Three members of the legendary a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock are finishing up a unique residency at Wesleyan University.
Wesleyan students and residents of the Middletown area have spent the last nine weeks immersed in "Living in Song," a series of three workshops, each led by a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Nitanju Bolade Casel explored dance and movement as a catalyst for the creation of sound. The group's sign language interpreter, Shirley Childress Saxton, taught techniques to make sign language an emotional, rhythmic, and lyrical accompaniment to music.
Louise Robinson worked with participants in The Rhythm Ring workshop. She said that through the process of songwriting, her group learned valuable life lessons. "You know, you have a melody," she said, "you have harmony parts, or you have a lead, and you have a background: all these things that it takes to build a song are the same elements it takes to build a community of people."
WNPR's Ray Hardman: Did it turn out like you'd hoped, where students were interacting with people from the Wesleyan community, or the Middletown community?
Dr. Louise Robinson: Oh, Ray, I got more than I asked for. I told my students last night, I felt so blessed by this class, by their energy, by their enthusiasm, by the presence that they brought to this group. I look around the room, and I say, any one of these people, to me, just by looking, would come from a community that the room would look like them. ...I have a room full of all these different people. Yes, I think the idea came to fruition beautifully.
Tell me about the process. What did you hope to achieve at the beginning, and how did things work out?
I really want people to understand that they’re creative geniuses. We all are, babe. We can all work together, and basically we're going to find that we have many more things in common than we don’t have in common. Just as in the process of building a song: you have a melody, you have a harmony part, or you have a lead, and you have a background, or you have a percussive kind of supplementation: all of these things that it takes to build a song, I’m saying, now that’s what it takes to build a community of people. Basically that’s what I did. Through song, through some theatrical exercises, we looked at how we feel about certain things. We looked at how we support each other... When you do that, you build something that not one person in the group built in; you built it as a group. Those are the kinds of things I talk about.
Tell me about the performance tomorrow night. What's that going to be like?
First of all, Wesleyan keeps telling me this is not a performance, and it doesn’t have to be a performance. It's just an opportunity for the participants to allow their friends and family to see what they’ve been doing for the last nine, well, eight sessions, when we get to tomorrow night's presentation. I don't want any of the participants to feel any kind of pressure to put on a show, although some are pretty enthusiastic about the idea. I like to call it a sharing action: this is what I’ve been doing.
The culmination of the residency happens on Thursday at 7:00 pm, when all of the participants perform together at the "Living in Song Showing" at Crowell Concert Hall on the Wesleyan University campus.