Kate Silvey


Kate Silvey



Kate Silvey


The annual Chinese New Year celebration at the University of Alabama is no quiet event.

For a moment, the sounds filling the bustling Ferguson Center ballroom on this early February evening – friends chatting around tables, laughter emerging between bites of traditional dishes are replaced by the dreamy crescendos of a bamboo ute. Dr. Fei Hu stands on stage in front of the celebration’s attendees, conjuring the music that swells through the room. Accompanied by his daughter on the guzheng, a plucked string instrument, Hu’s music ushers in the Chinese New Year – and a bout of applause.

While UA students may only see their professors positioned in front of lecture halls or leading small discussions on a daily basis, much occurs outside of the classroom. Take Hu, for example. A computer and electrical engineering instructor, he devotes a portion of his free time outside of engineering to practicing and playing the bamboo ute, delving into a world of music and artistry that deviates from the requirements of his career.

Hu began learning to play the bamboo ute in college after being taught violin by his father at age 15. After 20 years with no practice, he decided to pick up the instrument again and now plays daily, even occasionally treating friends, family, and strangers to performances like the one at the Chinese New Year festival. Even Hu’s office, located inside the South Engineering Research Center, boasts of his eagerness and willingness to share his music – an amplifier and a microphone stand perched between a wall and his desk, waiting to be toted out and used on stage.

“I’m the advisor of the Chinese Cultural Association here,” Hu said of why he accepts opportunities to play on campus. “And so the students, they want people to know about Chinese culture. Maybe the bamboo flute can show one aspect of Chinese culture.”

Inside his office, he scrolls through his laptop and pulls up sample sheet music with notations scrawled in Chinese characters, then presses play on an audio file. The sound of a bamboo flute emerges, notes singing at high octaves, the song somehow both whimsical and mournful at the same time.

“I like this flute because it gives people a feeling of missing home,” Hu said, as the music lilted down the tiled hallways of the South Engineering Research Center. “I like the special atmosphere.”

Indeed, a flute like Hu’s, constructed out of bamboo rather than metal like its typical Western counterpart, has a unique sound quality that’s been used in Chinese music for centuries. But while the majority of Hu’s repertoire stems from traditional Chinese music and themes from television shows and movies, he admits that he enjoys playing American classics as well – most notably, “My Heart Will Go On” from the film “Titanic”.

“I teach engineering classes, but I also tell myself I’m getting older and older,” Hu said. “I don’t want to wait until retirement to have fun. I think right now I should enjoy my music world. I should recover my ute playing skills now, not 20 years later.”

His wife enjoys Chinese music, he says, and his daughter develops her own talent through playing the guzheng. But Hu’s music isn’t solely a family affair – he’s invited his engineering students to see him perform and enjoys performing at cultural events.

Mastering the bamboo flute depends on how you utilize your lungs and direct your air, Hu explained. In the same way, indulging in a hobby like this alongside the demands of a career depends on how you use your time. But he believes it to be worth it. “Life is so short,” Hu said. “It’s not wise to spend all your time on research or wait until retirement.”

And so, he continues to make music. Bamboo pipes, play on.

Dr. Marysia Galbraith’s work as an anthropologist has taken her all across the globe, but it’s seated at the base of a potter’s wheel where another one of her passions unfolds.

As a joint appointee with New College and the anthropology department, Galbraith teaches courses on anthropology and art, peoples of Europe, and cultural anthropology, to name a few. Her current research primarily fixates on Jewish heritage in Poland. But long before she was an anthropologist, exploring the development and behavior of humanity, she was creating something of her own.

It began in high school, when Galbraith became involved in an after-school program that allowed students to delve into different artistic mediums: paint, silverwork, stained glass … and pottery.

“I started on the potter’s wheel, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll try this, and I’ll try this, and I’ll try this…” Galbraith said, smiling. “And I never really got o the potter’s wheel. I just fell in love with working on it.”

In a video posted to her website, a camera films Galbraith as she creates a ceramic bowl. Stained hands cradle a lump of clay as it pirouettes on the potter’s wheel, carefully scooping out its center and shaping its form with precise fingers and palms. In the end, that same shapeless lump of earth is transformed into a bowl with a glazed, gleaming cerulean interior, the edges carved with a swirling design. While Galbraith’s interest in ceramics did not necessarily influence her decision to become an anthropologist, her dual passions often converge – sometimes closely, like when she ventured to Southeast Asia to take part in a pilot study on the Sasak potters of Lombok, Indonesia. As the nation of Indonesia has transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to one more dependent on industrialization, Galbraith explained, female potters are taking their skills and using them to support their families.

“The Indonesian potters are extraordinary because they just hand-build, it’s basic technology,” Galbraith said. “But they make these incredible forms and they do things that, if I hadn’t actually seen it with my own eyes, having 20-plus years of experience with pottery… I would have said ‘you can’t do that, that’s impossible.’”

Learning about the ways in which others from all over the world craft their ceramics has influenced how Galbraith has created her own. An experienced and accomplished artist, she’s sold and exhibited her pottery in galleries and shows across the nation. Currently, her ceramics are featured at Naked Art Gallery in Birmingham and the Kentuck Center in Northport.

“Having this creative outlet actually makes me more productive of a scholar,” she said. “While I’m doing the pottery, my hands are busy, but my mind is free to be putting together ideas. And so the next day when I go to write, those ideas are already there.”

Until he stepped onstage during a theatrical adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice & Men”, Prof. Daniel Maguire never imagined that he’d see his name at the top of a cast list.

An instructor with the Honors College and registrar in the Culverhouse College of Commerce, Maguire
teaches a course titled “Anarchy and Liberty” and works with data analytics during his working hours. But perhaps unknown to many of his students, he isn’t restricted to teaching in front of classrooms. Sometimes, he can also be found on stage underneath the glow of a spotlight, reciting lines from a script or breaking into song.

Although Maguire sang in choirs toward the end of his college career, he’d never formally acted until six years ago, when he decided to audition for a musical.

“I auditioned for ‘Spamalot’ with the ACT – the Actor’s Charitable eater here in town – kind of on a whim,” he said. “I was in a couple of church plays as a kid, but didn’t do high school drama or anything like that.”
After performing a number from the musical “Avenue Q”, he learned he was cast. And just like that, a new world opened up.

“I got hooked,” he said. “It was a blast.”

Since his stage debut, Maguire has acted in numerous shows, both plays and musicals. Most recently, he was cast in ACT’s production of “Of Mice and Men”, in which he plays George, a migrant worker during the Great Depression. But it’s a previous role, that of Giuseppe Zangara in the musical “Assassins”, where Maguire says he truly felt at home on stage and fully immersed in his role – despite being a 6-feet-tall Irishman portraying a 5-feet- tall Italian immigrant.

“When I stepped onto that stage, that’s who I was,” Maguire said. “No insecurities, no worrying about this – that was it. Which was a really neat feeling! […] You’re kind of in two places at once – you’re in the character’s space, but you’re cognizant of the fact that you’re playing a part, working within a framework.”
It isn’t all spotlights and stage directions for Maguire outside of the classroom, however. After the theatre curtains close and the applause dies down, he dons a jersey and a cap and transitions to working in a completely different environment: a baseball diamond.

Maguire has been playing baseball since he was eight years old, and his passion for the sport is evident even in his office inside Mary Alston Hall. A shelf behind his desk is lined with baseballs – most with a special meaning, but a few just simply souvenir balls.

Primarily a center- elder for adult amateur league team Tuscaloosa Tornados, Maguire finds a new sort of enjoyment in a sport that he’s loved for decades.

“I’ve been playing baseball for much longer. It’s a lot more comfortable I guess,” he said. “With any sport, when you’ve played it your whole life, it comes naturally. You’re not necessarily having to think about what you’re doing.”

Although theatre and baseball require different skills, Maguire draws parallels between the two. What lures him to both activities? The camaraderie.

“I’ve always been a team-sports person,” Maguire said. “ Theatre is more similar to that [baseball] than you would think. You’re all part of a team.”

His most fond memories in both baseball and theatre lie in the relationships made within small casts and tight-knit teams, in backstage antics and afternoon practices out on the mound. In the end, Maguire encourages everyone, including professors, to nd hobbies that tap into interests outside of their careers. It might be nerve-wracking at first, like standing up in front of a full classroom on the first day of the semester, opening your mouth before the opening number of a musical, or tensing your muscles before the first pitch.

“Up until the time when you hit that first note and you think, ‘okay, I’ve got this’, or in pitching, feel the nerves going… But once you throw one and get the first strike, you think: Okay. All right,” Maguire said, smiling. “I can do this for another day.”