Throughout this academic year, the South Carolina Arts Commission 2015-16 Folklife and Traditional Arts Grant has supported a project to document histories and living traditions of music in Orangeburg County.
Project Director Dr. Peter Hoesing calls the effort the Orangeburg Musicians’ Integrative Community (MUSIC) Project. Hoesing serves as an assistant professor of music history and ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at Claflin University.
Two research assistants on the project from Claflin’s Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College will continue to work with Hoesing throughout the Orangeburg Festival of Roses this weekend. Esther Jones of Orangeburg and Melonie Bryant of Lake City will join Hoesing in continuing to collect surveys from musicians of all stripes, whether amateur, semiprofessional or professional.
Beyond the questions on their survey of musicians, they are out to answer persistent, challenging inquiries about this vast county: Who are the musicians here, and how might they like to enhance their interactions with each other?
Orangeburg has excellent proximity to artistic and other cultural amenities of larger nearby cities. It has something even better and more accessible than all of that, however: This enormous county boasts a tremendously diverse and talented cadre of musicians and other artists.
Their credentials range from stints with James Brown and the Count Basie Orchestra to New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Apollo Theater to Nashville stages and studios. This weekend’s annual Festival of Roses features many of those artists.
The festival entertainment began Thursday evening with Showcase Orangeburg and continues with DORA’s street dance on Friday and on the festival stage throughout the weekend.
Hoesing claims the community frequently has erroneous ideas about the number of musicians who live and make music here because people know so little about them and they often know little about each other.
“What we often notice outside of public performances is that musicians here tend to be quite insular,” Hoesing said. “We stick to our own stylistic and social cliques, rarely understanding that a unified arts community makes us all stronger.”
Hoesing said the exceptions to this observation are not limited to Claflin’s annual “Messiah” performance. Local gospel “shed” events and other jam sessions, for example, bring diverse influences into common spaces. Freddie Ford, Louis “Big Lou” Thomas and Men of Distinction frontman David Kitchings have been among the major proponents of such gatherings.
Since his arrival at Claflin in 2012, Hoesing has been making music and speaking with musicians in the community. In 2014, he launched the Orangeburg MUSIC Project with two main motivations. First, he wants to generate and energize artistic and cultural links between the Claflin family and the surrounding community. He creates those links by training Claflin undergraduate students in cultural survey and interviewing techniques.
A summer research grant from Claflin in 2014 supported Hoesing’s effort to build a cultural survey instrument focused on the musicians here. After building and launching the survey with music and sociology double major Akilah Morgan of Los Angeles, Hoesing integrated the survey instrument into his world music course. Using the initial survey data that Hoesing and Morgan collected, Morgan got her first few opportunities to present research at local, regional, and national gatherings of music scholars.
For Morgan, “working on this project meant having the opportunity to meet interesting people and to hear and see them making music in diverse places.”
She said, “The project opens up the perspectives of students to learn new things about our adopted city.”
As the first university-based research infrastructure in the state to open field research opportunities on this scale to undergraduate students, the Orangeburg MUSIC Project seeks to provide such opportunities to many more Claflin students. However, its aims go well beyond the university. The purpose of collecting this data is to create new platforms for collaboration, foster community interaction and measurably enhance the unique artistic fabric of Orangeburg County.