Innovative Ensemble Combines Traditional Instruments with Electronic Music

H-CLEF, the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation, uses laptops, game controllers and other technology to create unique computerized sounds
July 14th, 2017 by 

A student repurposes a video game controller joystick to create electronic sounds as part of H-CLEF.
A student repurposes a video game controller joystick to create electronic sounds as part of H-CLEF. Photo by Tom Rettig

Sitting with perfect posture in Brooks Concert Hall, Marena Ella Minelli ’17 lifted a violin to her chin and began to play, releasing beautiful streams of music with her bow.

Moments later, she placed the string instrument on a chair, picked up a video game controller and toggled the joystick  producing an entirely different, but equally riveting, sound.

Minelli is a member of the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation, or H-CLEF, an unusual chamber group that juxtaposes everything classical and computerized. Laptops are propped on stands in place of sheet music. Hacked game controllers, like the one Minelli used, sit on amps. And electronic, other-worldly sounds float by stained-glass windows and echo through the high ceilings of the concert hall.

What exactly is going on?

Electronic Music and Sound Design

“Students are studying electronic music and sound design in an experiential environment,” says Chris Arrell, associate professor of music and associate chair of the music department. He started H-CLEF two years ago as the performance part of a coding music class. “They learn the science behind digital synthesis, or sound creation, and they code their own electronic synthesizers. They build the software, then they build the hardware to trigger the sound.”

 Members of H-CLEF work on a score for the 1920 German silent horror movie, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist.

Members of H-CLEF work on a score for the 1920 German silent horror movie, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist. Photo by Tom Rettig

That’s where the keyboards, cell phones and game controllers come in. Students “play” the sounds they have engineered in real time by tapping keys, pushing joysticks and otherwise instructing their devices when and how to emit sound. Together, they compose musical scores and perform, as Arrell suggests, a “natural extension of chamber music.”

“They’re not simply cuing up a track and hitting play,” he says. “Just like plucking a guitar string, these sounds are synthesized by human touch. They have to listen to each other while they’re playing, and they work together to write compositions. It’s kind of like a co-authored paper.”

Complementing — Not Replicating — Traditional Instruments

And while Arrell’s ensemble includes some classical instruments like the violin, an electric guitar and a banjo, the goal is not to replicate those sounds with electronic devices.

“A synthetic violin will never sound as good a real violin,” he says. “I don’t want to imitate acoustic instruments, because they already do what they do really well. My intent is to expand on the colors and the possibilities.”

 Student plays guitar during H-CLEF performance

The electronic sounds that the members of H-CLEF create are often paired with traditional instruments, like a guitar or violin, in the group’s performances. Photo by Tom Rettig

That’s exactly what drew the attention of Ben MacDougald ’19, a history major.

“Using the Macs, you can go beyond what a single instrument is capable of,” he says.

It’s also a way to enjoy the fun of making music without spending years learning how to play a classical instrument,” adds Bill Hamilton ’17, a biology major. While students without a music background still have to learn the fundamentals, there is an element of “instant gratification,” he says.

“I took the class because I’m thinking of double majoring in computer science and music,” says Zhiran Xu ’19. “It’s a combination I didn’t expect.”

This past spring, students wrote and performed the musical score for a 1920 German silent horror movie, called “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” a chilling story of an insane hypnotist.

“This (the film score) is a great representation of how computers are recognized as legitimate sources of music,” says James Tatar III ’17, a political science major. “It’s just another step of what’s possible in the evolution of music.”

Written by Rebecca Fater for the Summer 2017 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.


About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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COES Sales Club Meetings
10/19/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
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Platanos y Collard Greens
10/19/2017
Africana Studies
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Open to Campus Community Only
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Conference: Rethinking the Afropolitan
10/19/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This conference, being held Oct. 19-21, "Rethinking the Afropolitan:...
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Gonzalo Grau Performs Tribute to Ismael Rivera: An Afro-Caribbean Icon
10/20/2017
Arts Transcending Borders
Hogan Ballroom
At the height of his career in the 1970s, Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera shared the...
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Fidelity Investments On-Campus Recruiting
10/20/2017
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 404
Visit Crusader Connections to learn more about and apply for opportunities...
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Fidelity Investments On-Campus Recruiting
10/20/2017
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 405
Visit Crusader Connections to learn more about and apply for opportunities...
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Conference: Rethinking the Afropolitan
10/20/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This conference, being held Oct. 19-21, "Rethinking the Afropolitan:...
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Conference: Rethinking the Afropolitan
10/21/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This conference, being held Oct. 19-21, "Rethinking the Afropolitan:...
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COES HC Capital Club Meeting
10/23/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
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COES Dinner
10/23/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
Open to Campus Community Only
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Book Launch: Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits
10/23/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Help us commemorate the newly published Cambridge Encyclopedia...
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COES Finance Club Meetings
10/24/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
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Athlete Alumni Networking Night
10/24/2017
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
The Holy Cross Career Crusaders Networking Night is a...
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Athlete Alumni Networking Night
10/24/2017
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
The Holy Cross Career Crusaders Networking Night is...
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Lecture: Charles Camosy Looks Beyond the Abortion Wars
10/24/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University,...
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Washington Semester Program Information Session
10/24/2017
Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
The Washington Semester Program is a highly competitive, semester-long...
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Women in Business Conference
10/24/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources ChalktheWalk-Kimball
Open to Campus Community Only
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Open Enrollment Assistance
10/24/2017
Human Resources
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 410 - Computer Lab
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES HCEG Meeting
10/25/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
HCEG (Holy Cross Entrepreneurs Group) is the student chapter of...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
10/26/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


Battle Hymn of a Federal Judge
10/26/2017
Political Science
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Judge Richard J. Leon, has served as a federal judge for the District...
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Women in Business Conference
10/26/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources Window 3
Open to Campus Community Only
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Women in Business Conference
10/27/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources Window 3
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Business Conference
10/28/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources Window 3
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Business Conference
10/29/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources Window 3
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES HC Capital Club Meeting
10/30/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
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Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
10/30/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
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Women in Business Conference
10/30/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
OSI Resources Window 3
Open to Campus Community Only
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COES Finance Club Meetings
10/31/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
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7 C's of Social Change (Event canceled)
10/31/2017
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
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Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
10/31/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
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COES HCEG Meeting
11/1/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
HCEG (Holy Cross Entrepreneurs Group) is the student chapter of...
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Lecture: Alan Rosen on Jewish Religious Life and Practice During the Holocaust
11/1/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Alan Rosen, Kraft-Hiatt scholar-in-residence, will give a talk...
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Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/1/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
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Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/2/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
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Poetry Reading by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
11/2/2017
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Join us for a poetry reading by Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Calvocoressi...
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COES Sales Club Meetings
11/2/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


PricewaterhouseCoopers Extreme Games Launch
11/2/2017
Economics and Accounting
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/2/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Women in Business Conference
11/2/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/3/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
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Black Student Union Presents "Griot"
11/3/2017
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & Dunn Rcpt
Open to the Public
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Open Enrollment Assistance
11/3/2017
Human Resources
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 410 - Computer Lab
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Business Conference
11/3/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/3/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/4/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
See More >>


Lecture: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on Googling for Hate
11/6/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former Google data scientist and author...
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COES HC Capital Club Meeting
11/6/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/6/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Creating an Inclusive Campus: Skills and Practice
11/6/2017
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
This workshop will take diversity and inclusion from theory to...
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COES Finance Club Meetings
11/7/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/7/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


COES HCEG Meeting
11/8/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
HCEG (Holy Cross Entrepreneurs Group) is the student chapter of...
See More >>


The Human Consequences of Anti-LGBTQ Policies: Experiences of LGBTQ Asylum Seekers
11/8/2017
Africana Studies
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/8/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 3
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/9/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
11/9/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/9/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/10/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
See More >>


Race: The Power of an Illusion Part 3
11/10/2017
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 519
*Episode III – “The House We Live In” focuses not...
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Talk by Prof Wiebke Deimling-Kant’s Theory of Sympathy
11/10/2017
Philosophy
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall 501
Open to the Public
See More >>


Tickets for Department of Theatre Production of "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/10/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre...
See More >>


Theatre Department's Fall Production: "Fuente Ovejuna"
11/11/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Fuente Ovejuna,” the theatre department’s fall production, is being...
See More >>


COES HC Capital Club Meeting
11/13/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
See More >>


Matthew Hughey Lecture
11/13/2017
Africana Studies
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
See More >>


COES Finance Club Meetings
11/14/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
See More >>


Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu Lecture
11/14/2017
Asian Studies
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu (Event canceled)
11/15/2017
Asian Studies
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
Open to the Public
See More >>


Conference: Religion, Protest, and Social Upheaval
11/15/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
The recent proliferation of social, political, and economic protest...
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PricewaterhouseCoopers Extreme Games Competition
11/16/2017
Economics and Accounting
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
11/16/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


"I Can't Remember What I Just Read!"
11/16/2017
Academic Services and Learning Resources
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(07)
Learn strategies to focus your attention and get more out of the...
See More >>


Conference: Religion, Protest, and Social Upheaval
11/16/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
The recent proliferation of social, political, and economic protest...
See More >>


Conference: Religion, Protest, and Social Upheaval
11/17/2017
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
The recent proliferation of social, political, and economic protest...
See More >>


COES HC Capital Club Meeting
11/20/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/20/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/20/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


COES Finance Club Meetings
11/21/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/21/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/21/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/21/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


Tickets for Alternate College Theatre Production of "Stop Kiss"
11/21/2017
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
Buy tickets for “Stop Kiss,” the Alternate College...
See More >>


Open Enrollment Assistance
11/21/2017
Human Resources
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 410 - Computer Lab
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
11/23/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


COES HC Capital Club Meeting
11/27/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
See More >>


COES Finance Club Meetings
11/28/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
See More >>


Study Smarter, Not Harder!
11/28/2017
Academic Services and Learning Resources
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 408(09)
Why is it so hard to remember what you just heard in lecture or...
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COES HCEG Meeting
11/29/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
HCEG (Holy Cross Entrepreneurs Group) is the student chapter of...
See More >>


Alternate College Theatre Production: "Stop Kiss"
11/30/2017
Theatre
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of the millennium. Sara wants to change the world; Callie simply wants to get by. They could be best of friends or even something more – if only they could make a decision. But making that decision isn’t easy and may even cause dangerous repercussions. An Alternate College Theatre production directed by Alexis Rappaport ’19. Tickets
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of...
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
11/30/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>


Alternate College Theatre Production: "Stop Kiss"
12/1/2017
Theatre
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of the millennium. Sara wants to change the world; Callie simply wants to get by. They could be best of friends or even something more – if only they could make a decision. But making that decision isn’t easy and may even cause dangerous repercussions. An Alternate College Theatre production directed by Alexis Rappaport ’19. Tickets
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of...
See More >>


Lecture: Quayshawn Spencer on a Radical Solution to the Race Problem
12/1/2017
Philosophy
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Quayshawn Spencer, assistant professor of philosophy at the University...
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Alternate College Theatre Production: "Stop Kiss"
12/2/2017
Theatre
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of the millennium. Sara wants to change the world; Callie simply wants to get by. They could be best of friends or even something more – if only they could make a decision. But making that decision isn’t easy and may even cause dangerous repercussions. An Alternate College Theatre production directed by Alexis Rappaport ’19. Tickets
ers growing up and leaving their twenties behind. Callie and Sara meet in New York City at the turn of...
See More >>


Alternate College Theatre Production: "Stop Kiss"
12/2/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Stop Kiss,” an Alternate College Theatre production, is being staged on...
See More >>


Alternate College Theatre Production: "Stop Kiss"
12/3/2017
Theatre
Fenwick Theatre
“Stop Kiss,” an Alternate College Theatre production, is being staged on...
See More >>


COES HC Capital Club Meeting
12/4/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
HC Capital seeks to supplement the liberal arts by providing the technical skills...
See More >>


COES Finance Club Meetings
12/5/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 216
The Finance Club offers students the opportunity to gain a stronger understanding...
See More >>


COES Sales Club Meetings
12/7/2017
COES Professional Program & Prebusiness Program
Edith Stein Hall 118C
Explore the sales and management industries of business and gain the tools to...
See More >>

See All