Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting colder, warming up

I've made some earlier posts but haven't really introduced myself - my name is Josselyne, and I teach world music courses at St. Michael's College. As an undergraduate, I was introduced to Ghanaian culture through a wonderful professor (then at San Jose State University) named Royal Hartigan. Royal is a phenomenal jazz drummer, but also is versed in many other cultural musics, including Javanese Gamelan, Philippine Kulintang, and Ghanaian music, too. I took his Ghanaian drum ensemble and was just completely overtaken by the complexity and beauty of the music, and of the sense of community that always developed in the group. One other interesting thing I found out *after* I started working at St. Michael's is that he was an undergraduate here in the 60's - wonderful synchronicity.

Royal was not only an inspiring teacher, he helped open the door to an experience that changed the course of my musical career, and led to my work as an ethnomusicologist today. Before I graduated he took me aside and suggested that since I'd learned so much in his drumming ensemble, I should consider going to Ghana and learning from the source. He had a teacher, the late Godwin Agbeli, who was a master musician of the Ewe, who reside in the Volta Region in Southeastern Ghana. Royal's opinion was that if I wanted to go further, I needed to work with Godwin.

".....O.K.:, I said... how do I go about doing that? He gave me Godwin's info - I had to send a telegram to the nearest larger town by his village - and I got something back from him that basically said "Send your flight info and when you get to Accra, I'll be there."

"....O.K..." I said again... and sold my truck and my entire collection of hard-to-find European choral music CDs (I'd been a vocal major/choral conducting focus before this), and anything else not nailed down, bought a plane ticket, telegraphed the info to Godwin, and hopped on the plane. Alone.

Landing in Accra, I found him waiting and spent the next year, 6 hours each day, playing music. On weekends/evenings we attended events all over the Volta Region. I came back changed forever, in love with Ghana's wonderful offerings and went back as often as I could, usually every 1-2 years. It's been 9 years since my last trip, though, as since I've moved to Vermont I've been focusing on home life instead of travel. I miss Ghana, and really feel the need to go back and "re-fuel" (a positive side effect of having students who are hungry for what I teach: the need to stay on top of my game!)

Last year my colleague Lorrie Smith and I decided to go for it - we'd take students on a trip to Ghana. Over the summer we interviewed, accepted/declined applications, and ended up with a great group that I am very excited to travel with.

So here we are in early winter. Somehow we've escaped the colder temperatures of November, and are enjoying unusual sunlight and a few more afternoons on the front porch. Still, it's hard to believe we'll be in the heat of Ghana's dry season in less than a month.

I met some of the students here in the group in my Ghanaian drum/dance ensemble, called Akoma. Others I have just met this semester after they went through a rigorous application process to get into the trip. A fall course called "Ghanaian Arts & Culture" was a required element for the trip; in that class we've been exploring readings about Ghanaian traditions and learning some of the music and dance as well.

Time is flying, and the trip draws nearer - it's been enjoyable to work with the group to prepare for our journey, and I often think back to my first trip to Ghana (I was an undergraduate, too) and remember how intense it was to imagine what was in store.

Anticipation is always so strong for something so new. Our visas arrived last week, back from the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington D.C., stamped and signed for our single-entry into the country. We leave December 18th out of Kennedy Airport and fly directly into Accra, Ghana's capital city. This is a new thing - in my earlier travels, it was always necessary to stop somewhere in Europe, such as Amsterdam or London. The total trip time was something like 20 hours; now, we step out onto Ghanaian soil in 10 hours - that is a welcome change!

So stay tuned - posts will be occasional until the trip is really in gear, but we hope this will allow you to be a part of our journey and experience some of what we encounter through posts and images. Thank you for all the support!

More soon....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hi my name is Sean Vallant and I am a music major at Saint Michaels college. I think that one of the best things about my life is seeing how all my experiences change who I am as a person. I have been taking Joss's Ghanain Drum class and it has been so fascinating learning about the music of Ghana and has inspired me to learn as much as I can about the music in Ghana. It has given me a perspective that has changed who I am and who I will become. I think that being surrounded by the music in the Ghanian cultural will give me so many thoughts and memories that I can use on my life long journey of perciving sound. On this trip, I am hoping to learn new rhythms that I can think about all the time and that will inspire me to create my own music with. I think this trip will change my perpective on the world and what life is all about. I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My name is Katie Wry and I am a senior sociology/anthropology major. In one month from today I will be getting on a plane headed to Ghana. I have been fortunate enough to have had some experience traveling during my time at St. Michael's. Through these experiences, I have been able to foster my passion to meet people from other cultures and to learn about their way of life while sharing some aspects of my life with them. I think that traveling and learning about other cultures is invaluable to ones personal growth. Over the course of this semester our class has been learning about the music and culture of Ghana and I am fascinated by what I have learned. However, my experiences have taught me that you can only learn so much from a book. To really learn about a culture, you must go there and interact with the people within it. I can only dream of the wonders that await us in Ghana and the amazing people that we are soon to meet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The anticipation of this semester's end fades to apathy towards schoolwork and back again. Less than a month from now we'll be boarding a plane wondering why we're wearing shorts in December. Twenty hours after that we'll understand why, and dream of a walk in freezer.
I've never traveled far from my New England region; never missed a color-filled fall, nor a white Christmas and New Year. I've never spent either of these holidays away from family, never missed a slice of coffee cake beside the family's decorated tree, never missed my grandfather's phone call around noon.
Traveling to Ghana will be a first for many things such as these, and probably many others I've yet to anticipate; it's the apprehension of these that get to me the most. Living in a world that contrasts so much with the tiny bubble that this campus traps us within ... I can hardly wonder what it will be like leaving... I can barely fathom what it'll be like comming back.
The music, the food, the dance, the culture that I have yet to see from within but have read and drempt of ever since it was shown to me three years back, I'm already trapped by its worderment- already so curious, already so nervous.
I guess I feel like a soon-to-be freshman packing to leave home for the first time-
A rabbit about to be pulled from the magician's tall hat.


I've always loved to travel and since I was a kid, I've always wanted to go to Africa. When I heard of the course that Joss and Lori were offering, I knew this would be my chance to have the opportunity to go to Ghana. It still hasn't quite hit me that within about a month, I'll be on a plane going to a place I've never been before. As of now I'm trying to think of what to expect, but my previous traveling experiences taught me that all of my preconceived notions of a trip will be different from what I encounter. Im really excited to experience a culture that is, from what I hear, nothing like America.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pre Ghana Trip

Hey guys,
I just wanted to thank all the people who have helped me get to Ghana. I appreciate the people who are going there with me, as well as all the events we done to help prepare us. I just wanted to say that I am excited to go there and I cant wait.....

Pre Ghana Trip

Hi everyone,
I am 21 years old. I am currently a senior at college. I want to go to Ghana because I love to travel and discover new cultures and places. In Ghana, i will love to dance and continue to learn to Drum. As well as I will love to help out in any way i can to improve the lives of the Ghana people. I look forward most of all to just being there in that moment present in time.

T minus 32 days and counting!!!

Anticipation and enthusiasm are certainly building as we are gearing up for our trip to Ghana...

I can still remember sitting in the St. Ed’s lab, fingertips hovering over the keyboard, trying to think of how to tell my parents that I wanted to go to Africa. To my surprise I received a responding e-mail with the words, "carpe diem" - go ahead and seize the opportunity, from dad. Wow, how can I anticipate what is in store for me...
My name is Danielle, and I am a senior psych major here at St. Mikes. I have always seen traveling abroad as a very enriching experience, and I am extremely fortunate that this opportunity has been presented to me. Having the chance to study the language, traditions, and ways of life in the classroom has been truly valuable. I have really enjoyed learning important historical events and customs of Ghana so that while I am there I will be able to combine experiencing present day Ghana with understanding how it has been formed by the past.
It has been wonderful getting to know the five other students and two professors whom I will be traveling with. We got to spend a weekend at Button Bay campgrounds talking with each other about the trip and building camaraderie. We also put together a dinner to raise some funds, and share with the St. Michael’s community a little “taste of Ghana”. It was apparent through our hard work that we each foster a genuine interest and determination to spend time in another culture; which was positively supported! Thank you!
We were also lucky enough to participate in a dance lesson from Peace Elewonu, a woman who grew up in Ghana encouraged by her parents to pursue dancing. It was easy to become invigorated by her energy. I kept thinking to myself, “Whoa, I don’t even sweat this much during Rugby practice.” I can’t wait to attend festivals to watch the dancers, and even learn the steps so I can join in!
I am also looking forward to our home stays with families in Kumasi. It will allow me to mature mentally by appreciating elements of the Ghanaian culture by example. I hope to expose myself to new ways of thinking and living, and in return, share some customary traditions of my own. Through open dialogue, sharing experiences and exploring traditions we will cultivate a sense of community, friendship, and mutual respect that could last a lifetime.
I’m ready to have fun… taste new foods…smile with the children…sweat with the dancers…laugh with the group…visit with the people…and experience the Ghanaian culture! Can’t wait!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fundraising success

The fundraising dinner went great! We raised $1000 and had a great time eating groundnut soup, goat kebabs, fried plantains, rice, and yam balls. The evening ended with some music by Akoma, and a Ghanaian circle dance called Gahu. Many thanks to the folks who donated time, effort, financial contributions, and other means of support:

Meghan Kerrigan, for her kind and selfless support throughout our dinner planning and evening
Maggie Downs-Angus
Jackie Murphy
Peggy Imai
Ray and Laurie Clemente
Joan and Steve Wry
Dave and Karen Lyon
Margot Smith
Constance Dean
Will Marquess
Buff Lindau
the folks from the M.O.V.E. office for helping us cook!
Tom Keefe for more cooking help
setup, maintenance, and breakdown assistance from the MU359A class
Akoma drummers

Food donations:
Shaw's supermarkets in Middlebury, Vergennes, Colchester, and Winooski
Price Chopper, South Burlington VT
Greg's Market, Middlebury VT
Shelburne Meat Market, Shelburne VT
Ledge Hill Farms, Weybridge VT
Middlebury Discount Beverage (Joe Controneo)