Music professor learns history lesson: Early African−American music finds its roots in West Africa

Imagine students so excited about learning they tiptoe into the back of a classroom during a class they aren’t registered for‚ and students who hang on a professor’s every word to the extent that they walk him home from class — while carrying his books; and all of this on a fairytale−like campus perched on the edge of the Atlantic.

Georgia (Aug 13, 2003) — Imagine students so excited about learning they tiptoe into the back of a classroom during a class they aren’t registered for‚ and students who hang on a professor’s every word to the extent that they walk him home from class — while carrying his books; and all of this on a fairytale−like campus perched on the edge of the Atlantic. The made−up dreams of frustrated professors? No‚ according to Kennesaw State music professor Dr. Oral Moses. The students are reality at the University of Cape Coast‚ in Ghana‚ West Africa.

Moses‚ who has taught at KSU for 19 years‚ spent three months at UCC in the spring‚ teaching voice lessons and a survey of African−American music course. “All my lessons were communal‚” Moses said of teaching “private” voice lessons in classrooms with windows open to both the outside and the interior hallways. “People would walk in on the lessons just to observe.”

But if the people in the music department expected openness from Moses‚ they were more than willing to reciprocate. “What do you want to do while you’re here?” they asked him upon his arrival. That simple question led to a performance at the Cape Coast Slave Castle — one of five sacred sites in Cape Coast where Africans were held before being sold as slaves. “It was the most incredible setting I’ve ever sung in‚” Moses said.

Moses has been singing all his life‚ and his stirring base−baritone voice can often be heard in performances on campus and in the community. He credits his first voice teacher at Fisk University in Nashville‚ Tenn. for inspiring his teaching career. “I was inspired by her success and the way she worked with students. I knew I wanted to do that. She’s still my mentor and friend today.”

Moses’ visit to UCC was just one of a number of connections KSU has established with Ghana‚ including faculty exchanges‚ study abroad programs‚ faculty development seminars‚ technology training for Ghanaian faculty‚ assistance in curriculum development and joint research.

Moses said he learned as much from his trip as his UCC students learned from him — and his KSU students will reap the benefits. “My students [in Ghana] recognized the way some American spirituals are put together. It’s the same format as many Ghanaian songs. And they knew the rhythms of children’s play songs.”

The identification by the UCC students of similarities in other styles of music and in traditional musical instruments led to a new way of thinking about his survey of African−American music class for American students. Previously‚ the class focused on U.S. music from the time Africans were brought to this country through the 1990s.

“I can now connect early African−American music back to Ghana. It was a continuation of making music the way they always did‚” Moses said.




 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

©