What do all these items have in common that's being picked up, in each case, by the initial word--an adjective here, not a noun? There's something distinctive about the city that the School of Arts and Sciences calls home: a unique, home-grown style recognized around the world. "We live in a city that is famous not just for its place in America's colonial past," notes music professor Gene Narmour, "but for its own styles of food, fashion, architecture, crafts, design, music, textiles, and much, much more."
During the academic year now ending, the Penn Humanities Forum took up Style as its annual theme. Most of us think of style as the section of the newspaper that deals with fashion, furniture, and recreation. But Narmour, the forum's acting director, says that style tells us a great deal about who we are, where we came from, what's important to us. "Everything that human beings have built up and arranged around themselves--our whole material and intellectual culture--was put together to achieve a particular look, a special taste and smell, a unique sound, a precisely calibrated feel. Those impressions speak to us of meanings beyond the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing."
Once each month, the Humanities Forum looked at one aspect of Philadelphia style, hosting knowledgeable speakers in fields from music to cuisine to mural art.
Leopold Stokowski, Narmour points out, fashioned a distinct and recognizable sound when he was conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. "His role in the city's move away from its European past, with the development of the 'Philadelphia Sound,' culminated in a decidedly American collaboration between classical music and animated film in Disney's Fantasia." Some would contend that the collaboration between the maestro and the mouse was more in tune with the city's penchant for silliness. That, no doubt, is Philly style too.
"As Philadelphians," says Narmour, "we are in possession of a rich tradition, not just of music but of an ear-, tongue-, nose-, and eye- dazzling heritage."
This issue of PENN Arts & Sciences embraces and celebrates
the singular style--the silly as well as the sublime--that can only be
described with the adjective "Philadelphia."