Willing to teach
As a musician, I know that the best learning comes from doing. In each of my workshops around the world or classes in the Music Department, College of Visual and Performing Arts, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth students clap, sing, dance, or drum as an essential part of our discussion, reading, listening, and viewing. It is not necessary to master each activity, but to experience the sound, movement, and group interaction intensively. When possible, artists from each style or culture area studied perform for and with the class to bring the roots of the sound and movement home.
My workshops, both individual and with master artists, include: West African drumming, its connection to African American and other contemporary music, innovations in jazz performance, historical jazz drumset styles, rhythms from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East adapted to drumset, new time and rhythmic concepts for drumset and jazz ensemble, African American expressions of culture, aesthetics, music, society, and politics, and music as philosophy.
On a graduate or undergraduate level, our classes and workshops in African American music live out what we discuss: we clap, sing, and dance camp meeting ring shouts or Georgia Sea Islands pattin' Juba, construct a one-string diddly-bow, sing the blues, compose a rap and play/dance hip-hop beats, dance to reggae and scat sing in the bebop jazz style: all as part of understanding the resilience and power of African American traditions.
In our world music and ethnomusicology workshops and classes, we perform Native American Iroquois, Navajo, Lakota, and Inuit rhythms, songs, and dances; Japanese taiko rhythms, Chinese Beijing and Cantonese opera patterns; Philippine kulintang gong and drum ensemble pieces; Turkish usul rhythmic cycles on the bendir frame drum; South Indian karnatak solkattu rhythmic vocables; Korean nong ak drum and gong ensemble patterns; Javanese gamelan compositions; Gaelic bodhran rhythms; European chamber and symphonic percussion pieces, Dominican merengue, Brazilian samba; Cuban guaguanco; American rudimental drumming; and West African songs, dances, and drum, bell, and rattle repertoire.
I also teach piano and jazz improvisation, focusing on the African American tradition and its innovators, such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman.
The small and large jazz ensembles I work with play repertoire from the early 1920s through the present. We learn from the African American tradition and use its heritage of spontaneous aural interaction as a way to develop pieces and perform in the style of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Sun Ra. We deal with the cultural and social meaning of pieces in each era as a way to play diverse historical styles with integrity. Our ensembles at UMass Dartmouth also play original and historic compositions in the African American tradition with a strong emphasis on influences from Asian, African, and American cultures.
Our Kekeli West African drum and dance ensemble performs the music and dance of the Eve, Fon, Ashanti, Ga, Dagomba, Dagarti, and other cultural groups. We are led in public concerts and workshops by master drummers such as Abraham Kobena Adzenyah, C.K. Ladzekpo, and Martin Kwaakye Obeng, and dancers Kwabena Boateng and Helen Mensah.
In each area of teaching I am committed to understanding the beliefs, lifeways, and histories of peoples as an essential part of their music making. Charlie Parker's words, 'If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.' are true. Even in the classroom, we live the music as much as possible to feel it and find what it means to each of us.