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Ma Belle Soirée

by Jacqueline Hampshire

Often after a day of back-to-back lectures and a lack of caffeine, I find myself counting the days till I can say my final farewell to cramped lecture halls and Power Point presentations. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, long, long ago, when lecture halls were new and exciting; a change of pace from the high school classroom. Now, however, the lecture format has become so familiar, I’ve started to take it for granted. 

A few weeks ago, I attended a Belle Soirée lecture by Judith Benhamou-Huet on Robert Mapplethorpe at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Just as I was starting to fall into a routine at school, the experience served as a reminder of how lucky I am to be able to have people who are passionate and knowledgeable about a subject, share it with me every day. 

Les Belles Soirées is a project by l’Université de Montréal. Its goal is to provide everyone, not just students, with the opportunity to learn for pleasure. The talks (not always a soirée) cover topics ranging from History and Philosophy to Architecture and Art. Though most of them are lectures, the program also explores other methods of teaching. Anyone, regardless of their age or previous schooling, can attend a lecture or conference and assume the role of student and scholar. The demographic reflected this. People of all ages were in attendance and no prior knowledge of the artist was required, though, having read “Just Kids” was an unspoken expectation (kidding, sort of). 

As we entered the auditorium, there was a sense of giddy anticipation similar to the first few lectures I had at McGill. Though much of the audience had probably sat in lecture halls before, maybe even earlier that day, this felt different. Perhaps it’s the same phenomenon as being assigned a novel in high school. Being told what to read somehow sucks some of the joy out of doing so. The novels were very good (for the most part), and the same can be said of my lectures at university, however, the routine and rigid format that I associate with school often makes me blind to that fact. 

At Les Belles Soirées, everyone had chosen to spend their evening listening to Judith Benhamou-Huet, a visiting French journalist talk about Robert Mapplethorpe, and though hers was a traditional lecturing style, the experience felt new and exciting. 

A change of setting and a shift in routine gave me a fresh perspective on both the topic and the format of lecturing. I became aware of myself in relation to the speaker, the space and the other audience members; something I rarely consider in my University classes. 

The idea of going to MORE lectures on top of your busy schedule may seem absurd, though, something as simple as a change of setting or the time of day can breathe new life into your experience of a traditional teaching method and help you to appreciate it once again.

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