A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Across Generations: Ruby John and Her Musical Influences

On February 23, 2014 I had arranged to meet fiddler Ruby John. Though I had been hearing about Ruby for years on my musical travels through northern Michigan, I had not yet met her. We shared a community of friends and musicians in the region, and I had heard of her skill as a fiddler. She is not hard to find online, either – she has YouTube videos of herself fiddling along with Lee Sloan and others, such as renowned fiddler Rene Cote. Here is Ruby playing Mouth of the Tobique with Jack chambers at the Peshawbestown Art Market in 2008.


I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

After a bit of dicey snow in Gaylord, I made it through to Charlevoix, which presented a snowy northern scene that day. Danny Gillespie, son of Michigan Heritage Award winner Jewell Gillespie, kindly offered to let us conduct the interview in his home. At the same time, Danny Gillespie notified 2014 Michigan Heritage Award Recipient Danny Johnston  who began the even more treacherous trip down to Charlevoix from Goodhart, Michigan. Things were shaping up for a nice jam.


Ruby John and Danny Johnston fiddle together
Photo by Trae McMaken, Feb.23, 2014

But before that, I had some questions rolling around in my mind, taking space amidst concerns about the snow-covered roads. I knew that Ruby was a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. I also knew that she had fiddled with Métis fiddlers. “Métis” is a term sometimes used to refer to a style of fiddling among First Nations peoples in Canada and the United States. What I did not know and what I hoped to find out, among other things, was if the identifier "Métis" was an idea or term used in Ruby’s home region or in Michigan in general, or if it was a term that more recently entered the scene.

When Ruby arrived and we were introduced, I set up my sound recorder for an interview. My first impression of Ruby was shown to be true throughout the day; she is a friendly person, and she has all the social graces of a fiddler raised among older local fiddlers. There is something I find noticeable about such fiddlers – they have an ease of bearing across generations. They also show respect to their fellow musicians; local heroes and friends from childhood are not supplanted in respect even when travels far and wide bring the young people into contact with musicians of greater skill and renown. I think this respect has to do with the level of mentoring from older generations that such fiddlers receive. After skill is acquired, relationships still matter.

Born in 1990 in Traverse City, Michigan, Ruby is the daughter of commercial fishermen and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Ruby is the great-granddaughter of a fiddler, and recorded fiddle music was a staple in her home growing up. At the age of around five, Ruby told her mother that she wanted to play the fiddle, but it was not till the age of ten when her mother was able to secure a grant that allowed Ruby to get an instrument and lessons. Ruby was initially part of a group of young violin players, including her brothers Alex and Cameron, that were enabled to learn through the grant. She studied violin from Jan Ostrowski and became active in the OMFA and has continued with the fiddle to the present.

In our interview, Ruby attributed much of her musical development to a wide array of fiddle activities in her mid to late teens, including trips to Canada, mentorship by older players, and the attendance of many OMFA Jamborees. Ruby and her mother even managed to attend every OMFA jamboree during Ruby’s senior year of high school and perhaps the following year as well. OMFA fiddler Lee Sloan mentored Ruby. Others, such as Danny Johnston, were important figures in her musical upbringing. While attending AlgomaTrad, a fiddle camp on St. Joseph Island in Ontario, Ruby met Anne Lederman, a Canadian fiddler and practitioner of Métis music. Lederman invited Ruby to participate in a trip to Toronto to learn from Métis master fiddlers such as James Cheechoo of Moose Factory, Ontario and John Arcand from Saskatchewan. After a second trip to Toronto to learn from “Teddy Boy” Houle, Ruby performed and taught with the group of students at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention. Ruby has actively been attending fiddle events around Michigan and further afield, such as Jerusalem Ridge in Kentucky. Of late, Ruby has teamed up with George Trudeau, a Canadian traditional piano accompanist. Ruby currently lives in Northport, Leelanau County, Michigan.

Though Ruby has learned from Métis fiddlers, she does not identify as a Métis fiddler and has a diverse range of influences that include Bluegrass, Canadian styles, and Michigan fiddling. Ruby especially loves to play for dancing but performs at a variety of other venues from tribal events to festivals. There were excellent Native American fiddlers in Michigan, such as Pete Keller who Ruby got to hear before his death. Yet they seemed to have referred to themselves just as “fiddlers” and there is little evidence so far to support a common style between them different from their non-Native American compatriots. Ruby was certainly brought up with a deep attachment to traditional Michigan fiddling and does identify herself as a Michigan fiddler.

Eventually, we migrated to the living room and I started another track on my recorder as the jam began. Formality was left behind as old and new friends began to play tunes together. Old, local repertoire was played that harkened far back beyond Ruby's time and my time, back to the youthful days of Danny Johnston and beyond. In addition, repertoire from other eras and regions was mixed in, and discussion ranged from local anecdote to foreign travels. “Big John McNeil,” “Miller’s Reel,’ “Monymusk,” “Mouth of the Tobique,” “The Clarinet Polka,” and others rang out. It was a good jam. Danny Johnston decided to leave fairly early to attempt to get back to Goodhart before the snow made the roads too dangerous.

It was then that an internet-age small-town phenomenon showed itself alive and well. Some local Beaver Islanders had seen a photo on Facebook of the jam happening at Danny Gillespie's home. They soon arrived with refreshments, and after Tammy Gillespie provided us dinner, the jam started again for some time to appease the desires of winter appetites for music and entertainment.

Click here to listen to a recording of Ruby John, Danny Johnston, Trae McMaken, Danny Gillespie, and Bradley Winkler playing “Big John McNeil” and “Miller’s Reel.”

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Indian Country Today Article Highlights Marsha MacDowell's Research

An article in Indian Country Today written by Tish Leizens features research from Michigan Traditional Arts Program Director Marsha MacDowell. The article, entitled, "4 Way Pow Wow Regalia Has Changed Over the Years," discusses shifts in regalia materials an styles.

MacDowell, also Curator of Folk Arts at the MSU Museum, has published extensively on this topic and helped to compile The Great Lakes Indian Dance Regalia Project Collection.

Here is a selection from the Indian Country Today article:

"3. Let it shine
Traditional elements of bead and floral designs continue to be done by master beading makers and regalias are still passed on to the new generation, but Marsha MacDowell, professor and museum curator at the Michigan State University, said she has seen new materials and different techniques used in embellishing the clothing.


Fancy Dance Regalia drawing by Kathryn Darnell, in the book Contemporary Great Lakes Pow Wow Regalia, co-edited by Marsha MacDowell, 1997. (Photo courtesy of MacDowell)

 MacDowell, who co-edited a book on Contemporary Great Lakes Pow Wow Regalia: Nda Maamawigaami (Together We Dance), 1997, cited painting on the fabric and the use of materials to make the regalia shine or show off a metallic effect. "

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/12/4-ways-pow-wow-regalia-has-changed-throughout-years-155805?page=0%2C0

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Waltzes with Bob Bernard

Bob Bernard
Photo by Trae McMaken
I sat and played waltzes with Bob Bernard on a blustery day. I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, even making Michigan fiddlers the topic of a master’s project some time ago, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

Snowdrift in Lake City, Michigan
Photo by Trae McMaken
 It was February near Lake City. The snow drifts were high and jagged at the edge of the lake, and the cottage wore a heavy stole of snow. It was the first time I had ever met this white haired man, but he reminded me of melodies that were like long lost acquaintances. I found that I had never appreciated them enough – especially not on a snowy day. “Simple Things,” “Midnight on the Water,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and “The Ash Grove” were just a few. Bob was the only fiddler I interviewed on that trip who suggested that instead of talking first, we should play music together first. It set the tone for our discussions.

We finished fiddling the waltz on a high-low harmony, and I immediately laughed.
          “You know it’s good when you laugh after,” Bob said.

 Bob is a native of the U.P. – Marquette to be specific. His parents were both fiddlers, as was a grandfather. Other musicians filled the family with music, as well, like an Irish aunt who arranged an annual St. Patrick’s day concert. He still has a set list, written on old paper, of the tunes his parents used to play.

Bob is an eloquent man. As we sat in the living room with a cat curled up on my lap, he told me of his decision to move to his farm, Earthwork Farm. He had suffered from partial paralysis that caused him to eventually give up his job as a wildlife field biologist. Bob wanted to create a beautiful environment, to live simply and ecologically. He wanted to raise bees and cattle. The farm was his solution. He wanted to live life at a slower pace. It is hard not to draw a connection between his farm and his music. Bob has become known for the waltz.
Bob Bernard with a concert poster
Photo by Trae Mcmaken
Bob and his son Seth host The Earthwork Harvest Gathering at his farm. One of the premier events of the festival, The Waltz Hour, has become something of a musical revival of the waltz. Dancers pack the dance floor to the strains of Bob’s ad hoc waltz bands. Bob’s album with Chinese virtuoso Kailin Yong is another exploration of the waltz where Bob’s self-taught musicality meets Kailin’s classical expertise and desire for musical freedom. Bob loves harmony. Like the house parties of his childhood where he says the strictures of life could fall away and the drama of the music be expressed, Bob feels that music allows him to exercise his emotions. I felt the reality of that, as we sat and played waltzes together while the wind blew the snow over the frozen lake and the drifts reached towards the windows.

Click the link to listen to Bob and Trae play and improvise to the waltz “Midnight On the Water.”

Catch Bob and his waltz posse on Saturday, August 9th, at the 2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing, MI.

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beth Donaldson's Quilts Spark Inspiration

Exciting news!
Two of Quilt Index Coordinator Beth Donaldson's quilts have sparked entries in this year's Quilt Alliance Inspired By Contest. Chosen out of 55,000 quilts available for viewing on the Quilt Index, this is quite an honor. We are so happy to see one of our own recognized in this way!

The first is a quilt made by Donaldson in 2011, entitled Cruz's Quilt. Julie Dugas of Asheville, North Carolina created her rendering using a modified pattern and a similar palette. This version is entitled, Mod.


Cruz's Quilt
Beth Donaldson, 2011

Mod
Julie Dugas, 2014

The second quilt entry we are highlighting is based on Donaldson's Clams Incognito from 1996. Deb Hathaway Hunter of Ocean, New Jersey, created a more literal interpretation of this pattern with her quilt, Raw Clams at the Shore.

Clams Incognito
Beth Donaldson, 1996

Raw Clams at the Shore
Deb Hathaway Hunter, 2014

Be on the look out to see which entry wins this year's contest!

Friday, June 27, 2014

All From the Heart: The Fiddling of Rene Coté

Rene Coté
photo by Trae McMaken
 I had never met Rene Coté before, but I believe I owe my opportunity to the friendly connection that fiddler Danny Johnston provided. He called a couple times on my behalf, letting the Cotés know who I was. Yet despite having never met Rene personally before, I had heard stories about him on both sides of the Michigan – Ontario border, seen him on the film Medicine Fiddle, and listened to his tape recordings. In every case, I was impressed. His music had been impeccable – that was obvious from the recordings. He was a fiddler that I openly admired and whose playing I deemed worthy of emulation. He had earned a seemingly legendary status. I had heard, though, that he had struggled with health of late, and many years had passed since the music I had heard was recorded. I did not know what to expect, but in any case, of all the interviews I was conducting on my trip, Rene Coté was one that really captivated my interest. It was also the interview I was most nervous about.

 I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, even making Michigan fiddlers the topic of a master’s project some time ago, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

If I had been expecting a quiet, slow, elderly scene when I arrived at Rene’s home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, I was mistaken. Rene and his wife PJ, plus their daughter and son-in-law, were all present and the chit-chat was lively. They invited me in and offered me refreshments and immediately the conversation began to flow. In the midst of the friendly atmosphere, I had to try to get release forms signed. As we chatted, Rene looked up at me and proudly and decisively stated,
         “Well, I have been playing the fiddle for 75 years.” He was ready to start the interview.
          I had to stop him.
          “Sorry, Rene,” I said. “Let me get my recorder and everything ready.”
In another minute, I was set up and we were ready to go. For an hour, I sat and learned about this man, born into a Francophone family in the Soo, in a community saturated with dance and old time music, French chansons and house parties. The names and places flowed as Rene reminisced. Yet again I was impressed by the sheer stamina of the previous generations who could work all day and fiddle all night day after day and week after week and go on with what seemed to me a catastrophic lack of sleep. I sat and listened. His family members occasionally jumped in to add bits of information. Outside, lake effect snow fell slowly, not yet ready to fully engage in the February fray.
Rene and PJ Coté
Photo by Trae McMacken
 As the interview progressed, I began to realize that I was in the presence of someone far more influential and impressive than I initially thought. Behind me, there was a nook off to the side of the open kitchen and living room. A desk sat there, with a CD player and racks of well-organized CDs. Fiddles hung on the wall with a guitar, and a drawing of Rene wearing a cowboy hat hung in a wooden frame. It had been his portrait for the Northern Ontario Hall of Fame. I listened as Rene recounted representing all of Canada’s fiddlers at the World’s Fair in Montreal, of playing on the Francophone television show Village et Visage for years. Story after story rolled until it was obvious that Rene had tired of talking. It was time to get down to the music.


 This is a selection from Village et Visage that includes a younger Rene’s fiddling.

Rene is a slender, bald man with a very memorable face, but his most startling and captivating aspect besides his beautiful music are his eyes. Rene’s brown eyes lock on to his audience as he plays, somehow both absent and intensely observant. Gradations of smiles and grins play around his mouth as he watches the reactions of his audience as he pulls off licks and double stops up the fiddle’s neck. I realized that Rene was not just a fiddler. He was an entertainer at heart. His musical skills at the age of 83 left me deeply impressed. I was aware that I was in the presence of a true master. After finding out that his skill had been honed through ceaseless performance and practice, I found myself humbled. More impressive than raw virtuosic talent ever could be are hard work and passion.

To this day, Rene practices around two hours a day, preferably in the morning which he calls his “clear mind.” In the nook are recordings and lists of tunes that he is still learning. He learns more tunes in a week than I probably have in the past six months. His appetite for music is still strong. He really loves it. And that’s what he said when I asked what kept him playing so much for so long, keeping such a tough schedule. 
          “Everything from here,” he said. Everything from the heart.

 For quite a while we traded tunes and licks as snow continued to fall outside the living room windows. Rene would watch me as he slid up into high positions, playing double stops. He seemed to relish my reactions, that grin flickering at the corner of his mouth. Though I sometimes consider myself grown up, like so many adolescent times throughout my life when I had sat with master fiddlers, I had an urge to show off what I could do. There was a Scott Skinner hornpipe that for years I had been working on. It was called “The Mathematician,” and rightly so. I was just getting to the place where I could attempt it for an audience. Technically challenging, it involved lots of those high positions and some fast bow work. It’s a show piece.

I played it for Rene, and as I did, I saw a unique expression in his eyes. As he watched my fingers slide up the fingerboard, he recognized the showiness of the tune, the virtuosic elements, and rather than have an expression of admiration and pleasure, I saw something else. I saw hunger. He wanted to learn the tune. I felt like his expression said, “I could learn that tune. I want to learn that tune.” I felt that he desired the challenge.

The snow was falling, and I wanted to spend the night in Gaylord, Michigan to be able to get to my next interview the following morning. With an open invitation to play more music together from Rene and well-wishes around, I headed out on the snowy roads. I was getting ready to leave the hotel the next morning when my phone rang.
           “Hey Trae, this is Rene,” I heard when I answered.
           “Hey! How’s it going?,” I said. 
           “Good, good. Hey that was real good, what we did yesterday.”
           “Yeah, I had fun. I think it turned out well.”
           “Yeah. Hey, uh, d’you think I could get a copy of the recording?” he asked.
           “Oh yeah, no problem,” I said.
 I immediately suspected it. He was after “The Mathematician.”
Rene Coté playing from the heart
Photo by Trae McMaken

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Michigan’s Yvonne Walker Keshick named NEA National Heritage Fellow

Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Doug Elbinger
The nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts has been awarded to Yvonne Walker Keshick, a porcupine quillworker from Northern Michigan, who is among the 2014 honorees joining the ranks of the prestigious National Heritage Fellowships, a lifetime honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.

Keshick at work
Photo by Doug Elbinger

Keshick, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, is one of the finest quillwork artists in North America. She is a 1992 recipient of a Michigan Heritage Award (MHA) from the MSU Museum, the state’s highest honor for tradition-bearers who sustain cultural practices with excellence and authenticity.

Quill box by Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong,  MSU Museum

Quill box by Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong,  MSU Museum


 Keshick’s nomination for NEA Heritage Fellow was led by the MSU Museum, the home of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program. In addition to her MHA honor, Keshick and her work have been featured at the MSU Museum’s Great Lakes Folk Festival, as well as at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s 2006 “Carriers of Culture: Living Native Basket Traditions” program. Examples of Keshick’s basketry are also included in the MSU Museum’s cultural collections.

Yvonne Walker Keshick is the first Michigan tradition-bearer to be recognized with the NEA National Heritage Fellowship since Nadim Dlaikan in 2002, Lebanese-American nye (reed flute) musician.

Read Keshick’s bio here.


The NEA National Heritage Fellowships honor the importance of traditions to our nation's cultural heritage. Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp, June 16-20

campers at Earful of Fiddle 2013, photo by Barb Beyer
Summer is nearing full swing, and in the traditional music world, that means camps! One fine example in the state of Michigan is the Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp, June 16-20. This camp was started in 2009 by members of the Wheatland Music Organization community, chiefly Nic Gareiss and Bruce Bauman.

From their website:
"Situated lakeside, at the friendly confines of the School Section Lake Family Camp in Mecosta, Michigan, Earful of Fiddle offers three days of classes in all levels of traditional fiddling, percussive dance, banjo, guitar and ukulele. Four nights of jam sessions and called dances allow students to hone their skills, encouraging participation and preservation within the traditional arts heritage of the Great Lakes region.

Our mission is the passing on of traditional dancing and fiddling, hand-in-hand with related instrumental traditions. We encourage learning to play and dance by ear, knee to knee, foot to foot, from the tradition bearers in a non-competitive environment. The result is the perpetuation of community-based, entertainment, and creative traditional arts practice."

a multigenerational jam session at Earful 2013, photo by Barb Beyer


This year's instructors include:

Nic Gareiss- percussive dance
Sheila Graziano- percussive dance (3 time MTAAP awardee)
Dan Gorno- percussive dance
Joe Duffey- percussive dance
David Bowen- guitar
John Warstler- guitar
John Nicholson- guitar
Budd Greeman- fiddle
Ruby John- fiddle (2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival Performer)
Susan Nicholson- fiddle
Cleek Schrey- fiddle
Bruce Bauman- fiddle
Frank Youngman- ukulele

Don't miss this excellent opportunity to expand your skills and make new connections. Follow this link to register:
http://www.earfuloffiddle.com/registration.htm

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Looking for Summer Plans? Try a Visit to the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival!

If you never have been, you should treat yourself to an amazing 10 day annual event on the national mall in Washington, DC. It is free, family friendly, rich in educational experiences, and truly enriching. This year, the festival runs from June 25 - 29 and July 2-6 between the Smithsonian museums. There are two large programs this year, China: Tradition and the Art of Living and Kenya: Mambo Poa!


The first program, China: Tradition and the Art of Living will take visitors beyond the news headlines and ubiquitous mass-produced goods to highlight creativity, heritage, and masterful skill. It will show China as a country of diverse communities whose experiences reflect regional, occupational, and religious distinctions. And it will honor the people who, despite current change and pressures, are working to continue and adapt traditional culture in ways that are meaningful today. Through a variety of formal and informal strategies, communities are sustaining a rich range of traditions, including those that have been disrupted or threatened by such forces as war, natural disaster, and migration.


The second program, Kenya: Mambo Poa!, reflects a country of deeply rooted traditions and a vibrant cultural crossroads. Some of the oldest artifacts of human communities have been discovered in Kenya, making the East African country truly a cradle of humanity. Occurring just after the fiftieth anniversary of Kenya's independence from the British Empire, the Kenya: Mambo Poa! program will present the ways in which the people of Kenya are balancing protection of their valued cultural and natural heritage with the challenges and opportunities for change in the twenty-first century.
Festival visitors will be able to interact with exemplary craftspeople who work with everything from clay to soapstone to recycled materials, learn about important fossil discoveries by taking part in a model dig site from the Great Rift Valley, run with Kenya's Olympic athletes, dance to both traditional and contemporary music from many regions of the country, discover how Kenyans live among and work with some of the most magnificent wildlife on the continent, and experience Kenyan life in the United States.

The festival is one of the world's most remarkable festivals that attracts approximately one million visitors every year. Surrounded by Smithsonian museums that are also free, it is a great time of year for a family visit to Washington, DC. There are a number of special events too on the 4th of July...including special concerts, the national symphony performance, and the celebrated fireworks display.

To learn more about the festival visit: http://www.festival.si.edu/
All photos of Smithsonian Folklife Festival website.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program Awardee, Alex Smith

Among this year's Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program awardees is Alex Smith, apprentice to master marimba builder Matt Kazmierski. Alex is a master's candidate at Michigan State University, studying percussion performance and musicology with a focus on sustainable instruments and their builders.

MSU Today generated a piece about Alex last winter, highlighting the film he produced to chronicle his attempt to create a completely sustainable marimba.

You can view his film here: http://vimeo.com/80535177#at=0


Image courtesy of Alex Smith

MSU Today Student View: Alex Smith
Dec. 4, 2013 
Alex Smith, a master’s candidate in performance and musicology at MSU, has taken on a project that pushes the boundaries between musical eloquence, attainable and sustainable materials and the artistry required to construct a complex and precise instrument like the marimba. 

As a percussionist, Smith understands all too well what is required to play the marimba skillfully. But as a traveler abroad, he sees the challenges of conserving the diminishing and highly desirable wood materials needed to manufacture particular instruments. 

Smith knew that rare woods, like rosewood and padouk, were often used for the production of marimba bars. He also learned that international labor was often involved in constructing percussion instruments. 

After taking those two things into consideration, he wanted to discover what it might take to make a quality instrument closer to home. Thanks to funding from MSU and the help of local luthier and marimba craftsman Matt Kazmierski, Smith set out to make a sustainable, affordable marimba from resources obtained here in Michigan. 

Before coming to the MSU College of Music, Smith received his undergraduate degree from East Carolina University. He is a percussion performance and musicology/ethnomusicology master’s student who is also interested in the music of the world, having lived in both Brazil and Ghana. Smith’s creative endeavors combine his local and abroad experiences with his compositional identity and passion for teaching and researching.

Source

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Amazing New National Resource: The Civil Rights History Project Web Site

The Civil Rights Project Homepage

After almost five years of work, an amazing new educational resource has just been made available to the public. It is truly a gift to all of us, and especially to educators. On May 12, 2009, the U. S. Congress authorized a national initiative by passing The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009. The law directed the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture to "conduct a survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights Movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record new interviews with people who participated in the struggle, over a five year period beginning in 2010."

The activists interviewed for this project belong to a wide range of occupations, including lawyers, judges, doctors, farmers, journalists, professors, and musicians. Their recollections are just as diverse, covering topics such as the influence of the labor movement, nonviolence and self-defense, religious faith, music, and the experiences of young activists.

Many of the interviewees were active in national organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Other interviewees were key members of specialized and local groups including the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Cambridge (Maryland) Nonviolent Action Committee, and the Newark Community Union Project. Several interviews include men and women participated in the struggle for civil rights in areas not always recognized as hot beds of turmoil during the Civil Right Movement, providing a more complete picture of the cultural climate throughout the country at this time.

This site also guides researchers to collections in several Library of Congress divisions that specifically focus on the Civil Rights Movement as well as the broader topic of African American history and culture. The Civil Rights History Project Collection contains 401 items consisting of video files, videocassettes, digital photographs and interview transcripts, with several more such items to be added once the interviews conclude in 2015.

Take a moment and visit this site. It is a powerful tool for our understanding of the history and promise of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement during the year when we are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and the 50th anniversary year of the U.S. Civil Rights legislation. 

Go to: http://loc.gov/collection/civil-rights-history-project/about-this-collection/

Written by Kurt Dewhurst

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tiny Pop-Up Museum in New York Freight Elevator

Check out this story from NPR!
Three filmmakers from New York have converted a vacant, unusable freight elevator into a tiny museum. It is simply called "Museum." They collect objects that interest them and display them in this unique space. View their website here.

Pop-up libraries, museums, restaurants, and shops are happening all over the country. They encourage us to view our environments in new ways, and to dream about what treasures our cities can hold.

What space in your city can you convert into a museum?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ciesa Design Great Lakes Folk Festival Poster Takes Home the Gold

The Mid-Michigan Creative Alliance awards were held on February 13, 2014. Long-time Great Lakes Folk Festival poster designers, Ceisa Design, took home 7 awards, including a Gold award for the 2013 Great Lakes Folk Festival poster. We sure loved this design, didn't you?
Ceisa's 2013 GLFF poster design

Monday, February 17, 2014

Classic Performances from the 1989 Festival of Michigan Folklife: Howard Armstrong and Ted Bogan

African American String Band Musicians Howard Armstrong (1909-2003) and Ted Bogan (1910-1990)

The one-and-only Howard Armstrong made several memorable appearances at folklife festivals produced by the Michigan State University Museum, beginning with the 1988 Festival of Michigan Folklife and ending in 2002 with its successor, the Great Lakes Folk Festival. None were more memorable than when he performed with his long-time friend, guitarist and South Carolina native, Ted Bogan. Armstrong and Bogan first met during the early 1930s in Armstrong’s home state of Tennessee. With fellow musician Carl Martin, they joined the Great Migration, ending up in Chicago where they worked as street musicians, made recordings, and―according to Howard—played for Al Capone! During this time, they made several trips into Michigan to play at juke joints and restaurants. Armstrong did not settle in Michigan until after World War II, when he took an assembly line job in Detroit’s auto industry in order to support his family. He retired from Chrysler in 1971. The following year, with interest in older forms of African American music on the rise, Armstrong reunited with his old friends Bogan and Martin, touring as the “last of the black string bands.” They played throughout the U.S. and internationally until Martin’s death in 1979. Bogan and Armstrong continued as a duo until Bogan’s death in 1990. Among the many awards and recognitions Armstrong received during his long and colorful life were a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1990) and a Michigan Heritage Award from the Michigan State University Museum (1989).

The following video excerpts come from the 1989 Festival of Michigan Folklife and were filmed by Gary McCuaig. The first shows Howard Armstrong singing an old hymn learned from his mother, “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” while accompanying himself on fiddle. The performance captures Howard’s inimitable stage personality and the conflict between church and fiddle (what his mother called the “devil’s box”). The second excerpt features Bogan and Armstrong playing a blues medley, with the two men trading solos.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pete Seeger, In Memoriam

On January 24th, 2014, acclaimed folk singer, activist, and inspiration Pete Seeger passed away. Our colleagues at Smithsonian Folkways have produced a wonderful piece paying tribute to his life and memory. Please read it here.

"To my old brown earth
And to my old blue sky
I'll now give these last few molecules of "I."
And you who sing,
And you who stand nearby,
I do charge you not to cry.
Guard well our human chain,
Watch well you keep it strong,
As long as sun will shine.
And this our home,
Keep pure and sweet and green,
For now I'm yours
And you are also mine."
-Pete Seeger, 1958, "To My Old Brown Earth"

Pete Seeger performs at a Valentine's Day party in 1944.
Photo by Joseph Horne, public domain
Pete Seeger performs on the Nation Mall at the 2009 inauguration.
Photo by Donna Lou Morgan, public domain

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Meet Andy Birko, Bandura Maker from Rochester Hills, Michigan

Andy Birko plays a bandura of his own design, November 12, 2013.
Photo by Laurie Kay Sommers
To meet Andy Birko is to be immersed in the world of the bandura, a fretless, plucked stringed instrument that is the national instrument of the Ukraine and an important identity symbol for Ukrainian Americans. On a blustery April day in 2013, I traveled to Sterling Heights in Metro Detroit to attend the spring concert of the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus (UBC), part of fieldwork funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. There I met Andy, currently the UBC concertmaster and the third generation of his family to participate in the ensemble. 

The Ukranian Bandurist Chorus in performance at the Sterling Heights 
Performing Arts Center, April 20, 2013. Birko is sixth from the right, in the front row.
Photo by Laurie Kay Sommers
The Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus is a unique Ukrainian American ensemble that traces its roots to a group founded in the Ukraine in 1918. It is both an all-male chorus that is accompanied by instrumentalists (bandurists) and an orchestra of bandurists (all male) that sing while playing. The UBC is distinctive in that it maintains the Kharkiv or Poltavka style of bandura playing, in which the player holds the instrument parallel to his body and uses both hands to play the full range of the instrument.

UBC bandurists in rehearsal. From left, Walter Babiky (Toronto Ontario),
Yuri Petlura (Hamilton, Ontario), and Andy Birko (Rochester Hills, Michigan).
Andy is playing a Kharkiv-style instrument by the late Detroit maker, Yurij Pryjmak.
Photo by Laurie Kay Sommers, April 20, 2013.
The UBC moved to Detroit in 1949, drawn to the city by plentiful auto industry jobs. With assistance from the International Institute and the Federation of American Ukrainians of Michigan, the ensemble held its first North American concert on October 2, 1949 at Detroit’s Masonic Auditorium. The performance launched a grand tour of major US and Canadian cities. Although the UBC now has membership drawn from across North America, Detroit remains its official home. 

Flyer from the UBC's first North American concert after emigration.
From the UBC archives, courtesy of Wolodya Murha.
The emigration of the UBC transformed Detroit into a center for bandura makers who then trained the next generation. Andy plays a bandura built by the late Detroit maker and bandurist, Yurij Pryjmak. The Honcharenko brothers (Alex and Petro) were also important Detroit bandura makers, who, prior to 1949, had been prominent luthiers and bandura makers in the Ukraine. The Detroit instrument making tradition continues today with Andy Birko (born 1970), who was mentored briefly by Alex Honcharenko, but who draws more on his engineering background, online luthier forums, and trial and error than on tips and techniques gleaned from the older generation. 

Birko in his workshop, comparing a hand-carved scroll and one
he produced on this CNC machine, November 12, 2013.
Photo by Laurie Kay Sommers.
Andy Birko is one of just two North American bandura makers. The other is Canadian Bill Vetzal, another Honcharenko protégée. As a player, Andy understands the distinctive characteristics of the instrument. As a maker, he uses that knowledge to design instruments with improved sound production. He builds banduras that combine traditional handwork with innovative modeling in CAD (computer assisted design) that is then produced with a CNC machine. The result is a unique combination of old and new. 

Hear Andy Birko describe the characteristic features of the bandura and what he hopes to accomplish with his own bandura designs. 


Visit Andy Birko’s workshop and hear him discuss his approach to bandura making.