WMU

Marissa Harrington, Artistic Director of Face Off Theatre Company, says the group, which was founded in 2015 to focus on stories of the Black experience, has been more active than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic - and during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

matthewfries.com

Matthew Fries is looking forward to performing in the Wellspring Theatre at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Jul 22, with his friends John Hébert on bass and Keith Hall on drums. It will be streamed online at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival website, as part of its Virtually Gilmore series. In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, Fries says he plans to play a number of his own compositions, some written years ago, some just weeks ago. 

Fries is the professor of jazz piano at Western Michigan University. In late March, he had to switch to online teaching when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to close its doors. Fries "had to re-think" how to teach, overcome technical issues, and provide assistance to students without access to pianos at home. When many of his students became active in the Black Lives Matter protests, they challenged the status quo to the faculty in new, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. Fries says that the WMU jazz department is "seven white guys in love with a music that is 100 percent the result of Black culture." He plans to be more vocal in support of his students' concerns. "There's hope in the energy behind this," Fries says.


Erin Lancour, a music therapy major in the viola studio at Western Michigan University's School of Music, and Haden Plouffe, a composer/pianist studying composition, recently began questioning whether their school was doing enough to expose them to and promote the work and performances of composers who aren't white, male, and deceased.  In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, Lancour and Plouffe explain that their spring rehearsal group was turned into an activist group by Tré Bryant, a Black composition student whose works they planned to perform before the shutdown occurred. With a list of objectives in place and only a few days to spare, they registered their group with the university, and called it the Dalton Diversity Directive.

Haden Plouffe took on the role of researcher. In the Maybee Music and Dance Library, he discovered that scores by Black composers like William Grant Still hadn't been checked out in over a decade. Plouffe plans to reconnect that resource back to students and professors, and make them aware of music by composers of color already in the stacks. For Erin Lancour, vice president of DDD,  bringing more LGBTQIA+ artists and composers of color to campus is a top priority.

Both Lancour and Plouffe agree they'd like the School of Music to move away from presenting all-Black or all-female "novelty" programs, and instead make diverse composers the norm, heard side-by-side with long-performed classical works. With help from faculty advisors Christopher Biggs and Yu-Lien The, they plan to pressure the teaching faculty into taking a critical look at their materials, broadening their teaching to include more composers of color and LGBTQIA+ identities. "Representation matters," says Plouffe.

detail of a black patrol car with a decal that looks like a blue, black and white version of the American flag, with the stars on the right
Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Western Michigan University's Public Safety Department is taking controversial stickers off of its vehicles.

A man wearing a ball cap leans over the side of a boat and shows a handful of muck
Sehvilla Mann

The company that operates Morrow Dam near Comstock faces a state investigation for letting large amounts of sediment wash into the Kalamazoo River, endangering fish habitats and possibly kicking up contaminants, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.


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