Concerts, poetry, and much more: the Jackson Lunch Hour Series


Isabella Hudziak, Editor-in-Chief

When the workweek hits a lull on Wednesday afternoons, Utica University community members are encouraged to take a break by listening to music or literary readings as part of the Professor Harry F. and Mary Ruth Jackson Lunch Hour Series.

Beginning at 12:30 p.m., musical performances are held in the Library Concourse while literary readings are performed in Macfarlane Auditorium in DePerno Hall. The fall season will begin on Sept. 21.

The series has been a staple for Utica University for over 40 years and continues to introduce the student body to modern authors and musicians.


During the early 1970s, the Social Cultural Committee brought musicians to Utica to perform in the Ralph F. Strebel Student Center. The series, established officially in the spring of 1978, was born from a desire to offer the campus community an opportunity for socialization and a mental decompress with the arts.

Professor of History Harry F. Jackson and his wife Mary Ruth donated a sizable amount of money to Utica University in 1992 to fund the series. In honor of this donation, the series was renamed the Harry F. and Mary Ruth Jackson Lunch Hour Series.

When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world in 2020, the Lunch Hour Series was rebroadcast on Utica Pioneer’s WPNR 90.7 FM radio station at 1 p.m to make the performances more accessible.

Currently, musical performances are uploaded to Utica University’s YouTube and literary readings are available on SoundCloud.

Upcoming Music Performances

The music director of the Lunch Hour Series is adjunct lecturer of music Lynne Ferrara, who hopes to diversify future performances and promote performing arts.

“I am looking to bring in more culturally diverse musical performances, one of which being a latin jazz ensemble,” Ferrara said.

This season, familiar faces such as Monk Rowe, who is accompanied by John Hutson, and the Finger Lakes Guitar Quartet are returning to the Library Concourse this semester on Sept. 21 and Oct. 5 respectively.

Along with this, the campus community can attend a musical theatre masterclass on Oct. 21, which will feature students from Utica University‘s choir.

“We have a very talented student population,” Ferrara said. “The masterclass is an opportunity to support our students’ artistic achievements, prepare them for future pursuits within the musical arts and to continue to encourage campus engagement and growth in performing arts.”

Further performances will include Steven Heyman on piano, the Finger Lakes Trio, the Utica University String Ensemble directed by Tina Oyer Ponce, the Utica University Concert Band directed by Michael J. DiMeo and the Utica University Choir directed by Ferrara and accompanied by Alane Varga. Dates are listed on the Lunch Hour Series webpage of the university’s website.

Upcoming Literary Readings 

Poetry and fiction writers have been invited by co-directors of literary readings Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Threadgill and Instructor of English James Knippen.

According to Knippen, a major facet of the Lunch Hour Series in recent years has been to bring literary representation to the diverse communities in our local region.

“Utica University is located within a community of immigrants and refugees,” Knippen said. “We have also sought to diversify our reading series to include veterans, Indigenous authors, authors with experience in addiction/recovery, authors from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and authors writing in multiple genres.”

These readings have been met with positive feedback from the student population and, for some, a personal connection.

“We’ve heard from students and community members that sometimes this reading series is their first time seeing someone who looks like them, or someone with a similar background, who is in a position of power and success,” Knippen said.

Utica University will host fiction writer Richard Santos via Zoom on Oct. 19, poet Dan Rosenburg on Sept. 28 and poet Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach during the special Thursday evening event at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 27.

“Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach is a Jewish refugee from Ukraine. As the war in Ukraine continues, Julia’s visit is not only timely but necessary,” Threadgill said. “As President Casamento and Provost Pfannestiel remind us in our University’s statement on the war and refugee crisis in Ukraine, our campus serves many students, staff, faculty, and community members with Slavic heritage, so Julia’s visit is representative of the experiences many in our community have had. My hope is that Julia’s visit will help our campus community to learn about and from Julia’s experiences as a Jewish refugee from Ukraine.”

Why should students attend?

“To me, as a teacher of poetry, students get a reminder that poetry is a living art,” said Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Jason Denman, who performed a piano recital during the pandemic for the series.

Students familiar with the Jackson Lunch Hour Series understand the importance of being exposed to the arts and artistic expressions.

“One aspect of the series that excites me is when students who believe that they do not enjoy poetry or fiction attend a Lunch Hour reading and leave with a newfound or renewed interest in the insight and entertainment that good literature provides,” Knippen said.

The series allows for students to explore different genres of literature and broaden their horizons.

“These readings will appeal to students with interests in creative writing, but also publication and editing, regional ecology, parenting, political science, history, and more,” Threadgill said.