More Musicals! with Dominique Royem

March 26, 2019

Music makes musicalFans of Dominique will know her expertise in (and love for) Musical Theatre. She’s back with “More Musicals!” this spring! We asked her to give us a little more insight into her fun and informative course.

WIH Reporter: You mention in your course description that Musical Theatre is the only true American art form. What makes this so?

Royem: The musical was created and popularized in America at the turn of last century. It has been exported to every continent except Antarctica, and is a billion-dollar industry every year. The musical is one of the most popular cultural exports of the US, permeating world culture. The intoxicating mix of music, drama and dance is an American original.

WIH Reporter: Which musical has been the most popular and what do you think has contributed most to its success?

Royem: The designation of “most popular” is a tough one. The longest running Broadway show is The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in 1988 and is still running on Broadway. Its popularity can be contributed to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the romantic, gothic love story it is centered around. Other really popular musicals include Oklahoma!, which is revived all over the country, Chicago, which is the longest running revival on Broadway, and My Fair Lady, also revived all over the country.

WIH Reporter: Why are musicals important as an art form?

Royem: Musicals are the marriage of music and drama, adding to the best parts of both. They speak to many things in the American experience that are hard to translate to other art forms. Musicals are one of the most popular theatre traditions that bridge theater-goer and non-theater-goer alike.

WIH Reporter: How did Musical Theatre develop and is there an “inventor” of the Musical?

Royem: Musical Theatre came from the tradition of vaudeville during the turn of the last century. The first musical, The Black Crook, was a five-hour epic production that happened after a theatre burned down and stranded a Paris dancing troupe. They needed a reason to put the dancing girls on stage, so the producers added a story and songs to create a full evening’s entertainment.

WIH Reporter: We have to know… Do you have a favorite and can you tell us why?!

Royem: My current favorite always changes depending on the weather… but right now I really love Hamilton and The Music Man. Hamilton has been all over and is taking the world by storm. The Music Man will be performed by my orchestra, the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, in May so I’m studying the score now.

Register here for “How Music Makes the Musical: More Musicals!”

Insights into Interior Design with Margaret Shilstone

March 26, 2019

DIYWIH Reporter: Margaret, welcome to WIH! We are excited about your upcoming class, “Interior Design Tips on a Dime.” Tell us what inspires you to think outside of the box when it comes to decorating? What is something unexpected that you have utilized to create interest in your home?

Shilstone: I have always tried to find economic and inventive ways to create what I call elegant, cost-effective interior design. Quality interior design does not have to be expensive. A creative approach is what I find fascinating. And, through my years of personal study, I have come up with ways to create an interior design update without spending lots of money. My theory is to look “outside the box” and see potential beyond the structured use of an object. For instance, I recently found an outdoor wall planter that is meant to be mounted on a fence and hold one potted plant. It is very vintage looking, and I could see that piece hung on a wall in a kitchen to hold kitchen utensils or in a bathroom to hold soaps, paper hand towels, or hair brushes. Another trick is that I find chalk spray paint works wonders for matted frames for pictures and prints. If you don’t like the matte color, just disassemble it, spray paint the matte, and put the artwork back in the frame for something that fits in better with your color scheme. You could even spray paint the frame.

My goal for this class is to open minds to see objects to be used not as they were intended, but in new ways. And on a budget! I will share resources that I use to help in the process of creating more out of less. I promise, this class will be an eye-opener to help students see beyond what they think are limitations to an amazing world of design creations.

WIH Reporter: Are you ever overwhelmed when you walk into a consignment store? Do you go with the idea of finding something specific or is it more organic than that?

Shilstone: No, that never bothers me. I actually like to look at things with fresh eyes. For instance, a book is not just a book to me. Rather, I might put it under a potted plant to create a different elevation on a table so that there are varying, cohesive levels for displaying cherished items. My vision in design is all about layering to create a pleasing, soft look that incorporates the things you love. Sometimes just adding a “base” to an object creates a totally new and interesting table top.

WIH Reporter: Are there any rules to interior design?

Shilstone: Did you know that most table top decorations should only be displayed in odd numbers? Three is the best tabletop configuration. Odd numbers are not only recommended for tabletops but also flower arrangements. There are a lot of tricks that make for really “design-correct” displays in homes that are pleasing to the eye and I hope to suggest ways to turn up everyone’s creative juices.

WIH Reporter: What is the one thing that you hope students learn from your class?

Shilstone: I hope this class will inspire students to take a more relaxed attitude when updating their interiors. We all drool over the professional interior design pages of magazines but, quite frankly, many of us – myself included – cannot afford that look. I hope to help students to see beyond the price tag and step outside those magazine pages and into their own personal style. My goal is to help them create a comfortable, budget-friendly interior that will reflect their personality and interests and to cultivate a creative attitude that will Wow their guests. All students need is an introduction into the creative process to open their minds to what is possible within their budget.

Interior Design Tips on a Dime” meets Wednesdays, April 17 at 1:00.


Kick the Clutter to the Curb with Liz Weiman

March 26, 2019

clutter imageWIH Reporter: Liz, in your upcoming class you will be tackling a subject that we all deal with—Clutter! What causes us to keep things that we don’t need?

Weiman: We can easily point to the lack of time, procrastination, and distractions inherent in modern life as reasons we keep things we don’t need. We can also look at all the items that we daily bring into our homes without looking at how little goes out. Additionally, there is a pervasive Great Depression-style mentality on the part of some that they “may need this someday.” However, I must mention a very powerful reason less looked at—which is our emotional/sentimental attachment to what an object represents to us. For example, Aunt Susie has died and left her unsightly couch to her niece who would never display it. However, it is as if this is “part” of her aunt, and somehow, even though it clutters up the garage, it feels impossible to get rid of. We will examine all of these issues in this class.

WIH Reporter: Marie Kondo is so popular right now. But, some of her methods seem over the top and maybe not totally practical. Is there a way to utilize some of her philosophy without becoming obsessive? Like maybe folding a shirt perfectly isn’t that important. Isn’t the idea of de-clutttering to find balance in your life?

Weiman: Kondo has touched a nerve with so many about how objects that no longer bring joy begin to weigh us down, and her techniques have proven a revelation for millions. Her techniques are powerful, and in our class we will go over many wonderful ideas and techniques from her and other clutter experts. Her folding methods are not necessary to follow her basic precepts, and I agree that the idea of  balance is the actual true goal. For some, the folding techniques represent a visual symbol of the idea of beauty and order where once there was only clutter. Even children love to fold, so why not teach them when they are young!

I feel it is important to note that in our society, we see so many clutter make-over shows in which an expert comes in and fixes a family’s clutter, teaches techniques, and leaves them with new hope and excitement for a changed life. However, when one checks back later on these families, one finds the rate of recidivism is high. There are reasons why they got to their cluttered place to begin with, and when these reasons are not addressed, there is the inevitable slide backwards. This is why, along with techniques, simple awareness of common reasons (often having to do with emotions and attachment) associated with objects can make all the difference in being able to keep the momentum going and truly leave a lifetime of clutter.

WIH Reporter: What is a good tip that you could give someone who wants to get started cleaning out their lives but doesn’t know where to begin?

Weiman: It is often overwhelming to think of trying to even start addressing the clutter, because it has grown to such daunting proportions over the years. Those going through boxes of clothes or papers often start out with lots of energy and then shortly become drained and defeated as they try to sort through it because of their ambivalence over what  they should keep or throw out. My suggestion to overcome the overwhelm is to use three paper grocery-style bags and label one bag “yes” , the next bag “no,” and the final bag as “‘maybe.” At this point, take each item out of the box and go as fast as possible, throwing items into the bags. We usually know what we DON’T want and what we DO want, but what slows us down and discourages us are the items we question. Having a “‘Maybe” bag to throw those items in delays the decision until a second pass is scheduled for another day. In my past classes, so many people have reported clutter-clearing successes using this process.

WIH Reporter: What is the one thing that you hope students who take your class will learn?

Weiman: In this class, we will learn so many effective techniques to help us clear clutter (both popular and lesser-known modalities). We will learn the very important Kondo system which brings a fresh point of view to the way we view the clutter in our life. Likewise, we will include the Western ideas from some of our top clutter experts in the US and Canada and also bring in the important 5,000-year old vision of Feng Shui in considering object placement. I will bring some wonderful ideas from my own system that has enabled countless people to address the clutter for the first time in their lives—even suggesting ways of using technology to address paper clutter.

By the end of the class, students will not only learn a multitude of techniques that they can apply immediately, but more importantly, learn perspectives on why we have clutter in the first place, so we can continue the “maintenance” processes that will allow us to remain truly clutter-free for the future!

Kick the Clutter to the Curb” begins Thursday, April 18 at 10:00 a.m.

How Much Do You Know About…Ballet?

March 26, 2019

ballet1. Where did ballet originate?
A) France
B) Germany
C) Russia
D) Italy

Answer: D – Italy. Ballet, as we know it today, began during the Renaissance around the year 1500 in Italy. In fact, the terms “ballet” and “ball” as in “masked ball,” come from the Italian ballare, to dance. When Catherine de Medici of Italy married the French King Henry II, she introduced early dance styles into court life in France.


2. In which language is most ballet terminology?
A) Italian
B) Russian
C) French
D) English

Answer: C – French. The official terminology and vocabulary of ballet was gradually codified in French over the next 100 years, and during the reign of Louis XIV, the king himself performed many of the popular dances of the time. The very first academy of ballet was opened in 1661 in France, thanks to King Louis XIV, and was called the “Académie Royale de Danse.”  Pierre Beauchamp, the king’s dance teacher, created the five basic positions of ballet for the feet and arms.

3. Tutus and pointe shoes have always been a mainstay in ballet costume? True or False?

Answer: False. At first, the dancers wore masks, layers upon layers of brocaded costuming, pantaloons, large headdresses, and ornaments. Such restrictive clothing was sumptuous to look at but difficult to move in. Dance steps were composed of small hops, slides, curtsies, promenades, and gentle turns. Dancing shoes had small heels and resembled formal dress shoes rather than any contemporary ballet shoe we might recognize today.

4. What is the average lifespan of a pointe shoe?
A) 10 hours
B) 50 hours
C) 100 hours
D) 250 hours

Answer: A – 10 hours. Pointe shoes look dainty, but they really aren’t. The tip of the shoe is a rigid box made of densely packed layers of fabric, cardboard and/or paper hardened by glue. Depending on her experience level, a dancer’s pointe shoes will last anywhere from a few hours up to 12 hours of dancing. A professional ballerina can dance through 100-120 pairs of pointe shoes in one season!

5. Which country popularized the “classical ballet” in the 19th century?
A) France
B) Germany
C) Russia
D) Italy

Answer: C. Russia. During the latter half of the 19th century, the popularity of ballet soared in Russia, and, Russian choreographers and composers took it to new heights. Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, by Petipa and Lev Ivanov, represent classical ballet in its grandest form. The main purpose was to display classical technique — pointe work, high extensions, precision of movement and turn-out (the outward rotation of the legs from the hip)—to the fullest. Complicated sequences that show off demanding steps, leaps and turns were choreographed into the story. The classical tutu, much shorter and stiffer than the romantic tutu, was introduced at this time to reveal a ballerina’s legs and the difficulty of her movements and footwork.

6. Who is considered responsible for bringing ballet to the United States?
A) Jerome Robbins
B) George Balanchine
C) Adolph Bolm
D) Vaslav Nijinsky

Answer: B – George Balanchine. In the early twentieth century, the Russian theatre producer Serge Diaghilev brought together some of that country’s most talented dancers, choreographers, composers, singers, and designers to form a group called the Ballet Russes. The Ballet Russes toured Europe and America, presenting a wide variety of ballets. Here in America, ballet grew in popularity during the 1930′s when several of Diaghilev’s dancers left his company to work with and settle in the U.S. Of these, George Balanchine is one of the best known artists who firmly established ballet in America by founding the New York City Ballet. Another key figure was Adolph Bolm, the first director of San Francisco Ballet School.

Behind the Scenes at Houston Ballet

March 18, 2019

Coppelia CroppedWe are so happy to have Jennifer Sommers from Houston Ballet with us this semester. Jennifer serves as the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Houston Ballet. In this rare opportunity, Houston Ballet is opening their doors to go “Behind the Scenes at Houston Ballet” and see the creation of a classic ballet, Coppélia. WIH spoke with Jennifer to learn more about the process of taking a production from the studio to the stage.

WIH Reporter: How many months in advance does the ballet start working on a production? Has producing Coppélia had any challenges in regards to this? What excites you about this particular ballet?

Sommers: As you may know, our performance home, the Wortham Theater Center, was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Last year, we took our season on a “Hometown Tour.” This year, we are thrilled to be back at the Wortham, but while we normally open our season in September, we were unable to get back until The Nutcracker in November. That means that we are doing 6 productions between February 21st and June 23rd! The dancers have begun working on Coppélia, but they won’t be focused on this production until April. There are some challenges to Coppélia because we haven’t done this production in 12 years, so it will be new for most of our current company dancers. Fortunately, former principal dancer Barbara Bears is serving as ballet mistress. She was in the company when Ben Stevenson created it and has danced it several times. Coppélia is one of the great comedic ballets. I adore the music and love the use of character dance in Act I. It’s a fun story about an irreverent girl who goes on an adventure, and the dancing and costume and scenic design are spectacular!

WIH Reporter: Could you share what it really takes to be a dancer with Houston Ballet. The last time we spoke you mentioned that one of the principal dancers had just become a mother. What type of regimen does it take to get back on stage?

Sommers: Our dancers work 5 days per week, unless we are in performance, and then they work six days a week. They typically start their day with a 90 minute technique class followed by 6 ours of rehearsal. Because they are working on 6 productions at once, they are carrying around a lot of choreography and information in their minds and bodies. They can work on 6 different ballets in those 6 hours of rehearsal. They get a lunch break and have access to athletic trainers and other therapies thanks to our partnership with Houston Methodist, but these are some of the hardest working artist/athletes you’ll find in Houston! For the dancers who’ve had babies, it’s really a personal journey for each one. I know they work to stay in shape during pregnancy and afterwards.

WIH Reporter: Talk to us about costume design. On average, how many costumes does each dancer have? What production has the most amount of costume changes and is the most expensive to produce?

Sommers: There are lots of costumes for our full-length ballets, and most dancers have more than one costume for those. For one act ballets, they usually only have one. Desmond Heely, a world-renowned, Tony award-winning designer created the costume and scenic design for Coppélia. His work is gorgeous and transforms the Brown Theater into a German village and magical toy shop in one night!

WIH Reporter: Houston Ballet is very involved in outreach in the community. What are some of the programs that you are most passionate about?

Sommers: That’s a hard question because I love all of our programs! If I have to pick two, I’d say one is our weekly Dance for Parkinson’s class held in partnership with Houston Area Parkinson Society. We are celebrating the 10th year of this program that works on strength, balance, creativity and creates community for people living with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers. The other is our Chance to Dance program. This is a scholarship program for students from low-income schools. We partner with 9 schools each academic year. 25 first and second graders attend 8 classical ballet classes at Houston Ballet Center for Dance with professional teachers and a live musician. At the end of class series, all students are evaluated for full scholarships to the Houston Ballet Academy. We currently have 62 students in the Academy that have entered through the Chance to Dance program. I’m really proud of the inclusive environment we have at Houston Ballet. We are committed to equitable access to the very best this company has to offer, and Chance to Dance is a big part of that.

WIH Reporter: This is such a unique opportunity for the participants of this class. What are you hoping that they will take away from the experience?

Sommers: I absolutely love having the opportunity to share my passion for this art form and to welcome people into the Houston Ballet family. We have some of the best dancers and creative minds working in dance today right here in Houston, and I want everyone to know about and experience it for themselves.

Behind the Scenes at Houston Ballet” is a four-week class beginning Tuesday, April 23.

Our Favorite Novels, Our Favorite Films with Laura Richardson

February 20, 2019

PopcornWIH Reporter: Hello, Dr. Richardson! We are really excited to have you back at WIH this semester. In fact, everyone who was in your “Roaring Twenties” and “Romancing the 20th Century” classes has really raved about you and your teaching style! The last time we spoke about your upcoming class “Our Favorite Novels, Our Favorite Films” you were debating on the selections. Can you share with us what you have decided?

Richardson: Unfortunately, one of my original choices, Where’d You Go Bernadette, was set to be released in March but has now been delayed until August. I would still encourage everyone to read the novel and to see the film when it comes out, which is directed by Richard Linklater and stars Cate Blanchett. I still want to include a new film, so we’ll be reading The Aftermath (2014), by Rhidian Brook, and I’ll organize an outing to see the film, which comes out in mid-March. Due to the timing of the film release, we’ll read this novel and discuss this film first. Everything else on the syllabus will remain the same. I’m particularly excited about Austenland, which we’ll read/watch last.

WIH Reporter: Would you suggest that we read the novel and watch the movie before each class? Or, if we don’t have enough time which should we do—read or view?

Richardson: If you don’t have time to read the book, watch the movie! I understand that everyone won’t always have a chance to read the book or watch the film before class. That’s okay! Come to class anyway! I’ll provide a brief synopsis at the beginning of each session. One nice thing about the two-week, book/movie structure is that it gives you a little more time to read the novels; if you start right after we finish talking about the previous book, you’ll have two weeks. Since most of the novels are around 300 pages, if you can make the time to read 20 pages a day, keeping up will be easy. I recommend that everyone start reading The Aftermath now since we’ll talk about it during our first class.

WIH Reporter: Out of curiosity, by the end of the class will we have an idea of what your favorite novel and film adaptation are?

Richardson: Oh boy—there are so many good ones! I’ve included some of my favorites on our syllabus, and I will definitely give you some hints about which ones I like best. Beyond our syllabus, some of my other favorite adaptations include Tolkein/Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. I watch all 12-hours of the extended editions at least once a year (nerd alert!). Amazon will be releasing a Lord of the Rings TV series, and I’m beyond excited to see what they do with Tolkein’s deep mythology. I also love The Never-Ending Story, To Kill a Mockingbird, the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice (which I own and also watch every year—devoted Janeite!), Stardust, Adaptation, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Jumanji (if, given the great creative license, this still counts as an adaptation). Can’t wait to start talking about our favorite novels and our favorite films!

Our Favorite Novels, Our Favorite Films” meets on Tuesdays beginning March 26 at 1:00.

Miraculous Migrations with Glenn Olsen

February 20, 2019

Red-Knot_(Calidris_canutus)_RWD4We are very excited to welcome new professor, Glenn Olsen, a certified Master Naturalist and owner of GOBirding Ecotours, to WIH! His class “Miraculous Migrations” is part of our new Science and Nature Category and will meet Thursdays, starting March 21. We recently caught up with Glenn to find out more about his devotion to animals and conservation.

WIH Reporter: You have dedicated your career to sharing your passion with others about the natural world. What will you bring to your class to spark that same excitement.

Olsen: I enjoy sharing my passion for plants, bird, and pollinators. My approach is to guide someone in the direction of and simply open the door to exploring the beauty and magnificence of nature and let them discover on their own the amazing beauty and intricacy of the natural world that exists all around us.

WIH Reporter: Which migratory animal that passes through Texas do you find the most fascinating?

Olsen: There are many birds that make an astounding migration but I am especially fond of the shorebird know as the Red Knot (pictured above).

WIH Reporter: How do animals know where to go when migrating long distances? Will you discuss the “guiding systems” that animals use to make these great journeys in your class?

Olsen: Researchers are learning new information about migration with the advent of tiny electronic devices. Some of this information supports existing theories and some of the data contains new details that were not known. We will discuss these theories in great detail in class.

WIH Reporter: What do you want your students to take away from this class?

Olsen: A passionate desire to get involved and connected with nature.

WIH Reporter: As a world traveler of ecotours, what has been your favorite place to visit?

Olsen: A difficult question as each location has its own beauty and uniqueness. But, up until now, I would say Ecuador.

“Miraculous Migrations” meets for 6 weeks on Thursdays at 10:00, beginning March 21. Click here to learn more.

How Much Do You Know About….Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome?

February 18, 2019


1. C. Livy. Titus Livius Patavius wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people—Books from the Foundation of the City—covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional foundation in 753 BC through the reign of Augustus in Livy’s own lifetime.

2. B. Virgil. The Aeneid has been considered the national epic of ancient Rome since the time of its composition. The Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and reach Italy, where his descendants Romulus and Remus were to found the city of Rome.

3. C. The Odyssey of Homer, the most famous poet of ancient Greece, depicted Penelope as the ideal female character based on her commitment, modesty, purity, and respect during her marriage with Odysseus. The Coen brothers movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” is loosely based on The Odyssey.

4. A. Heraclitus. He was considered the most important pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He was born in Ephesus (circa 535-475 BCE). Little is known of his life and we only have a few sentences of his work.

5. B. Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid, was the author of the Metamorphoses. Ovid lived during the reign of Augustus. He was enormously popular but for some reason Augustus sent him into exile on the Black Sea. Speculation was that his exile was due to “carmen et error”, “a poem and a mistake.”

Register for “Masterpieces of Ancient Greek and Rome” today.


Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome

February 18, 2019

Ancient GreeceDr. Scott McGill is professor of Classical Studies at Rice University. We welcome him to WIH in his upcoming class “Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome” that begins Monday, March 25. We spoke with Professor McGill to learn why it’s important to study what people did and said 2000 years ago or more.

WIH Reporter: We all know that Ancient Greece and Rome are foundational to western civilization. But, why? What does this really mean?

McGill: Ancient Greece and Rome are foundational because the literature, politics, and art of antiquity have had an incalculable influence on western culture over the past two millennia.  To take one notable example, the American system of divided government and of checks and balances is designed on the ancient model.  In literature, figures like Oedipus, Ulysses, and Achilles, and events like the Trojan War, have been a central part of the west’s collective imagination really since antiquity.  And in art, well, you can’t have the neoclassical without the classical!  And so much subject matter in art comes from antiquity.

WIH Reporter: The speed of today’s technology means that we’re used to things becoming obsolete within a few years, if not months or days. In this context, why is it all the more important to step back and take a wider perspective through the study of these lasting influences?

McGill: To understand where we are in history, it is absolutely crucial to know our history.  This includes knowing the classical roots of our civilization and the ways that the classical past anticipates our history. To give an example: wealth inequality is a major issue in America and Europe today.  This is not just a modern problem.  Ancient Rome struggled with the issue, and the historian Livy writes about it in his monumental history of Rome.  To see how the matter played out in Rome can give us perspective on our own situation.  I also think that the study of the past creates good habits of mind – it inculcates a certain humility, because one sees that one’s own historical moment is not necessarily unique or central in the span of history.

WIH Reporter: What will be the emphasis of your class? Will the main focus be on literature?

McGill: The class will focus on literature.  Specifically, we will read excerpts from Homer, Sophocles’ Oedipus tragedies, Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and more.  It’s really a greatest hits of Greco-Roman antiquity.

WIH Reporter: Who of these greats is your favorite author and why?

McGill: Well, my favorite remains Virgil, whose Aeneid has been central to my research.  Virgil has such a finely tuned sense of the human struggle for meaning and community, and his poetry is filled with exquisite melancholy.  Virgil also understands capital “H” History in human terms and sensitively registers how that history affects the humans that make it and are a part of it. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of the authors we will read.  Homer and Sophocles are incredibly profound and moving authors, and Ovid is one of the most clever and witty poets the West has known.

Masterpieces of Ancient Greece and Rome” meets on Mondays for 6 weeks beginning March 25.

David Ferris Speaks On…Mozart

February 18, 2019

MozartIn 1792, a year after Mozart’s death, his older sister Nannerl wrote of him: “Apart from his music he was almost always a child, and thus he remained.” The idea that Mozart was musically brilliant, but emotionally and intellectually immature only gathered strength over the next two centuries. In a 1982 biography, Wolfgang Hildesheimer wrote that Mozart “was as great a stranger to the world of reason as to the sphere of human relations.”

The reasons why this image of the composer has proven so compelling and persistent are complex. It is partly because Mozart was a child when his fame was at its height. As the most famous prodigy in the history of music, he traveled throughout Europe and astonished the people of his day with his miraculous musical talent. When he returned to Paris as a young man in 1778, he complained that “these stupid Frenchman seem to think I am still seven years old, because that was my age when they first saw me.”

But the next sentence in Nannerl’s reminiscence of her brother hints at another reason for Mozart’s reputation as a perpetual child: “He married a girl quite unsuited to him, and against the will of his father, and thus the great domestic chaos at and after his death.” Nannerl never forgave Mozart for leaving the family home in Salzburg and striking out on his own, and she insisted that he was incapable of navigating the world without their father’s guidance.

Fortunately, Mozart wrote letters as prolifically as he wrote music, and these not only tell his side of the story, but also reveal his sophistication and wit. When he moved to Vienna in 1781, Mozart finally freed himself from his controlling and overbearing father, and met with great success in his personal and professional life. He had a loving wife and a large circle of friends, who included some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city. He composed music of great intellectual complexity and created some of the most compelling and lifelike characters in the history of opera. This is his musical legacy, the legacy of a man who was completely at home in the world of reason and in the sphere of human relations.

WIH is pleased to introduce Dr. David Ferris, associate professor of music history at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. His upcoming class,The Most Amazing Genius: Wolfgang Amade Mozartwill meet for 8 weeks beginning Monday, March 18 at 10:00.

Chris Schaefer Speaks On…Progress in the Middle East

February 18, 2019

Middle EastIt’s true—despite what we see on our news, there is actually progress in the Middle East. Cultural and economic progress, and progress in the growing influence of young people. The isolated events that appear in our U.S. news reports vary from bad to terrible, but beneath that surface there exists a tide of change and modernization which predicts an eventual positive outcome.

Today, young Arab women attend and graduate from engineering programs in Qatar’s Education City in higher percentages than young American women in the U.S. and they are also recruited by Arab companies into good jobs at the same pay rates as the young men. Smart, patriotic young men and women employed modern technology to drive the Arab Spring, and even though the goals of that particular effort may not have been fully met, that same technology continues to undermine the dictators who haven’t (yet) recognized what is happening around them. In Saudi Arabia, Salafists embrace modernity and reconcile ancient religious beliefs with soaring new, glass and steel cities. Even religious blocks like the Muslim Brotherhood have put country first and religion second in places like Tunisia, not unlike the shaky transition of the Irish Republican Army in Europe. Tourism and economic growth thrive in “safe” areas like Dubai—a fact not lost on the leaders of other Arab countries who know that oil will not sustain them forever. Tourism and economic prosperity will return to less affluent places like Egypt, Iraq and perhaps even torn-apart Syria on the heels of political stability, and many of those tourists will bring rubles, euros and yuen, not U.S. dollars.

Here in the U.S., signs of progress in the Middle East are masked by our necessary focus on radical extremists and the territorial competition of diverse ideologies. But remember that this is a region that threw off British colonialism, rebelled against Western-backed dictators and is moving into a new era, while preserving its own cultural heritage. That heritage cuts much deeper than the fundamentalist religious excesses we see on Fox News and CNN. Think of the great food you eat at Fadi’s and Café Caspian, camel breeding and racing that exceed our own Texas quarter horse industry, a historic desert culture, and incredible modern and ancient architecture.

Learning the history of the area and the events which have transpired there helps us sort out what is really going on in the Middle East. Through the lens of history we can see that the Middle East today is not a stagnant or backwards area at all, but a region in transition. It is an area with great promise for the future once the right leaders come forward—and step up to make the right decisions.

“The Middle East: Paths to Conflict” meets Tuesdays at 10:00 beginning March 19. To register click here.

Insights into the Jerusalem Temple and the Sabbath with Rabbi Rossel

February 18, 2019

JerusalemWIH Reporter: Rabbi Rossel, we are really happy that you are making it to WIH for these two, one-day classes. You have one that is on Wednesday, April 3 about “The Jerusalem Temple: In the Time of Jesus” and then another class on Wednesday, May 15 about “From Saturday to Sunday: How the Sabbath Jumped from Day 7 to Day 1.” Both of these classes sound really intriguing! How do both of these topics merge the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament? Or is this even relevant?

Rabbi Rossel: Let’s take the Temple first. The Second Temple is the closing scene in the Hebrew Bible. It is just being built as prophecy comes to an end. It’s altogether different when we look at the New Testament. In this remarkable collection of books and letters, the Second Temple is one of two principal landscapes. Ironically, it is the last landscape for the story of Jesus. And, still, many years would pass before Christianity and Judaism would go their separate ways. For a long and complex moment in history, what would become what we today recognize as Judaism and what would become what we today recognize as Christianity were like Siamese twins intricately involved in dissecting themselves from one another. What held them together and what was most difficult to leave behind was what to believe about the future of the Temple! If that sounds mysterious, you need to attend our session on April 3.

The story of the jumping Sabbath—why the vast majority of Christians celebrate Sabbath on Sunday while Jews continue to celebrate on Saturday—really has little or nothing to do with either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. What we need to examine in our session on May 15 is the capacity of calendars to shape our lives. After all, making and breaking calendars has been the prerogative of power since the human conception of time was invented. But the competing and cooperating calendars of Judaism and Christianity are fascinating to contemplate.

WIH Reporter: What is something that you could tell us about each of these courses that would surprise us to know?

Rabbi Rossel: I try to keep my best surprises for the actual sessions, but here’s an appetizer from each feast:

The part played by the Second Temple in both religions would not have been possible without the unwitting help of Rome and the Roman legions. Years before Jesus was born, if Rome had not stepped in, the Temple would probably have died a quiet death caused by its own corruption. Rome’s part in saving Judaism also created the necessary conditions for the beginnings of Christianity.

The calendar adopted Christianity and not vice versa. When Christianity became the national religion of the Roman Empire, its earlier calendar gave way to the Julian Calendar (instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE). According to that calendar, January 1 was the first day of the year. Slowly, though, European countries adopted days with greater religious significance. December 25 as Jesus’ reputed birthday and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation were popular. In fact, March 25, also called Lady Day because it celebrates the Virgin Mary, was the first day of the year in Britain until January 1, 1752!

WIH Reporter: As you like to say, “Nothing changes as fast as ancient history.” Will these classes be examples of this?

Rabbi Rossel: I try to keep up with my field—which would be simpler if my field was not quite so broad. As it is, there is always something new being unearthed, always a scholar making new inroads and having new insights into what the past means. By the time new knowledge is solidified in Wikipedia or the Encyclopaedia Britannica or any other authoritative publication, it’s already dated. In the past, getting new and reliable scholarship to people who are interested and who have an open mind used to take ten or fifteen years. Today, it takes almost no time. The problem is sifting through all that is available for what is actually authoritative. That’s the last reason that a popularizing scholar like me is relevant. My plan is to keep on being relevant as long as God is willing. And I hope y’all will enjoy the effort just as much as I do.

WIH Reporter: What is it that you hope students will learn?

Rabbi Rossel: I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Joseph Campbell and came away from that association with a deep belief in the power of what we believe to shape how we live (as he put it, the power of “the myths we live by”). Whatever I teach is always to explain why we shape our lives the way we do in our time and just how much our lives are influenced by beliefs imbued in us by parents, family, friends, religions, societies, and the broad history of humanity. You might say that I am very ambitious … I want to bring us all a broader view of what we share and why we share it.

What excites me most about teaching at WIH is the wonderful admixture of thoughtful people from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of beliefs sharing thoughtful moments together. It enriches me and broadens my thinking, just as I hope that it does the same for everyone in attendance. It makes those shared moments precious.

“The Jerusalem Temple: In the Time of Jesus” meets on Wednesday, April 3 at 1:00. Register today.

“From Saturday to Sunday: How the Sabbath Jumped from Day 7 to Day 1″ meets on Wednesday, May 15 at 1:00. Learn more.

A Sneak Peek at….The Crusades with Melanie Urban

February 14, 2019

Hussitenkriege.tif“The history of the Crusades, and its aftermath is filled with larger than life characters. Saladin, famous to us as the Muslim leader who conquered Jerusalem, fought against Richard I of England during the Third Crusade. Though they never met they respected one another, and when Richard left the Levant, Saladin sent an Arabian horse to Richard as a token of that respect. Or consider the case of Henry II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor. He recovered Jerusalem during the Sixth Crusade, but by treaty not by battle. And he did so while under a bull of excommunication. We will meet these and other fascinating figures during the lecture series: popes and kings, monks and warriors, saints and those who sought expiation of their sins. Some of their personal stories have been preserved – stories that make them human, not simply objects in history.” The Crusades meets on Thursdays at 10:00, beginning April 4. Click here to learn more.


Discover MORE Spring Classes

January 24, 2019

DiscoverStarting Monday, February 4:

  • “Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art” with Dr. Helga Aurisch coincides with the exhibition on view at MFAH.
  • Join art gallery owner and fine art appraiser, Sarah Foltz, in this rare opportunity to visit some of Houston’s most remarkable galleries—a unique—“Exploring the Galleries of Houston.”
  • Award-winning educator, Houston radio personality and Moth story slam champion, Dr. Hank Roubicek will lead students in the art of “Storytelling: The Best Human Connection.”
  • “Great Game Redux: Power Rivalry in the 21st Century with former U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer, Eric C. Botts (this class will also meet on Wednesdays beginning February 6).

On Tuesday, February 5:

  • “Writing Your Life and Times” is a limited enrollment class with Susan Wright. Memoir anyone?

Beginning Wednesday, February 6:

  • In his second semester at WIH, psychologist, Dr. Michael Winters will delve into “Life Transitions” in this limited enrollment class.
  • “Let’s Write: A Creative Writing Workshop” with award winning author and poet, Sarah Cortez.
  • THE Jill Carroll is back and ready to explore “Topics in Ethics.” While the 1:00 – 3:00 class is sold out, we still have availability in our new time slot—4:00 – 6:00. This is a great way to experience an afternoon of learning and then go and have dinner with your friends. Dr. Carroll will have supplied the material for your dinner conversation!

On Thursday, February 7:

  • Liz Weiman will lead students to “The Way to Harmony: Finding Balance in a Stressful World” followed by her ever popular, “iWorkshop for iPhones, iPads, and Apps.” It could be your all-day-with-Liz Thursday, which is sure to leave you in charge of your world!
  • We must have the ‘60s on the brain this semester (we have the music covered with Vicky Gresik’s folk music class)! Dr. Terry Doody will be immersing his students in the “Fiction of the Sixties,” NOT just a calendar decade but a STATE OF MIND!
  • David Brauer’s Fall class on Pop Art was so popular that he is going to keep going with the genre in his upcoming class “Post Pop to Post Modernism: 1968 – 1982.” You won’t want to miss this!

Starting, Friday, February 8:

  • A few years ago, interior designer, Susan Fruit did a fantastic class on the popular TV series, “Downton Abbey.” She is back this semester with a class that will use the Netflix series, “The Crown” as a guide to explore the lifestyles of the British Royal Family, in particular her majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Genetics: Unlock Your Code!

January 23, 2019

genetics copyDr. Maia Larios is Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of St. Thomas. She is a part of the new “Science and Nature” category being offered here at WIH. In her upcoming class, “Genetics: Unlock Your Code!” Dr. Larios will guide students through the world of genomics—how it works as well as its indications for humans. We caught up with her to learn about the fascinating discoveries that are being made in the field of genetics at amazing rates.

WIH Reporter: Welcome to WIH, Dr. Larios! In your opinion, what do you think is the most exciting, recent breakthrough in genetics?

Larios: Although not terribly recent, I think that the sequencing of the human genome in 2001 really changed the way we understand human genetics and this has some really promising applications in many different aspects of society – perhaps most importantly, the fact that it makes personalized medicine possible. Imagine being able to get the best therapy for a particular ailment based on your genetic background (which informs how well you might tolerate a drug, or how fast you might metabolize it, or if the drug will actually work in the first place), rather than waiting to determine what the best course of action is by trial and error.
WIH Reporter: Personalized medicine, that is exciting! What other surprises are in store for us in learning about this subject?

Larios: I am so excited about this class because there are many interesting current interest topics regarding genetics. We will start by going over the fundamentals of the genetic code – how our genetic instructions are interpreted by our cells, and how physical traits are passed on from parents to offspring. We will also spend time talking about topics currently in the news, like cloning, genetically modified foods and gene editing.

WIH Reporter: What is the most common, mistaken impression that we have about the field of genetics or about genes?

Larios: I think a lot of people attribute too much to genetic factors and forget that environmental factors are also important to shaping organisms. This is the nature vs. nurture debate, and the more we learn, the more it becomes evident that we are actually much more than our genes. Another common misconception about genetics is that it has many nefarious applications, like cloning humans for example, so many people are scared of genetic research. I think that there are many incredibly beneficial applications to genetic techniques, and there are many good people working to make sure that the scientific community works within ethical and moral frameworks.

WIH Reporter: We are hearing a lot about genetic editing, or CRISPR. What exactly is this? And, what are the potential benefits? Are there any ethical concerns?

Larios: We will definitely talk about this in the class! CRISPR is a gene editing tool that allows researchers to change the genetic instructions of a cell. It is like surgery at the molecular level. Pieces of defective DNA can be cut out of the chromosome and replaced by the correct version of the gene. This of course opens up amazing opportunities, especially relating to human health. There are of course ethical concerns, because we don’t yet know enough about the global effects of the change – you might correct something but inadvertently cause a new problem in the process. There are also genuine concerns about the possibility of not only changing individuals, but also future generations.
WIH Reporter: What do you think about DNA kits? And, how do these ancestry tests work?

Larios: Ancestry kits are a fun and non-invasive way to figure out general information about your family history. The user provides a sample – usually spit or a mouth swab – which contains many of your cells, from which DNA is isolated. Computer algorithms are used to look for patterns of similarity in the order of bases in your DNA compared to reference sequences that are associated with specific populations (such as West African or Northwest European, for example). Some companies now offer additional services relating to health, and will give you information about specific health risks by looking at whether you carry genetic sequences associated with a particular disease. We will talk much more about these kits in the class!

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Larios: The format of the class will be mostly lecture and Q&A but I know many of the topics will foster a lot of discussion, so I look forward to thoughtful conversation with the participants.

WIH Reporter: If someone wanted to read about genetics for fun – what book would you recommend?

Larios: Genome by Matt Ridley is a great introduction to human genetics. The book is divided into 23 chapters, one for each of the chromosomes that makes up our genome. Ridley picks great examples of newly discovered genes at the time and does so in an engaging and informative way, without being overly technical.

Jim Blackburn Speaks On: Houston and Ecology

January 23, 2019

I am spiritually, ethically and scientifically connected to nature, and Houston has some of the best “nature” surrounding it of any city in the world – perhaps our best kept secret. Over the years, as I have tried to talk to Houstonians about ecology – about the way that our natural system functions, about our local diversity and its uniqueness  – I have learned a valuable lesson. In Houston – if I can bring money into the conversation about ecology, I can be heard by many people who otherwise were deaf to my words. And believe it or not, in the future, there will be money in ecology, and that future is here. Today, there is a non-profit in Houston called the Texas Coastal Exchange,, that is setting up a system for buying and selling ecological services – the work that nature does for us. There are many potential sales items in our “nature store” but none is more important or exciting than the ability of the natural system to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in our prairies, our coastal marshes and our forests. Why carbon dioxide? Well, it’s because our climate is changing and human emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are the primary cause of these changes that are implicated in huge storms like Harvey, Irma, and Maria as well as record droughts and the wildfires in the West. Market pressures are causing some companies to begin to act now, and ethical or stewardship concerns are causing others to act. But what can a person do? Well, we all can evaluate and understand our footprint and then pay a landowner to remove our carbon emissions from the atmosphere and store them. Imagine – there is a solution to this problem right in front of our eyes and yet we remain blinded by fear. Yes, fear. Fear for the future of the oil and gas industry that so many of us rely upon – fear of the unknown. Yet, our natural bounty – the coastal marshes, East Texas forests, the great central prairie of Texas, and the midwestern United States – is there to help us move forward. And in the long term, the future of Houston and the oil and gas industry may well depend upon all of us “loving” nature by buying carbon storage rights. How ironic! But it does keep an audience’s attention.


How Much Do You Know About…Genetics?

January 23, 2019

DNA_Overview21. Genes are made up of building blocks called

A. Amino acids.
B. Nucleotides.
C. Proteins.
D. Carbohydrates.

2. Other than the chimpanzee, what surprising species do we share the most genetic similarities?

A. Fruit fly.
B. E. Coli.
C. Mice.

3. Humans may not be programmed to live longer than 120 years. True or False?

4. How many genes are in the human genome?

A. Millions
B. Hundreds of thousands
C. About 20,000

5. Individual people will find that their genomes

A. Are Identical to other people’s genomes.
B. Differ by less than 1%.
C. Differ significantly, by more than 10%.
D. Are completely unique to them, unless they have an identical twin.


1. B. Nucleotides. A nucleotide is an organic molecule that is the building block of DNA and RNA. Nucleotides are carbon-based molecules rich in phosphorus and nitrogen and are the information molecules of all living creatures.

2. C. Mice. Humans share 98% of the same genetic material with chimpanzees,and we share over 80% with other mammals, like mice and pigs, which is why both are used as genetic model systems. This means that if something works in a pig or a mouse, it has a higher possibility of working in a human. Humans share more than 60% of their genes with fruit flies and banana plants too! We even share genes with bacteria like E. coli, although the percentage is much lower because the genome sizes are vastly different.

3. True. In theory, scientists think that humans have the genetic coding that prevents us from getting older than 120 years of age. This is due to a limited amount of time that cells can divide.

4. C. A surprising find of the human genome sequencing effort was that humans carry about 20,000 protein-coding genes, which is not much more than those carried by a fruit fly (about 15,000) and less than those carried by maize plants (about 32,000).

5. B. By most current estimates, humans vary by less than 0.1%. In other words, two people can share as much as 99.9% of the same genetic material. A mind blowing fact—the person sitting next to you could be made up almost the same genetics as you.

Roberta Diddel Speaks On: Families

January 23, 2019

Families for NewsletterRarely in American history has so much change occurred so quickly. The pace of life—speed of information and expectations at work and in relationships—is overwhelming. The trade-off is that survival and living a good, long life is rarely in doubt today. Just over a century ago, survival was uncertain, and family members were bound together and dependent on one another, whether they liked it or not. Attachments were fostered within families and among groups of families who shared the same geographical district, food, art, culture and religious beliefs. Communities were often homogeneous and shared norms that everyone understood.

As a psychologist, I am asked if I think that contemporary life might be eroding some of the traditional characteristics of family life that made families safe and dependable. My answer is, “It depends.” If a family is something that keeps old ways going, protects its members from the changing social world, and assures the next generation that they will be better off than their parents were, then that kind of family has little relevance, now or in the future.

Over the past 150 years, technology has changed the nature of our society. People are moving from farm to city, from small groups to large ones, and from homogeneous populations to diverse communities. Globalization brings others into our circles who don’t look, dress or act like us; and while “they” move next door, our own family members are moving across the country and around the world. Social media is replacing our person-to-person connections with devices that tempt us to present ourselves inauthentically and allow us to express our fear, anger and depression, while hiding behind the anonymity of a cell phone screen. Where has the comfort of familial similarity gone?

Despite the challenges of contemporary life, I think there are signs of hope for the family. If you think of “family” as a creative, encouraging, flexible force, that embraces and supports us in our life beyond the fort, then those same devices and little screens can be used to cultivate a full and meaningful life. The little screen can bring grandma into the bedroom to read a bedtime story, even though she lives 1,000 miles away. The screen helps us envision others’ lives and the internet brings people of all kinds into our lives. The popularity of on-line genealogy is proof that the family is still a living, breathing entity, where our own family tree connects us to relatives who lived 200 or 300 years ago.

If we chose to see it so, the family is not disintegrating under contemporary pressures; it is just evolving. From hand-written letters to email and texts, from carriages to airplanes, modern life looks and feels different. Why should the family be an exception? If we look at family life with curiosity and optimism, our newly redefined families will still provide that little fort in the wilderness, but one with open gates and no walls. The new family must use the love we share to help us form new rules and rituals. I think the new family, whether made up of people with shared genes or deep communal ties, will be there to keep us from flying off this spinning globe, until we turn it over to the next generation to do the same.

Roberta Diddel’s class “Our Familes, Ourselves: The Family System and its Impact on its Members” meets Wednesdays beginning February 6 at 1:00.

From Germany to America: The Immigration of German Jews Prior to World War I 

January 23, 2019

Germany to America

What caused German Jews to leave their native country for America, and achieve prominence so rapidly in their new country proportionally higher than any other immigrant group? In her upcoming class, “FROM GERMANY TO AMERICA: The Immigration of German Jews Prior to World War I” Dr. Ursula Muenzel will be answering this question and so much more. We caught up with her to find out more.





WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class?

Muenzel: I will emphasize on the “push and pull” factor – the causes which pushed the Jewish immigrants out of their homeland and what was it that attracted them to the USA. I will also illuminate in which respect the German-Jewish immigration differed from following Jewish and non-Jewish immigration waves and what made these first and second generation German-Jewish immigrants so successful.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about this exodus from Germany?
Muenzel: Most people in the US – Jewish and non-Jewish – have the incorrect belief, that most German Jews arrived in this country during and after the Nazi period whereas they predated the immigration wave from Eastern Europe.

What would surprise us to know about your class topic?

The disproportion between the small number of these immigrants and their enormous influence in shaping modern American Jewry.

WIH Reporter: Can you give us an idea of the numbers of people that emigrated to this country?

Muenzel: About 250,000 German-speaking Jews left for the United States in the 1800s. This was a very small number compared to their more than two million co-religionists from Eastern Europe who flocked to America at the end of the 19th century.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Muenzel: It will be a mix of lecture, power point presentation and discussion.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask this question. What books are on your night table  right now?

Muenzel: J.M. Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians”, inspired by an article by Roger Cohen in the NY Times a few weeks ago where he applies the frightening message of this book to the current political situation in this country.




Music and Cultural Revolution

October 9, 2018

This semester our professor, Dominique Royem—one of the few female conductors in the nation—will be exploring the significance and power of music as a cultural force that has throughout history brought about change. This class will trace this trend through Western history and discuss why music is revolutionary and so influential in changing attitudes. Join her on Tuesdays beginning October 23.

Spiritual Insight: A Psychology of Religious Experience

October 9, 2018

In his upcoming class, Dr. Mark Ryan will be answering the question “Is there a place for spirit in the human psyche?” Ryan’s intent is for students to “come away with a sense that life is bigger than we know, and that there is a strong philosophical and psychological defense for a more spiritual orientation in their lives.” This 8-week class meets on Thursdays from 1:00 – 3:00 beginning October 18.