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University Hits the Right Note in Connecting with Neighbors

Open to all ages, campus enriches lives as a cultural, artistic and intellectual center

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Chuck Hayden, sitting with his guitar, talking to Dan Spence '15, who is out of focus.

Photo: Chuck Hayden takes a lesson with Dan Spence ‘15

The artist Chuck Hayden’s apartment just a few blocks from Montclair State University is filled with paintings of the American West, cowboys and horses. Under the gaze of a bucking bull, a favorite rodeo motif (and yes, he once roped), Hayden practices the fingering and chords of the guitar.

On Mondays, he has a gig at his weekly lesson at the John J. Cali School of Music. At 90, Hayden is certainly the oldest of the students in class. But it is not unusual to find other interesting and interested adults engaged in musical and artistic pursuits at Montclair State. “When you get older and your kids are out of the house you can sit down and you can learn something,” Hayden says. “It’s fun.”

Music is just one genre in which Montclair State hits the right note in connecting with its neighbors. Children as young as age 3, beginners and advanced musicians refining their technique are taking classes at the John J. Cali School of Music Extension Division. It’s among the non-matriculated, wide-ranging programming that shapes the University as a cultural, artistic and intellectual center for the community.

For the active mind, lecture series, interviews and discussions are free and open to the public. Internationally acclaimed artists and productions draw audiences to the Alexander Kasser Theater. Enrichment classes like biomimicry and aerodynamics motivate elementary students and teens.

“We were amazed to have a college environment available to our children,” says Dan Walker of Glen Ridge. His son William takes a class in music theory and has attended the Gifted & Talented summer academy. “In terms of maturity and letting your kids to grow, it’s fantastic. It has broadened William’s horizons and created awareness for all of us.”

The campus life is inspiring. William Walker, 13, has spent the past four summers challenged by engaging courses in science, technology, humanities, mathematics and the fine arts. “It does convey the experience I might have in college,” he says.

The classes are also life-enhancing. As a concert-goer at Cali School performances (more than 200 are presented each year), Hayden was inspired to add another instrument to his repertoire. He’s played the banjo for 80 years, loves jazz, and also plays the four-string tenor guitar.

On a recent morning, his lesson was accompanied by the notes of a piano and vocal warm-up floating through the open window of the studio. Hayden strums a steady rhythm pattern while switching between chords.

“It’s all so hard,” Hayden says. “Do you think I’ll ever learn this assignment?”

“You just did!” encourages his teacher Dan Spencer, a 2015 graduate of Montclair State.

Spencer is pursuing a recording career and is among the professional artist-teachers, music majors and Cali School faculty who provide the instrumental, voice and composition training to about 200 students. Some, like Beatrix Hittinger, 4, who takes Suzuki violin, are literally growing up in the program.

“Since we started her so young, I have loved seeing her grow and develop in musical ability,” says her mother Maria Hittinger of Montclair.

At home, Hayden’s instruments of all his arts, paints and music, take center stage in his living room. He picks up his guitar to play for his granddaughter, a sophomore at Montclair State.

“I practice a lot because I have a lot to memorize,” he says.

Find a listing of upcoming performances, discussions, interviews and events on our Friends & Neighbors Calendar.

A sampling:

  • Art & Design Forum is a speakers’ series featuring notable artists, designers, art historians and art critics from around the world who come to campus to present their work and ideas.
  • The Film Institute at Montclair State offers several initiatives from the College of the Arts.
    • Films and Filmmakers welcomes audience questions while being a forum to hear inside stories from some of the most innovative filmmakers working in the field today. 
    • Reel Montclair is a monthly discussion series featuring writers working in film and TV, from award-winning, seasoned scribes to new, emerging voices in cinematic storytelling.
  • Leaders of the World is a new conference on ethics, education and the environment hosted by the Office of International Engagement.
  • Live Literature presents literary performances and opportunities to engage directly with writers about the creative process.
  • The School of Communication and Media hosts a new discussion series.
  • The George Segal Gallery mounts acclaimed exhibits of work by leading contemporary artists.

Peak Performances is the renowned series of contemporary theater, dance, performance art and music. A highlight from fall 2017 included a talk with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on The Merchant of Venice. Ginsburg showed she is as well versed in Shakespeare as she is in constitutional law.

An open house for children and adults to learn more about the University’s music opportunities will take place on Saturday, Feb. 10 at Chapin Hall. In the summer, Stokes Forest Music Camp provides music making and environmental studies at the University’s New Jersey School of Conservation campus.

For sports fans: New Jersey Jackals minor league baseball and professional soccer’s New York Red Bulls II call Montclair State home; Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center offers exhibits and programs; Red Hawk teams have won five NCAA National Championships. Campus Recreation hosts children’s pool parties, and offers swim and scuba lessons and lifeguard training.