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Musica Exotica in DeKalb, Illinois

This past weekend, I had the enormous good fortune to be speaking at Northern Illinois University‘s “Teaching World Music Symposium.” Organized by the inimitable Dr. Jui-Ching Wang, this delightful meeting of the minds featured composers, music educators, musicologists, and performers in what ended up being as much a Festival as it was a Symposium. The papers and presentations were uniformly excellent, but the real highlight was the rich diversity of outstanding performances throughout the weekend. Both aspects bore the strong legacy of one Dr. Kuo-Huang Han, the man who founded NIU’s world music program in 1975 and built it over the course of his career there.

Most of what a person can say about NIU’s program can probably be found in one place or another on the NIU website, but the thing that might be a bit more difficult to observe from that angle is the clear integration of music education and world music. In an age of postmodern multicultural music education, this seems completely natural. The reality is that in many schools of music, entrenched attitudes about anything outside the strong “Western Art Music” performance-based “canon” of pedagogies and repertories tend to marginalize any meaningful commitment to the robust exploration and serious consideration of diverse musics from around the globe. In other words, whatever the viewbook might imply, the band/chorus/orchestra model of the American secondary school still rules the day. This is particularly true in places that train teachers to perpetuate the band/chorus/orchestra model.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this model. In fact, I am the product of an excellent band/chorus/jazz band experience in Iowa, a state that has a long tradition of commitment to it. Universities, however, are meant to be places open to examining virtually anything in the spirit of free and unrestricted inquiry.

The entire weekend, therefore, reminded me of an interview I read once with ethnomusicologist Robert Garfias. It is worth quoting here at length. Tim Rice was asking the questions.

TR: What kind of influence do you think ethnomusicology has had on music studies in general?

RG: I could see the number of ethnomusicologists growing. And I could see a point, very soon, in which there would be an ethnomusicologist in every major institution of higher education across the country. I somehow thought we’d all be integrated into what’s going on in the university as a whole, and that didn’t happen. Even though there were ethnomusicologists all over, they tended to continue to be isolated from everybody around them. The university as a whole understands that it’s illogical to say, if we’re going to study geology, the best rocks in the world are in California and there’s no need to think about what the rocks are like anywhere else in the world. That’s absolutely absurd. But that’s what music departments do. Only one kind of music is worth studying. And that sort of heresy continues in spite of the fact that it’s antithetical to the way the university is structured. I never expected that that would continue for so long. I somehow thought in the sixties that we were going to bring the light of reason. And that didn’t happen, because we continued to be separate. But in part because the performance conservatory model does not belong in a university. They’re talking religion. They are absolute, and so it doesn’t fit in the university, and it’s been detrimental to the development of the field of ethnomusicology, to be under a system in which these are the people who are making decisions. I never expected that we’d get into that situation. Nor did I expect we would get into a situation in which so many ethnomusicologists would be complacent about that very thing. If you can’t find a place for the individual ethnomusicologist to thrive, the discipline is going to die.

Garfias was speaking from a place of profound disillusionment with the complacency of our approach as ethnomusicologists to the ethnocentric perspectives of some–and I emphasize some–of our colleagues in departments, schools, and colleges of music around the country and the world. NIU, on the other hand, has managed to take a very strong tradition of performance in Western common practice repertories and welcome jazz and world music artists into that model. People like Ron Carter and Kuo-Huang Han–among others–made that happen at NIU. They have not stopped there, however, as the level of music education and world music scholarship happening at NIU is also very strong. They are proving, one world music ensemble at a time, one graduate student playing in those ensembles at a time, that the performance-based model need not be solely focused on any one repertory; that it is well and good for people to specialize, so long as they also challenge themselves to be versatile and learn to function outside their professional comfort zones; and that music education, music performance, and world music–among other areas of musical study–can and should be mutually reinforcing.

So long as there are people like Dr. Han and Dr. Wang doing their work, and as long as places like NIU are supporting it, Bob Garfias’ pessimistic vision does not have to come to pass. In the meantime, as Dr. Ronnie Wooten and I agreed after an outstanding lunchtime performance at the symposium, music this beautiful will be making the world a better place. NIU has been giving these “Musica Exotica” concerts for 40 years. Here’s to 40 more and beyond!

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Hurdy-Gurdy

When I was a kid, we had this fantastic rectangular metal box that made playful music when we cranked it.

The only name I ever knew it by was the one the Mattel gave it when the company made it in 1953: Hurdy-Gurdy. It even had a fun box. I’m quite sure my mother still has both somewhere, probably on a shelf up high, but accessible to grandchildren when they visit her. My strong aural memory of this jangly little box has attached enormous emotional weight to the very term hurdy-gurdy, even if its Medieval ancestor looked and functioned quite differently. Imagine my glee, then, when my dear friend and colleague Jean Hein informed me that the gala she had invited me to for Columbia Baroque Soloists would feature not only Celtic harp but a REAL, 20th century reconstruction of a Medieval French vielle, i.e. a HURDY-GURDY!

This, dear readers, is that instrument:

Leah Trent holds her beautiful vielle/hurdy-gurdy

Leah Trent holds her beautiful vielle/hurdy-gurdy

Leah Trent holds her beautiful vielle/hurdy-gurdy (close-up)

Leah Trent holds her beautiful vielle/hurdy-gurdy (close-up)

vielle/hurdy-gurdy guts!

vielle/hurdy-gurdy guts!

vielle/hurdy-gurdy headstock

vielle/hurdy-gurdy headstock

It’s a beaut! Oh, but its owner, the lovely and talented Leah Trent, did not stop there. SHE LET ME PLAY IT! Needless to say I was over the moon. I managed a rather clunky rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the tune she had used to demonstrate it. But she, SHE–well, let’s just say Leah is a woman of many talents and let her music speak for itself.

First she demonstrated the instrument for the audience.

Then she played a tune called “Roughty-Toughty” from Playford’s The Dancing MasterOnly part of that appears in this clip

There were duos with Jean, too, who said that the recorder she borrowed from Leah for this performance was far and away the loudest she’d ever heard (in order to get up over the gurdy). The one in this video is a Christmas tune.

What fun! Many kind thanks to Leah and Jean for these musical delights.

Care to see and hear more? Check out the Columbia Baroque Soloists or Leah Trent live sometime!

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Ex-hibitions

Well, two exhibitions that displayed my photography during Black History Month, one of which premiered my first documentary film, came down this weekend. It has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and an enormous privilege to share two beautiful spaces with some brilliant artists. I am so grateful to Anthony Deiter for creating this opportunity for me at Claflin University’s beautiful Arthur Rose Museum of Art.

It’s been exciting to work with other colleagues at Claflin on these projects, too. I had such a positive experience with Ameen Hall on the documentary project last summer. Claflin was very supportive in getting these images printed and involving some students in curating the show. I never dared to hope that there would be another opportunity to show some of the photos on another show so soon. Then our new colleague Tabitha Ott invited me to submit some of the work for a juried show at the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center. The jury graciously gave their nod on four photographs, and the opening was fun for the whole family.

At the opening of the Rose Museum show, Dr. Donna Gough gave an intro that included this brilliant quote from author Chuck Palahniuk about creating the communities we want to live in. It is pure joy to work with colleagues who believe so firmly in the importance of that project. After the first few gigs with another new colleague who’s doing fantastic work with eager young jazz players here at Claflin, all I can say is here’s to more, and soon!

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Popular Music Symposium

We are thrilled here at Claflin University to have Dr. Felicia M. Miyakawa giving the keynote for our inaugural Sympsium on Popular Music! Her talk will be entitled, “Sampling, Canons, and Digital Genealogies,” or, “How a Familiar Spiritual Ended Up a Long Way From Home.” Felicia is working on her second book project and–among various other projects–co-editing the Avid Listener over at Norton. Music professionals of all stripes, take note: this is a tremendous new initiative.

If you haven’t been on any of my various e-mail blasts around campus or town this month and you’re hearing about the Symposium for the first time, come over and check it out. We have student presentations at 2, Felicia’s talk at 4, a student songwriter giving a workshop at 5, and a reception at 6.

Be sure to check out other Black History Month events at Claflin later this month, too!

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“E-Motion” Digital Exhibition Opening!

The time has finally come! Twleve of my fieldwork photographs and my new documentary film will all be on view at this exhibition starting tomorrow. If you cannot attend the opening reception, I hope you can come and see the tremendous work our colleagues in the Art Departments here at Claflin, over at South Carolina State and beyond have been creating. Our works are on view through most of Feburary at Claflin’s Arthur Rose Museum.

Flyer_Digital Show 2015

I am grateful to wonderful colleagues in our Art Department for their invitation to collaborate on this show and their diligent work in getting it up! M.I. Hossain and Raishad Glover curated and hung the show, Xan Jennings ran point on any number of important details, and Anthony Deiter invited me to participate. I could not be more excited to share the great privilege of my field research experience in this way. Many thanks to you all and especially to the generous communities of Irondo and Nawandyo, Busoga, Eastern Uganda.
Mweebale inho inho inho bannaife!

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Back in Action: Visual Ethnography Exhibit

It has been too long, but I am pleased to report that I have been busy even as I have been away. January will see several of my large format digital images on view here at Claflin University. Here’s a self-portrait from my fieldwork in Nawandyo Village, Namutumba District, Eastern Uganda, just to give folks a taste:

NsweziPeteBaswezi2

The full show will go up at the Arthur Rose Museum of Art on the campus of Claflin University on January 19, and the opening reception will be January 27th at 5:30 PM. Check it out if you’re in town! You might even see yours truly playing some Ugandan music…

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New Digs

Along with a new student intern (yay!) and some tremendous support from Claflin University, I’m pleased to point readers over to a new arm of this site, the Orangeburg MusIC Project.

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