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....

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