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Beautiful Music around Us: Exploring America’s Evolving Artistic Dialogues of Race and Identity with Renée Baker and the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project Ensemble

America’s rich musical heritage has been, and will continue to be, a product of the many impulsive fusions of the diverse social and cultural traditions that have come to this country over time. One example is early jazz, which grew from roots, blues and ragtime traditions. Its performers’ music styles evolved over time and their new melodies bridged the cultural and social margins that often segregated the country’s diverse urban and rural communities throughout the 20th century. These musical poets’ performances frequently deepened the contours and expressions of their unspoken artistic dialogues with their audiences, and through their art brought people from different walks of life together.

The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music will continue exploring America’s evolving artistic dialogues of race and identity for this month’s Black History Month. The Center is sponsoring a special performance by the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project ensemble on February 24th, two historic silent movie showings on February 24th and 25th, lectures by Renée Baker on her work as a composer and conductor for the University’s cinema studies and music students on February 25th and 26th, and children’s educational programming for the King Elementary School students on February 26th. The three days of programming will kick off with a special premier performance on February 24th of Renée Bakers’ new film score composed for the newly discovered silent movie, Borderline. Kenneth Macpherson’s visually compelling movie about interracial and LGBT relationships during the 1920s stars Paul and Eslanda Robeson. The film’s showing will be accompanied by a live performance of Renée Bakers’ thirty-member Chicago Modern Orchestra Project ensemble. Following the showing of the film, there will be a 45-minute discussion with Renée Baker and the audience about her work on this movie and her continuing interest in reviving historical silent movies with her new film scores.

On February 25th,, Ms. Baker will give presentations on the use of musical and physical gesture to School of Music conducting students at 9am, and will meet with Janice Collin’s, Latrelle Bright’s and Monique Rivera’s Cinema Studies students at 10:30am to discuss her work as a composer creating a new sound score for the 1930 film, Borderline. That evening she will show David Starkman and Frank Perugini’s 1927 silent film, The Scar of Shame, staring Harry Henderson, Norman Johnstone, and Ann Kennedy, at Urbana’s Independent Media Center at 7:00pm. This second film is considered one of the best independent black films produced at the height of the silent movie era. It dramatically portrays the societal struggles of individuals seeking and eventually failing to improve their black urban lives in America during the 1920s. At the time, this film was a unique collaborative production that utilized a black cast and an interracial production team called the “Colored Players.” The Scar of Shame was one of only three films produced by this company. Renée Baker’s new film score will accompany this historical movie, which draws its musical inspiration from the many societal issues presented in this historical film. Following the film’s showing, Ms. Baker will talk about her work on this film with the audience.

On February 26th, Ms. Baker will work with the second and fifth grade students at King Elementary School on two different educational activities using storytelling and music improvisation to express personal identity. Finally, Ms. Baker will meet with the University’s athletic bands at 5:00pm to show and discuss her work on the silent film, “Natural Born Gambler,” to open up a conversation with the students about the use of music to bridge issues of race and identity.

For further information about these educational and public engagement programs please contact the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at 217-333-4577 or email Scott Schwartz.

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