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The Dartmouth
February 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Five seniors toil over 'ambitious' senior fellowships

Five students are devoting their senior year to self-initiated projects like writing a musical drama on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment or writing a fictional novel about manic depression.

These students are this year's senior fellows. Seniors Kate Buhrmaster, Jesse Kearney, Caleb Scott, Peter Tucker and Natasha Zaretsky are exempt from degree requirements and a term's tuition as part of the senior fellows program.

Classics Professor James Tatum, who chairs the committee on senior fellowships, said the program gives selected students an opportunity to pursue "a creative or research project that is so ambitious and so complex that it can not fit into the traditional major."

Tatum said the committee is working on making the fellowship, which began in 1929, more accessible to students.

Students apply two terms prior to the beginning of their senior fellowship.

"Students have to show originality and initiative. They have to persuade the committee that they have something new to contribute and the projects are worth supporting," Tatum continued.

Two of this year's projects have a musical element to them.

Kearney is adapting Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment into a musical drama. He is creating the script, music and lyrics.

"The author suggests scenes in the novel where music is essential," Kearney said. "The music will bring out more of the emotional elements of the book and helps to focus on major points that I want to get across."

Kearney said, as a senior fellow, he can dedicate himself to writing the musical. Kearney spent his sophomore summer working with several Broadway producers and will be going on the Drama foreign study program to London this winter to learn more about musical theater.

Kearney said his music will incorporate elements of Russian folk music and will focus on a man's psyche "in a situation of crowding, poverty and crime in a major city." He will present his project to the College this summer in concert form.

Tucker is writing a musical called "Credo" -- a dark drama with comic relief.

"I use Edgar Allen Poe's stories as backdrop because of their dark, foreboding atmosphere," he said. "But I weave my own characters into the musical."

Tucker's musical is based on Poe's stories "Masque of the Red Death" and "Death Takes a Holiday."

He said he wanted to write a dramatic musical rather than a "nice and fluffy Guys and Dolls" musical.

Credo requires an 18-piece orchestra and will be performed this winter either in a full production or a concert reading, depending on how much support it receives from the drama department.

Other students are creating or interpreting literature.

Buhrmaster is writing a novel on manic depression. She addresses how bipolar illness affects interpersonal relations within a family.

Buhrmaster said her work is pure fiction, but is made "plausible" by research through reading and working with a team of doctors on the psychology unit of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

"I always wanted to write but was also interested in psychology. I would not have been able to write a fiction with such in-depth psychological aspect to it within the traditional English thesis," she said.

Scott will produce a creative translation of The Carmina Burana, which is an anthology of medieval Latin poems.

Scott said that he is translating The Carmina Burana into modern diction so that a modern reader can relate to and understand it. But he wants to "keep the flavor and tone of the time."

He said translations are good training for creative writing.

"Translation forces you to pay attention to words and all kinds of new forms, more so than just creative writing," Scott said.

He said he wanted to be a senior fellow because the creative writing major would not have allowed him to go "deep into the history and the language of the poems."

Zaretsky is currently doing extensive field research for her project on Soviet Jewish immigrant identity.

Zaretsky is spending this term in New York City where she is studying how "everyday practices and rituals have been invented to maintain a community of people coming from different areas and cultures."

She said Soviet Jews developed multiple identities as they assimilated to regional communities because of the anti-Semitic sentiment they encountered elsewhere.

Zaretsky, a Soviet Jewish immigrant who came to America at age four, said the fellowship allows her the time and flexibility to do analytical research.