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Music Student Hits All the Right Notes

Music Student Hits All the Right Notes
From left: USC Libraries dean Catherine Quinlan, Carolyn Kellogg, Jim Kincaid, Veronique Van Pelt, Andrei Pavelescu and Linda Cassady

The works of Lewis Carroll have inspired generations of writers, artists and musicians. Walt Disney, Tom Petty, Jim Henson, Grace Slick, Clive Barker, Dave Fleischer and The Beatles are among the many who have reinterpreted Carroll’s work.

On April 21 in Doheny Memorial Library, USC students Veronique Van Pelt and Andrei Pavelescu joined their ranks as winners of the seventh annual Wonderland Award competition.

Van Pelt, a USC Thornton School of Music student, channeled the Victorian author’s creative spirit to take home the $2,000 top prize with her original musical compositions.

In “The Alice Sketches: Songs About Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell, the Wonderland Stories and the Present,” Van Pelt synthesized the works of Carroll and the styles of influential 20th-century artists who themselves were influenced by Carroll.

“While I took in [Carroll’s] broader writings, including his poetry and lesser known stories, I tended to focus on the two texts with which I was more familiar, that I supposed to have the greatest cultural impact – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,” Van Pelt said. “At the same time, I transcribed what I perceived as 21st-century reactions to Carroll and his legacy. My sources were films, music, graphics, games and clothing – an indiscriminate amalgam of pop culture.”

She continued: “My sources include Jefferson Airplane, all of the Disney films on Wonderland, American McGee’s Alice, Alice-themed Halloween costumes and Go Ask Alice.”

Presented at a reception in Doheny Library’s Friends of the USC Libraries Lecture Hall and made possible by a gift from longtime USC Libraries supporter Linda Cassady, the Wonderland Award recognizes creative scholarship based on the works of Carroll, the English author, photographer, logician and mathematician.

Cassady’s husband, George ’55, a collector of rare books, donated the collection of Carroll materials upon which the competition is based.

“Amid all the activity and excitement leading up to commencement and the summer recess, the Wonderland Award makes this an even more special time of year for our libraries – and those of our colleagues – and for all of our students,” said USC Libraries dean Catherine Quinlan in her welcoming remarks. “It is a time for a very specific sort of exploration and unique discoveries – a time to investigate, interpret and transform the wondrous works of Lewis Carroll.”

The submissions were evaluated on their combination of inventiveness and academic achievement by Cassady, USC English professor Jim Kincaid, Los Angeles Times columnist Carolyn Kellogg and Genevieve Kaplan, one of last year’s Wonderland Award recipients.

“Without Jim, we probably wouldn’t be doing this,” Cassady said of Kincaid, who has helped judge the competition since its inception in 2005. “He is really the school sponsor, in conjunction with the libraries.”

Pavelescu, a doctoral candidate in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences’ mathematics department, took the $1,500 second-place award, for his take on a childhood pastime.

Recollecting his discovery of Carroll’s polysyllogisms as a child growing up in Romania and utilizing many of the basic rules of the card game Go Fish, Pavelescu created a logic game in which the goal is to collect enough word cards to be able to create a valid Carrollian syllogism.

“I resolved to submit an entry related to the logician/mathematician part of Carroll’s work,” Pavelescu said. “Inspired by a Victorian-era deck of cards, I decided to create a game of logic that would fully incorporate Alice in Wonderland characters and Lewis Carroll’s love for whimsical puzzles.”

This year’s competition marked the first time that the Wonderland competition was open to students from universities other than USC.

A dozen of the entries came from students from San Diego State University, California State University at Long Beach, California State University at Dominguez Hills and the California Institute of the Arts.

“We were really delighted to have the participation from the other universities, and we hope to see that grow,” Cassady said.

All Wonderland Award entrants received a copy of The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition by Martin Gardner.

The Wonderland Award encourages exploration of the USC Libraries’ G. Edward Cassady, M.D. and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, R.N. Lewis Carroll Collection. Established in 2000, the collection now contains more than 1,500 rare books, pamphlets, letters and other items related to Carroll’s work. Wonderland entries become a permanent part of the collection.

Information about the eighth annual Wonderland Award will be available later this year at

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