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Humanities instructed by qualified, satisfied teacher


AI Art, generated by Robin Johnson
An AI rendering of a John Marshall yearbook photo of Claire Vickers, (as she was then named.)

A class would seem meaningless if the teacher, through his or her experiences and interests, could not relate to the subject matter. Perhaps, for this reason, Mrs. Claire Van Zant is so well placed in her job as a humanities teacher.

"I have lived. I have seen. I have suffered." Mrs. Van Zant confirmed.

Born and educated in Great Britain, Mrs. Van Zant has led a unique life.

In 1967, Mrs. Van Zant received two letters from the Rochester School District asking her to teach at the high school for one year. She was somewhat familiar with the Rochester area, because a year earlier, a Rochester teacher stayed with her in Britain. She replied and came to Rochester with the intention of staying one year. One year turned into two, and then she met her husband-to-be. Her presence at Mayo in 1982 reveals the rest of the story.

Mrs.Van Zant comments, "One must adapt to the requirements of society."

Rochester does not offer the cultural activities and traditions that Britain did. While in Britain, Mrs. Van Zant participated in a group titled the "Anonymous Players." Mrs. Van Zant acted in and directed the plays. Her efforts resulted in high quality performances.

In Rochester, Mrs. Van Zant is still intensely interested in drama, especially classical plays. She has acted in and directed plays at the Civic Center. She has just finished researching and writing another libretto; a composer friend will set the writings to music.

"I like to write... to exercise my creative ability, explains Mrs. Van Zant. On October 24 at the Unitarian Church, Mrs. Van Zant was the guest speaker during an anti-nuclear rally.

Along with her activities, Mrs. Van Zant has recently purchased an oil painting set to experiment with that art.

Relating to the present, Mrs. Van Zant believes teaching humanities to students "brings them down to earth . .. to think post-graduation . . . and to consider the reality of life."

"There are lessons to be learned from the plays. Yet, there is more drama in real life. The classes make the students think in different directions, beyond the usual," continues Mrs. Van Zant.

Compared to Mrs. Van Zant's earlier experiences, her life at Mayo may not seem as appealing to an outsider viewing the situation.

"I am a teacher, because I wanted to teach," declares Mrs. Van Zant with a satisfied smile, as she pats a letter on her desk from a former student.

Calvary summer series ranges from dance to drama

May 31, 1991 | The Rochester Post Bulletin

An ambitious arts series including traditional English maypole dancing is planned at Calvary Episcopal Church this season.

The Oasis Courtyard Theater will take place on the lawn of the inner court. Events begin at noon next Thursdayjune 6 and will be held weekly through Aug. 29.

Claire VanZant is preparing dancers for the June 27 maypole fete. The presentation-of-maidens ceremony was passed down by the Celts and later adopted in part by Christians. It has become a celebration of community and of spring. Three generations of Rochester women will be taking part. They are embroidering white dresses and making the long ribbons which will be plaited into intricate patterns during the dance.

All the courtyard events will be held on Thursdays except for the July 3 program, on a Wednesday. The series:

June 6 -- Rochester Writers' Roundtable reading short works of fiction.
June 13 -- Carolyn Meyer, Violin and Piano Trio from Eau Claire, Wis.
June 20 -- Storytellers August Rubrecht of Mondovi, Wis., and Michael Cotter of Austin, with tales from the Ozarks and other "storied" traditions.
June 27 -- English maypole dancers and music in a country setting.
July 3 -- John Paulson Jazz Duo from Winona (John Paulson, Eric Heukeshoven) with a midday session of contemporary jazz.
July 11 -- Ray Dretske, a Twin Cities composer, exploring the world of writing music via computer.
July 18 -- Steve Rings, guitarist from Rochester, playing works from solo guitar literature.
July 25 -- Fiddlers Green from Zumbro Falls area and Plainview, performing Irish and American folk music.
Aug. 1 -- Kammer Duo, Janet Heukeshoven and Bruce Dropkin of Winona, doing classical and contemporary music for flute and guitar.
Aug. 8 -- Flute and Piano Duo, a concert of works for flute and keyboard with Sally Scott of Rock Dell and Siena Young of Zumbrota.
Aug. 15 -- The Masque Youth Theatre and School, presenting open-air theater by various troupes in the organization.
Aug. 22 -- Guitarist Gene Swanson of Minneapolis, 1989 Schubert Club winner, performing classical, jazz and vocal standards.
Aug. 29 -- Uff da! Quartet of Decorah, Iowa, a Scandinavian folk and dance music group playing fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass.
Oasis Courtyard Theater was planned by Ray Gustafson, music director at Calvary. The series is being held in cooperation with the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council Inc., with funding from the Minnesota State Legislature.

THE ROCHESTER POST BULLETIN, Rochester, Minnesota, May 31, 1991

Maypole began as fertility rite

September 12, 1991 | The Rochester Post Bulletin

Claire Van Zant, circa 1981

The women and girls braiding maypole ribbons as they dance, in the cover photo, were recreating a traditional English custom for the Oasis Courtyard Theater this summer at Calvary Episcopal Church.

Claire Van Zant learned the dances some 35 years ago in her native England and offered to teach the intricate steps.

The tradition began as a pagan fertility rite. During the spring, young maidens would present themselves, much as boys marked their passage to manhood, Van Sant said. One virgin was given a crown of new May buds.

Christianity borrowed the ritual from the Celts and invested its own elements. The maypole dance became a dedication to purity.

Participants "aren't just dancing around," Van Zant said. They weave complicated patterns as they circle the pole and each warp and weft has symbolic meaning.

A whirligig has participants going in opposite directions in a double circle. Their tight braid symbolizes community. Another segment results in tent-like weaving as a sign of God's protection.

A figure-eight symbolizes difficult teaching and a web is seen as an industrious, rather than scary, symbol.

Maypole dancing "is a very happy time," Van Zant said.

She said she hummed a few bars of music and pianist Mary Ellen Malkasian compiled the score for the summer theater.

Participants made their white dresses and in one case three generations took part.

The Courtyard Theatre included a writers' round table, classical and jazz performers, storytellers, guitarist, fiddler, youth theater and Scandinavian folk musicians.

THE ROCHESTER POST BULLETIN, Rochester, Minnesota, September 12, 1991

Performance paves way for Christmas

November 27, 1993 | The Rochester Post Bulletin

A specially commissioned chancel theater group, liturgical dancers, youth orchestra and vocalist will offer "Voices in Praise of Advent and the Nativity" here Dec. 12.

The performance is from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at Assisi Heights. Planned for the whole family, it will offer participants a chance to prepare for Christmas through the artistry of music, dance and poetry.

The program will open with an orchestral prelude and the singing of Christmas carols.

Readers are from the Van Zant Chancel Theatre founded through gifts to Calvary Episcopal Church as a living memorial to Robert D. Van Zant. It is directed by his widow Claire.

She said the participants present chancel drama, poetry and prose "in celebration of Christian ideals, the love of nature and grandeur of the human spirit."

Performers are Roy Achter, Scott Gunn, Emily Harris, Jed Harris, Frank Helminski, Margaret Helminski, Nicklas Mezacapa, Mary Moore, Bob Padzieski, Sidney Phillips, Roy Shorter, George Slicho, Truda Tyce, Sara Winterfield and Claire Van Zant.

In addition to poetry and Biblical readings, prose works have been selected from literature: "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens, "Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot, and "The Star of the Nativity" by Pasternak.

The Seraphim Dancers have grown from Seraphim Three to include Gail Adams, Kathie Bluhm, Kay Case, Virginia Huffine and Jean Dain Waters.

Ray Gustafson will direct the Youth Chamber Orchestra.

Vocalist Sunny Didier, a former student of Claire Van Zant's, will be accompanied by Mary Ellen Malkasian. They will be heard in airs and excerpts from "Messiah" by Handel, "Exsultatecq Jubilate" by Mozart, and "Benedictus" by Haydn.

Robert Van Zant, the chancel theatre's namesake, was an instructor at Rochester Community College.

"It is unusual to have a living memorial," Claire Van Zant said. "It seems to have kept me busy."

Past presentations have included W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio, "For the Time Being;" "The Way of the Cross," written for Good Friday; a summer program, "Birds, Beasts and Flowers," and a selection of theological and philosophical poetry.

The Advent program is one of a series under the sponsorship of Assisi Community Center. It is open to the public. A free-will offering will be accepted.

THE ROCHESTER POST BULLETIN, Rochester, Minnesota, November 27, 1993