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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:


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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Featured Artist-in-Residence: Denyce Graves

This week we have had the privilege of a brief residency with internationally renowned vocalist Denyce Graves. Let me begin by saying that her performance yesterday was among the finest live vocal performances I have ever experienced. Ms. Graves is the real deal. To repeat a phrase she used today, she is a “singing actress” of the finest quality. During the masterclass she offered for Claflin students this morning,  she demonstrated that she is an equally good pedagogue.

As a matter of priority, Graves shows how deeply she cares for young artists. Her approach to positive reinforcement is textbook: she puts praise first and emphasizes the positive so that musicians can build from strength to strength. All the same, she does not spare the rod. Graves hears through singers like most people see through glass, and then she polishes them. She refuses to stop until the particular aspect she is working on with the student reaches sufficient levels of both sound and understanding. That also means that every session ends as strongly as it begins. Any good musician will tell you that this pattern resembles a successful practice session. In the form of what she does–as much as in its content–she shows students this consistent approach to excellence.

She speaks to students in beautifully illustrative metaphors. To get the sound she wants, she speaks of the “core sound” of a singer’s voice. She compares it to perfume, noting that audiences don’t want eau de parfum or eau de toilette when they can have the real parfum. The comparison works perfectly for getting students to think about space and overtones or vocal formants. She instructs students to “stitch vowels together” by allowing [i] to “inform” [ε], [a], [o] and [u]. If that makes little sense to readers with different musical or linguistic backgrounds, think of it this way: she’s telling a singer to keep the long horizontal space in her vocal cavity equally long even as she opens up the vertical space for other vowel sounds. She compares this “spatial crescendo” to the feeling of taking a quick breath right after a peppermint.

Part of what works so well about all of this is that the students come prepared. Dr. Lori Hicks has worked overtime with many of these students for the love of singing and teaching. The students, for their part, know the technical language and the repertoire well. That eases Ms. Graves’ task, allowing her to use these pithy metaphors as illustrations that students can use to remember the sensation of good singing when they get back to the practice room. As she puts it, that sensation is so much important than sound; for as singers know, sound changes with the room, the time of day, what foods we eat, the season of the year, and even our seasons of life.

This is a promising time in the life of the music department at Claflin University. It was a tremendous pleasure to hear our students sing today, and it was an even greater pleasure to watch this master at work. I hope all of our students, whatever their instrument, can find something useful to take from the experience.



[A note to long-time readers (all dozen of you): the time has come for this forum to adopt a fresh angle. In the past, I have done many artist features. Now those features will serve–along with other aspects of this blog–as means of tying what has been primarily a research and reviews blog to my teaching at Claflin University. I hope this new breadth will continue to engage current readers and begin to connect them with a new readership among this university community.]

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Jocks and Their Jams

[This post has been re-blogged from a private course blog for one of my music history and literature courses at Claflin University.]

On the heels of public commentary investigating and completely refuting the notion that classical music is dead, the Renée Fleming‘s rendition of the National Anthem at SuperBowl forty-eight tonight certainly made a strong statement. Her comments earlier in the week made the statement that much stronger. Moreover, Denyce Graves reminding her audience at Claflin’s own W.V. Middleton Auditorium this afternoon about the use of opera in advertising for pasta sauce–along with Lawrence Fishburne’s new sync on a Kia ad–remind us that cultural relevance is always relative.

It’s refreshing then that one of these very same commentators had some very sensible things to say last year about music and sports in what he called the “Glee generation.” Some people find the middle ground to be milquetoast. At times it can be, but in these cases, I find the balance to be pretty strong.

Still not convinced? Check out Bruno Mars opening the SuperBowl halftime show with a drum solo before getting up to sing with a full horn line and dance like the Godfather of Soul!

So ask yourself: what does the term “classical” mean? What does it mean for a young musician to get up and tip his hat like that to iconic American style and some of America’s classic R&B artists?

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