©St. Louis African Chorus, April 2002. All rights reserved.

SOUNDING BOARD

Commentaries by friends of the International Consortium for the Music of Africa & its Diaspora

Commentaries relating to African-derived influences stop short at popular music, precipitating a dearth of information on the vast contributions by composers of African origin or descent to art music. For example, the average American young adult will easily identify with a Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or Bob Marley tune; and if he/she has taken a college music class, names like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, or Barber will be easily recognizable. But pull out names of eminent black composers such as William Grant-Still, Florence Price, Fela Sowande, Akin Euba, Halim El-Dabh, and one is immediately greeted by silence or a confused expression. Why?

There are lingering issues demanding investigation: unbalanced curricula in our grade schools, and more so, among music students in tertiary institutions; the lack of public interest in the aesthetics of African-derived music; marketing techniques and the politics of promoting music by composers of African origin or descent.

Why is that where African or Diaspora-born Africans are concerned it is assumed that the discussion of music be limited to pop music? Why is a Chopin’s Mazurka played on the classical music radio dial, whereas a Scott Joplin’s Symphonic Rag only gets playtime on the Jazz, Blues, or ‘ethnic’ channel? Why are music students in our universities fully conversant with European composers, but unfamiliar with the names and works of prominent African or African American composers? Could it be that there is a deliberate or unintentional practice to underrate the music of composers of African origin or descent?1

Dr. Akin Euba, Andrew Mellon Professor of Music, writes: “Unfortunately, scholars and others from Africa and the Diaspora whose business it is to write on and promote the music of Africa help to perpetuate the Western perceptions of African abilities by keeping themselves enslaved within the same limited discourse through which the West chooses to engage with the music of Africa. We have the power and the means to change the discourse and yet we seem to be afraid to do so.”2

Offering a different perspective, Dr. Dominique de Lerma, of Lawrence University, Appleton, adds: “…We have a problem regarding culture and aesthetics versus democracy and capitalism. These two areas don’t often mix comfortably, and those who subscribe to post 18th-century political philosophies assume what sells the most is best, or what gets voted to first place is the winner…The enemy of aesthetics is the music industry. This is also the enemy of Black liberation.”3These are societal concerns that demand advanced scrutiny by policy and decision makers.

1. Excerpts from a seminar delivered by Fred Onovwerosuoke

2. Dr. Akin Euba is Andrew Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. Writing from Cambridge, U.K., where he’s spending sabbatical, his comment was a response to a recent article by Michael Veal in the New York Times.

3. Dr. Dominique de Lerma is on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University Appleton, Wisconsin. His comment was a response to a recent article by Michael Veal in the New York Times.

More than 15 years ago employees of all wards of the MISSIONSÄRZTLICHE KLINIK (clinic), Würzburg, Germany gathered under the baton of Renate Geiser (a physician of internal medicine, trained church musician and singer) to sing and make music together. The MISSIO CHOR (MISSIO choir) in its present form exists since 1994. More than half of today's members are working in all kinds of branches outside the clinic.

We are united by the enthusiasm for African music, by its liveliness and power which we can in part only imagine but also feel time and again. Most of our songs have been gathered by Renate Geiser and some of the choir members in the course of Sunday services or traditional feasts during occupational and private stays in Africa. The arrangement of the music for the songs is mostly done by Renate Geiser herself.

African choir members and friends help us to enlarge our repertoire as they bring with them melodies from their home countries. With great patience they introduce us to the unknown languages, particular rhythms and dancing steps which for them are a matter of course.

In our ensemble, the TROMMELHAUS Ensemble, vivid, powerful impulses are given by Piotr Steinhagen, university lecturer for the praxis of African percussion and intercultural rhythm investigator, and his TROMMELHAUS-Ensemble (percussion ensemble).

With empathy and enormous commitment they impart to us the characteristic features of African music. The TROMMELHAUS-Ensemble also performs own compositions. In this way with songs, rhythms and sounds from Tanzania, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Guinea, South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe the diversity of African culture can in part be experienced.

MISSIO CHOR and TROMMELHAUS-Ensemble perform during services in and around the city of Würzburg. With benefit concerts and by selling CDs with the best songs of their programme medical and social projects, primarily in Africa, are supported. The MISSIO CHOR thus also supports projects of the Missionsärztlichen Instituts (catholic institution for international health)

For further information please contact:

Dr. Renate Geiser
Missionsärztliches Institut
Salvatorstraße 7
D - 97074 Würzburg
Phone: Germany / 931 / 791-0

Fax: Germany / 931 / 791-2882

Email: mi.mc@mail.uni-wuerzburg.de 

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