This week I will be traveling to Atlanta to visit the charming campus of Spelman College, where I will speak to two classes and give a seminar for undergraduate music majors. I consider this visit a great opportunity as a professor and musicologist because of the rich history of this institution, an all women’s, historically black college with a strong legacy of music education.
The Spelman College Glee Club , led by Dr. Kevin Johnson and The Spelman College Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of founder-director Joseph Jennings, have great reputations as performing ensembles, unique as training grounds for female musicians. I have heard the Glee Club in person, and I believe one could not find a better ensemble of its kind. Dr. Johnson’s and his students’ arrangements of Negro spirituals are featured on their programs. They are stunningly beautiful and well executed by the ensemble. And, of course, the stellar academic reputation of this school speaks for itself; indeed, it’s been a place where sisterhood, success, and support are enduring components of its brand.
Spelman College Glee Club – Ave Maria
I will be there to enjoy the charged artistic atmosphere as well as to promote the cause of advanced post-graduate training in music, particularly in musicology and ethnomusicology. It is an unfortunate fact that these disciplines are still challenged in attracting a large number of minority students to their ranks. So why not go to an institution with a pool of multi-talented, motivated young sisters to push things in that direction?
I have been vexed for many years to understand why these fields have not attracted more minority scholars. Music making, after all, has been an important social space in which African Americans have historically done lots of cultural work for themselves both individually and collectively. And further, as we know, the American musical landscape itself has been disproportionately influenced by the timing, tenor, techniques, and spirit of the traditions born of black musical practices. But somehow, this all hasn’t translated into a strong tradition of funneling these energies into the scholarly realm.
As a professor in a music department with a long tradition of creative excellence and scholarly innovation, I have to admit that it’s not often that my professional path crosses with the historically black colleges’ activities save for engaging some of the wonderful scholarship of their professors. Although, I’ve been involved in the efforts for “cultural diversity” in musicology for the last twenty years or so, this will be my first opportunity to directly address the students and faculty, face-to-face, and learn what their goals regarding this topic might be and how we can work together to meet them.
And, of course, I’ll check out some of the music in the city and get back to you with what I learned in “The Big Peach”!