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CSU Choir Gives Ethnicity Concert to Celebrate Diverse Heritage of Students

Story by Carrie Beth Wallace

Photos by Alex Hamm, courtesy of Schwob School of Music

On Tuesday, April 30th, Columbus State University's Schwob School of Music will host a choral concert celebrating the diverse ethnicities found within its student body. Dr. Ianthe Marini, Director of Choral Activities, programmed the concert to "mindfully and intentionally showcase the beauty and diversity present in our community."

The concert preparation has been a labor of love, as students from all over the world have shared their heritage and, in some cases, their native languages with their peers. "I put out a call to the choir last semester asking them to share their family stories, their ethnicities, their cultures, and if they had any favorite folk tunes passed through their families," explained Marini. "I was so excited and so pleased to see that many people were enthusiastic and proud to share their heritage with one another." 

The concert features music of Latin America, Kenya, West Africa, the Cherokee Nation, Russia, Estonia, India, Ireland, the Quaker tradition, Germany, the African-American spiritual, the Gospel tradition, the Jewish tradition, and Greece.

Marini has made her mark on our community with her refreshing and passionate programming style. "There are two schools of thought to programming," said Marini in a recent interview. "The first is to program certain kinds of 'good' music that teach a specific set of skills - and the second philosophy is that all music is good and can be used to teach any musical skill we need." Marini aligns with the latter, and it's something she takes very seriously.

"All music is good music," she declared over coffee. "I don't prescribe to the idea that each medium of art or genre of music should stand alone. Fine art, dance, music, literature... it's all art. Gospel, Classical, Jazz, Celtic, etc. They're all valid and beautiful types of music. Every bit of art is valuable. And I think that when we use our different mediums together to create an experience we can share that we begin to see that it is all worthy of our time and attention. And that's an idea I'm really committed to sharing with my students and our community."

Perhaps nothing illustrates Marini's undulating fervor for what she does better than the introduction for the program notes for Tuesday's concert. "Have you seen the video circulating the internet of a group of French citizens singing outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame as it burns?" Marini writes. "What strikes me in this video is that at that moment, when the most unthinkable and tragic happens, the people who gather to mourn can think of nothing else to do but to sing. They sing their Ave Maria in French. Strangers and passers by—singing together a tune of their country, in their native tongue: the purest form of shared humanity that we have. Song."

As she put this concert together, Marini said she was "humbled by the students' dedication to their craft." Many of them shared personal stories with her about where they've come from, and in return, Marini shared hers. The important and ongoing dialogue led to a unique depth of programming for the concert - with pieces selected to represent the stories shared and the people who shared them.

"When you walk the halls of Schwob, you hear Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian," said Marini. "We have a large and beautiful and diverse culture in this building, and with that diversity comes music, dance, and tradition. And hasn’t that always been our great American experiment? Our country is a melting pot of cultures, languages, thought, religion, perspective, and ideas: the great City on a hill. We are a stronger fabric because we are multi-colored. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike."

Tuesday's concert will feature selections sung in many languages that Marini has had help teaching during the concert's preparation. Her student Mark Kagika's parents are Kenyan, and to help the choir learn the language, his mother recorded herself speaking the language. Another professor at Schwob, Dr. Matthew McCabe, is Irish and speaks Gaelic. McCabe is a member of Wolf & Clover who will also be featured on the concert in a set of Celtic music. "Matt was so generous with his time," said Marini. "He helped me with the Gaelic pronunciation and spoke so fluently and beautifully about his culture."

In addition, the concert will feature a transcription by Carlos Bedoya - a guitarist from Columbia. "[Carlos] transcribed a beautiful Mass from Argentina, originally composed by Ariel Ramirez.  It will be played and sung by members of our rich and diverse Latin American population at the Schwob." There will also be a section dedicated to America's original inhabitants. "We also have some members of our community with Native American roots," said Marini. " and we sing to celebrate our native people."

In addition to music from around the world, there are nods to American culture as well. The concert will feature Christopher Thomas, a Gospel pianist and singer, who will lead a gospel song from the piano during the program. Dance professor, Amy Taylor has also choreographed a number for the concert that will be danced by several students as the choir sings.

Though the purpose of the program is to celebrate the different ethnicities represented, Marini is ecstatic to be able to feature such important collaboration between the arts disciplines in our community. "One of the most incredible parts of working at the Schwob is collaborating with the rich and diverse student body which is comprised of students from 22 countries around the globe," she said. "We are all so much richer for experiencing and learning from one another. While it is not my job to make the audience feel anything, it is my job to simply provide them with an opportunity to receive the music. However they experience it, I hope this concert gives all of us a chance to consider the essential human fact that we are truly more alike than we are different." ◼︎

If You Go:

What: We Are More Alike, My Friends, Than We Are Unalike

When: April 30, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Legacy Hall, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts

Cost: Free and open to the public.



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