When Dale Hurst isn't in the lab studying atmospheric chemistry, he might be found playing trumpet with his jazz combo. Physical sciences major Owen Morse works his way through college by juggling and riding a unicycle at birthday parties and company picnics. And Steve Biller polishes his magic act when he needs a break from his physics studies.
Such juxtapositions of scholastics and show biz are not uncommon among the listings in UC Irvine's entertainment registry, a free school service that helps talented students hook up with those seeking to book entertainment for weddings, parties and other functions.
The concept is simple: Talent shoppers call program coordinator Marilyn Mendenhall at the school's Student Affairs, Arts and Lectures office and ask for a request form. The completed form is returned to Mendenhall, and she passes the request along to a student in the appropriate category. It is then up to the two parties to work out financial terms.
The program is about a year old, and the list now includes 35 students in a variety of academic disciplines. Following are profiles of four young performers who offer their services through the registry.
When Dale Hurst started his studies at UCI in 1979, he thought that he would have to hang up his trumpet, which he had played in school bands since the fourth grade. Irvine had no football team and therefore, Hurst reasoned, no marching band.
He was only half right. The university has no marching band, but it does have a pep band, which plays at basketball games and other events. Hurst joined and later graduated to the school's jazz ensemble, a big band-style orchestra that gives quarterly concerts. And for the past six months, Hurst has been blowing his horn for Summer Nights, a seven-piece jazz combo that has played at awards banquets and other campus events.
For Hurst music is a perfect counterpoint to his sometimes grueling graduate research in atmospheric chemistry. "I think of it as a release," the 25-year-old La Habra native says of his trumpet playing. "The minute I have that trumpet in my hand, I completely forget about what happened in the lab that day, good or bad. It's like I'm in another world."
The prospect of picking up some paid bookings also has its allure. "At first I started just wanting to get out and play," Hurst said. "But after a few paying gigs you see that it could supplement your income a little."
The Summer Nights lineup should disprove any notion that science and art are mutually exclusive. In addition to Hurst, the band includes a computer science major, a graduate student in physics, another physics major and a guitar-playing medical student.
"We have people from all different walks of education. It's just a diverse group of people," Hurst said. "Nobody's making a career out of music. We have a lot of fun, and that's what counts to us."
For Haruo Kitado, a self-taught folk and classical guitarist, music has always had a way of opening doors. "Anywhere I went I would take my guitar with me," Kitado says of the days in his native Japan before he came to California. "I made lots of friends."
So the guitar came along when Kitado left Japan and enrolled at Irvine in 1981 to study biology. After attending a weeklong orientation at the school, he was asked to perform in a talent show. Kitado shyly accepted and sang and played a medley of Paul Simon songs--prompting a standing ovation. "It was a nice introduction to this university," the guitarist said. "It gave me a motivation to perform."
The motivation remained, as Kitado has played in about 20 campus concerts and at weddings, parties and other, informal gatherings. Sometimes he plays classical pieces, while other times he displays his folk side by paying homage to his hero, singer-songwriter Simon. In Japan, Kitado learned much of his English by singing along on "Sounds of Silence" and other Simon compositions.
The guitarist holds a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Tokyo and has earned a bachelor's degree in biology at UCI. He is now performing graduate research in molecular biology in pursuit of his doctorate in the subject.
"What I'm doing is very intense research," said Kitado, who works in the lab from 10 a.m. to midnight some days. "After that kind of really intense work I need a way to relax, and playing the guitar is really excellent."
Science is very much a waiting game dominated by slow, meticulous work and delayed rewards, Kitado said. Performing, in contrast, offers an immediate response. "It's a special kind of excitement when you perform," Kitado said. "Also, I love the feeling of sharing the beauty of music. And I make many friends.
"It's been a very important part of my life. I could not live without music. It's not just a hobby."
Steve Biller has often been asked to explain the connection between his two greatest passions, physics and magic, but he used to be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.