Yesterday I had the privilege of working with Grinnell music alumnus Erik Jarvis to hang a temporary exhibition of photographs from my field research in Uganda. Erik works with the Grinnell Area Arts Council, preparing their lovely historic building on Broad Street–a recently renovated adaptive re-use that is a work of art in its own right–for a wide variety of exhibitions and events. This time we were putting up a mini-exhibition of twelve photographs that I took at a pair of events in the Busoga region of eastern Uganda. In a wild synchronicity of contrasting sacred musical worlds, they will remain on view through the Grinnell College production of Godspell April 13-16 until my Ugandan Ensemble plays on April 19th.
Nearly a decade ago, when I was playing in three different world music ensembles in a given year, Dale Olsen was thinking a lot about what it meant to perform folkloric musical traditions on stage and encouraging us, his students, to engage in that discourse as well. He referred to the practice of “stagelore,” noting that these performances are discrete from the culturally situated iterations of the teachers we encounter in our fieldwork. They generate their own significations. Tom Turino asserts the difference as a distinction between the cultural formations of those who create the traditions (like the woman pictured below and those who surround me above) and the cultural cohorts who come to appreciate, adopt, and perform them (like my students, colleagues, and me).
Now I have the self-conscious and perhaps precarious privilege of directing my own ensemble, a self-selected cultural cohort of Grinnell students who have worked hard all semester to prepare this performance. They have learned Luganda and Lusoga phrases and songs, they have become devoted novices on East African instruments, and they have learned in these and other ways something about how the Baganda and Basoga of southern Uganda live, eat, think, and pray. I hope, through their efforts and mine, that our performance will represent something of the creative ways of being-in-the-world that I have come to so deeply appreciate about those who teach me their songs.