The past Sunday, percussionist and composer Jeremy Cohen visited Knox for a three-day long artist residency. During his stay, Cohen held workshops on traditional Ghanaian drumming and dancing and lectures on Ghanaian arts and culture.
“We’re trying to expose students to not just another cultural art form, but to some of the theoretical underpinnings of that art form, in the case of Ewe [the traditional Ghanaian culture Cohen specializes in] music, the inseparability of sound and movement,” said Cohen. Through his lectures and workshops, Cohen hopes to enlighten students on the richness of Ghanaian culture and its relationship to American culture.
“I would say that whether we realize it or not, most American music, jazz, pop, blues, rock, funk, R&B is just infused with this rhythmic urgency, which comes directly from West Africa,” said Cohen.
While Cohen longs to enrich students on an unfamiliar, musically-rich culture, he also wants to promote his mini-term program, a two-week long study trip in the Dagbe Cultural Institute in Ghana.
“We’re using this as a way of showing students a clearer idea of what they would experience if they just came on the Knox mini-term program,” said Cohen. “It’s one thing to say ‘Oh we’re going to Africa, we’re going to do African drumming,’ but there are 54 countries in Africa and there are 340 million people just in West Africa alone. So we’re trying to give people a clearer sense of the styles of music and dance that they’ll learn on the mini-term program.”
The mini-term study abroad program in Ghana is relatively new, having been established by Cohen and Dance Department Director Jennifer Smith in 2013. The program provides students of primarily music and dance backgrounds with two week long intensive courses on the traditional music and dance stylings of the Ewe people. Cohen believes that in studying ethnomusicology, the experience of studying cultural music in its native context can add a layer of understanding that is simply not available in a traditional classroom setting.
“For the most part, the musical experience there is about making music, playing music, dancing to music, which may sound kind of obvious. In Ghana, for the most part, the emphasis is more on practice and less on theory. But, with that said, I think that the two can be complementary; the theoretical frameworks you can gain from studying music in a western academic setting. They can aid your understanding of African music. In other words, they don’t have to conflict.”
The general Knox community responded warmly to Cohen’s residency, and his workshops attracted quite the crowds.
“I think [the students] responded really well,” said post-baccalaureate and dance department secretary Jmaw Moses. “I was really happy about how many people came. In my experience with residencies at Knox, [it’s usually] just people who are of that major or of that course of study. It was really exciting for me to see so many different people who were interested in [Ghanaian music and dance] to the point that they came to the workshop and learned something and they asked questions and really engaged with it.”