books on the shelves. She then asked us to look out the window and describe what we saw and what we heard. She turned this into a conversation on the value of the arts and the liberal arts, the importance of knowledge, context, sounds, intersections, people, communication, relationships, and boundaries.

As I said, Earth’s songs are all on my phone. And so I was thinking about Earth and those Kennedy Awards just recently, and how their focus on improving lives through music connects to so much of what we do at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Arts. Social Justice. Improving the world in which we live. These are all ideas and aspirations that we talk about frequently at Cal Poly Humboldt, and which I know people care about in our North Coast communities.

What if we did even more? Imagine if Humboldt could more fully embrace these ideas — or double down. What could we become? What could we inspire? Would we become that model global community?

In the coming years, we’re going to answer those questions. One of the least understood but most important aspects of our current polytechnic transformation is our emphasis on the role that the liberal arts, including fine and performing arts, can play in developing students and addressing the world’s challenges. We are looking at the intersections of art and science, art and technology, art and health sciences. One of our professors describes some of the work as “Science with a soul.”

We are fortunate as a community to have two higher education institutions that bring vibrancy to the region through student productions, professional touring artists, and talented faculty and staff. The benefits are abundant, all around us throughout the community.

The arts are truly a way of getting us to a better place. Emotion. Words … tears … memories. Powerful performances and exhibits bring this out in us. They literally make us healthier, though that may be too clinical or academic than you care for. It may be simpler and sufficient to celebrate the capacity of the arts to conjure up memories and emotions of childhood, happiness, and dozens of others that move us. That is the power of the arts.

In the early 2000s, a concert featuring both Chicago and Earth was to be performed at an outdoor arena in San Antonio, Texas. These two historic bands were touring together. At the beginning of the concert, the two leaders of the bands stood before us and proudly stated that between the two bands there were something like over 70 top songs … “And tonight you will hear every single one of them.” The crowd went wild.

Chicago started the first set. A smaller shell from their past, they performed many of their songs. The second set belonged to EWF. They also were a smaller shell from their past as they played many of their songs. Then the third and final set arrived, and BOTH bands came out. All the big horns, that big band sound lit up the city it seemed. The remaining hits between the two bands were played to a very welcoming crowd. Wow.

The power of the arts. The power of music. My favorite song. Care to guess? It’s a month!!!  Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.