UTM percussion students take trip to Ghana

Nine students and two faculty members from the University of Tennessee at Martin Department of Music recently returned from Ghana, where they spent 14 days studying Ghanaian culture and musical styles from the various ethnic groups that make up the nation’s heritage. Dr. Shane Jones and his wife, Chelsea Jones, both faculty members in the Department of Music, led the trip and say the experience has brought them full-circle.

“When Chelsea and I were in our undergraduate degrees at the Hartt School, University of Hartford (Connecticut), we studied West African percussion music for two semesters, and then had the opportunity to travel to Ghana for a travel-study trip with our percussion studio,” said Shane. “This trip changed our lives and the trajectories of our careers.”

The group visited the Dagara Music Center and spent eight days taking lessons in drumming, singing and dancing, among other cultural arts. The UT Martin ensemble then performed their new skills during a celebration on the final day of their stay. The students also visited several UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites to learn about the Atlantic slave trade and how it influenced the culture of Ghana and other countries featured in the UT Martin percussion curriculum.

“The modern percussionist is expected to be proficient in a large variety of percussion instruments and musical styles from around the globe. The percussion studio at UT Martin is a total percussion program, in which students study music from Africa and the African-diaspora (including Ghana) in addition to the classical and popular musical styles that are common in music programs in the U.S.,” said Shane.

“This gives our students the opportunity to understand music styles from around the globe and makes them more marketable as future performers and teaches. Traveling to Ghana not only solidified the material learned in the students’ curriculum, but it also gave them first-hand experience of music from another culture. It is one thing to learn about another culture in a classroom or from a textbook, and it is quite another to be fully immersed in a new environment,” he added.

The Joneses believe the impact of travel-study opportunities extends beyond the classroom, however, and hope their students will finish their degrees with a broader view of the world than when they started.

“More important than any curricular knowledge gained by our students on this travel study were the experiences and relationships that reached their core, teaching them how to be global citizens,” said Shane. “Traveling to a developing country is a powerful experience, especially for students who have never been on an airplane. It is important to both Chelsea and I that our students are aware of how they fit into our planet, both culturally and environmentally. … The opportunity of a travel-study course provides UT Martin students with first-hand experiences in engaging with their curricular content on a global level, putting their entire lives, communities and educations into a larger perspective.”

Students from the UT Martin percussion studio routinely visit and perform in other countries, both as an ensemble and individuals. Previous trips have included Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and Mexico. Dr. Kelle Alden, UT Martin assistant professor of English, and Justin Anderson, a student from the University of Texas at El Paso, also joined the group this year.

For more information on the percussion studio, which is part of the Department of Music housed within the UT Martin College of Humanities and Fine Arts, contact Dr. Shane Jones, director of percussion, at (731) 881-7748 or shanejones@utm.edu.

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