He’s read the dictionary cover-to-cover. He’s walked across both the United States and most of Europe (though not continuously). And, as part of the famed musical duo Simon and Garfunkel, he’s won five Grammys and recorded three number-one albums.
Students and faculty packed into the Swing Space Activity Room on Wednesday to hear Art Garfunkel speak about the importance of dedication and nuance in creating powerful music at a Morse College Master’s Tea. Turnout for the event was high — about 120 students and faculty crammed into the Tea, and more than 100 were turned away for lack of space, leaving many students irritated. Several students peeked in through an open window during the Tea, at which Garfunkel discussed the meaning behind many of his songs and the virtues he thinks led to his success.
Morse College Master Frank Keil introduced Garfunkel as a man who “exemplifies the merits of a liberal arts education,” referring to Garfunkel’s bachelor’s degree in art history and master’s degree in mathematics, both from Columbia University.
Garfunkel began the talk by emphasizing his middle-class roots. He grew up in Queens, where, alongside his childhood friend Paul Simon, he developed a passion for music. For hours the pair would practice, working to coordinate their diction and create the most precise sound possible. This early diligence, Garfunkel said, played a crucial role in their success as artists.
“It’s the difference between the amateurs and the pros,” Garfunkel said.
Like many musicians, Simon and Garfunkel struggled at first to find support, Garfunkel said. Even after their first album, recorded under the name “Tom and Jerry,” met some success, the subsequent two faltered, and the two decided to take a break from the recording music. It was during this break that Simon attended Queens College and Garfunkel attended Columbia, and they joined the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
During the question and answer session that followed Garfunkel’s opening speech, the bulk of questions concerned the stories behind individual songs and lyrics.
For instance, the duo originally wrote an ode to Eleanor Roosevelt aptly named “Mrs. Roosevelt,” he said. But they changed the name to “Mrs. Robinson” to incorporate it into the hit movie “The Graduate.”
Greg Hindy ’13 drew laughs from the crowd when he inquired about the meaning of the title of Simon’s song, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Garfunkel said he too was confused by the meaning of the song and has not received clarification from Simon.
“I don’t know what they were doing down by the schoolyard,” Garfunkel said, to more laughter.
Despite these lighter moments, Garfunkel also looked critically at today’s music industry. He said he does not follow the current industry, and criticized today’s folk artists for failing to adhere to the original principles of folk music, calling them “urban, middle-class kids trying to make a hit record.” He also critiqued today’s listeners for lacking the patience to appreciate good music.
“Ever since MTV, they’ve diversified the message, and I don’t like that,” Garfunkel said. “We should aim to the ears only.”
But not everyone hoping to attend the tea walked away from Swing Space happy. Three students interviewed who were turned away from the Tea expressed annoyance at the space constraints. Micah Hendler ’11 said Simon and Garfunkel are his favorite artist.
“My question is why didn’t they just put the event in a bigger space?” Hendler said. “To be turned away and not get to hear Garfunkel talk about his life and his music — it was just really disappointing.”
Keil defended the decision to hold the event in the Swing Space Activity Room, saying that he and Garfunkel wanted to maintain a conversational feel to the event.
Two students who attended said they enjoyed Garfunkel and appreciated the intimacy of the tea. Sarah Armitage ’12 said she grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel and “loved” hearing the stories behind the songs.