Food for the body, food for the soul

Colleen Winters

Lunch at the St. Paul Student Center’s Terrace Cafe on Wednesday looked like lunch at any student center. Students ate pizza, studied biology, read the newspaper and chatted with friends.
But lunch there had a different sound: The sounds of Scottish and Irish windpipes, a tin whistle, and a flute from the mid-19th century floated gently through the crowded room.
The performance was part of a popular noon concert series. Now known as Melodious Lunches, the series has a history of providing varied musical entertainment for St. Paul students.
“The student center, since the middle ’60s, has been providing some regular music program for free as part of the noontime programming,” said Charles Rausch, the center’s director.
In 1991, the program formalized and more of the center’s budget went to weekly concerts. About $2,500 of the Programs and Activities Committee’s quarterly budget funds Melodious Lunches, with most acts earning between $100 and $200 for a performance, depending on the size and popularity of the group.
The program was designed to lighten up the environment of the student center, provide free music for students and give various emerging local artists a place to perform, Rausch said.
“The union here feels that it has a very special obligation to provide programming in the cultural aspects of the arts,” Rausch said, “because if the student center doesn’t do it, it doesn’t happen on the St. Paul campus.” There aren’t as many options for musical entertainment on the St. Paul campus as there are on the Minneapolis campus, he said.
Melodious Lunches performances are scheduled every Wednesday and Thursday and include jazz saxophone, contemporary folk, accordion, acoustic guitar, Brazilian jazz, rhythm and blues vocals, and piano playing.
“I’ve been trying to focus on a diverse sound and a diverse meaning,” said Brian Hustoles, performing arts coordinator at the center.
Hustoles, who is responsible for booking the acts, said the program has such a good reputation that artists often call him about getting involved. “Since the program has been around so long, there’s a lot of word of mouth through the artistic community around the Twin Cities area,” he said.
Wednesday’s act, the Scottish and Irish windpipes played by Laura MacKenzie, was well-received by most students. “She uses a lot of different instruments, and that makes her unique,” said Regan Murphy, a senior in the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences.
Murphy, who usually eats lunch at the center, said he finds the music relaxing and likes the variety of acts.
College of Natural Resources seniors Bob Barker and Dave Martin studied intensely while the music played, but said they are fans of the concerts. “It’s a nice break,” Martin said. “Sometimes we’ll cut classes to come down here and listen to the music.”
MacKenzie, who has been playing Irish music for 22 years, has performed at the student center twice before. “It’s not that different from where one does traditional Irish music,” she said. “I’m used to playing in places like pubs where socializing goes on.”
MacKenzie said she knows the people who are really interested in the music will come close to the stage and listen. “I’m providing more of an atmosphere for the others,” she said.
It’s an atmosphere students like Martin enjoy maybe a little too often. “This union is why it’s taking us six years to get through school,” he said.