Rufus Ferguson | WMUK

Rufus Ferguson

Andy Eick, via Flickr. All Creative Commons license.

At 4 pm on Sunday, Dec 20, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra's annual Sounds of the Season concert will be streamed to households in Kalamazoo and beyond. Executive Director Jessica Mallow Gulley and Education Manager Rufus Ferguson, whose new setting of "O Come All Ye Faithful" will be premiered, talked to Cara Lieurance about how the festivities became an online event.


Lori Morgan/lmg.photography

Although COVID-19 has severely restricted in-person music-making, Benje and Ashley Daneman, the founders of the Kalamazoo Music School, have discovered that their long-term community-building efforts have helped sustain their spirits and the school. 

In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, they say that most students made the transition to online instruction successfully.  And they explain what's on for fall: Fresh Air Sessions (jazz groups outdoors), Growing Glockenspiel (for 5-7 year olds), individual lessons online, and group lessons online, among other things. They're also excited to welcome jazz pianist Rufus Ferguson to the role of Director of Community Partnerships. 

When the conversation turns to how musicians are making difficult choices during the pandemic, Benje Daneman discusses Kanola Band's first album of New Orleans-style music. It's ready for release, but can't be supported with a tour, which is how musicians make a return on the album's investment. Ashley Daneman says applying for small business and arts grants has been part of their strategy to weather the shutdown. 

Rufus Ferguson

Juneteenth is the June 19, 1865 date on which people in slavery in Texas were informed they had been granted freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation, two years after it was issued.  Jazz musician Rufus Ferguson, with saxophonist Seth Ebersole and bassist John Hébert, will present a Juneteenth concert at 6:30 pm on Friday, June 19, streaming live on The Gilmore Keyboard Festival's website, Youtube channel, and Facebook page, in partnership with Public Media Network.  The three will highlight the music of Black jazz musicians and composers.


Casey Spring Photography, caseyspring.net

On Friday, Feb 7 at 8 pm, Kanola Band will host and perform a live concert recording/party at the Jazz & Creative Institute in Kalamazoo. Drummer Jeff Moehle and trumpeter Benje Daneman, who started the project in 2014, join Cara Lieurance in the studio to share their appreciation for the music of New Orleans, the birthplace of so much American popular music.  


C. Lieurance

A group of prominent local musicians will gather to present a program called "The Reason Why We Sing: A Free Lecture-Recital Advocating for the Recognition and Inclusion of Black-American Sacred Music" at 2 pm on Saturday, Oct 26 at Portage United Church of Christ. It was the idea of Monica Washington Padula, who grew up performing in her Lansing church from the age of 7. Washington Padula has a master's degree in music from Western Michigan University and is a versatile performer of keyboard, saxophone, and voice.

Along with requesting participation from singers Rhea Olivacce and Carmen Bell, pianist Rufus Ferguson and the Lansing-based Earl Nelson Singers, Washington Padula reached out to Dr. Romeo Philips, the respected Kalamazoo College professor emeritus of music and education. Now 91, he remembers hearing stories from his great-grandmother, who had been enslaved on a Mississippi plantation. A trumpet player before his academic career, Dr. Phillips became interested in the sacred music of Black America by attending choral concerts presented by black colleges that visited his Chicago hometown. Later, he joined the Umbrian Glee Club, and the National Association of Negro Musicians. When he received a professorship at Kalamazoo College in 1968, he and his colleague Clarence Small, who formerly sang with Wings Over Jordan, founded the Afro-American Chorale.

In the Takeda studio at WMUK, Washington Padula and Phillips perform several examples of spirituals, including "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Wade in the Water," "I'm Gonna Tell God All of my Troubles," "Give Me Jesus," and "No More Auction Block For Me." The significance of Black American sacred music to American culture cannot be overstated, according to Washington Padula. She explains that the preservation of this music, which has come close to being lost and forgotten at times, requires as much care and attention today as before. But Padula Washington and Phillips agree that the music has always adapted to the times and informed and reflected other Black American styles that came along. Phillips says that in the beginning, spirituals were sung for three main purposes: for worship, for emotional support, and for signals to escape enslavement. All will be demonstrated at the event on Oct 26. 


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