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Arts and Humanities|
Historys unheard voices silent no more at Lewis and Clark conference
By Celena E. Kusch
| The 180306 expedition of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery is a landmark event in American history. According to Wilma Mankiller, social activist and the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the reports of Lewis and Clark became the basis for decades of U.S. policy, trade and settlement.|
The Shoshone people were indispensable in helping Lewis and Clark map and providing them with knowledge, horses, supplies and information about food preservation and ways to survive, Mankiller explained. The knowledge Lewis and Clark gained from them was valuable in establishing trade with the people along the Missouri River, but the same information was also used to take the land away from them.
Last fall, Penn State became one of the first universities in the nation to host a national event for the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The conference, called Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices, addressed the racially and culturally ambivalent elements of the expedition and its aftermath and gave unprecedented exposure to the voices of the Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino/Hispanic Americans that often go unheard in traditional narratives of the journey.
The College of Arts and Architecture, the College of Education and Outreach and Cooperative Extension co-sponsored the national, multidisciplinary event, in cooperation with the College of the Liberal Arts, the Penn State Bookstore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mankiller delivered the keynote address.
I am grateful to Penn State for hosting this conference and providing an opportunity for looking at the Lewis and Clark expedition from a Native American perspective, Mankiller said.
As Americans prepare to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, she stressed, I want them to reflect on the native peoples they met along the way, not as icons or as symbols, but as mothers, fathers and children who celebrated their lives and their ceremonies and who shared their valuable knowledge with Lewis and Clark.
In addition to Native American perspectives, the conference also featured another unheard voice in the premier performance of York: The Voice of Freedom, an opera composed by Bruce Trinkley, professor of music and member of the conference planning committee.
York tells the story of William Clarks slave of that name who was the only African American member of the Corps of Discovery and the only expedition member who did not receive governmental recognition for his contributions.
Both the York project and the Lewis and Clark conference grew out of a 1998 cantata Trinkley composed about Meriwether Lewis. During the composition, he and librettist Jason Charnesky, graduate student in English and member of the conference planning committee, realized the richness of the stories surrounding the expedition and became interested in developing a larger musical piece to be presented at the bicentennial, in conjunction with an academic conference.
As we began planning the conference, we saw that there would be many other bicentennial events, but none really addressing the unheard stories of Native Americans and others, especially York, who is near and dear to our hearts. Telling their stories became the goal of the conference, Trinkley said.
According to Trinkley, Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices was unlike most academic conferences, as the composition and performance of York were prime parts of the planning from the beginning.
We wanted to have a conference that would address important issues and at the same time would reach out both to the University community and to the community at large through the arts, performances and many public events, Trinkley explained. We couldnt be more pleased to have York positioned this way in an academic conference.
Dr. Melanie Doebler, Outreach Program Resources manager for the College of Arts and Architecture and member of the Lewis and Clark planning team, noted the connection between the arts and academic presentations enriched the event.
What made The Unheard Voices a truly unique and amazing outreach effort was that it involved so many aspects of the University and of the community, Doebler said. As we worked on the conference, we realized that Unheard Voices referred not only to the Native Americans and African Americans whose stories were told, but also to the voices of drama and music and the environment. The event became an expression of the multiple ways to deliver the message that history is not told by one person in one place. Our goal was giving voice to multiple perspectives through multiple disciplines. It was amazing to pull together these different voices through this event.
In keeping with this multidisciplinary goal, conference participants contributed perspectives from history, art history, political science, literature, philosophy, anthropology, education and the life sciences. Conference events included academic papers, art installations, the opera, a recital, a Pattee Library exhibition and two talking circles, symposia of multidisciplinary panelists with a public audience.
One highlight of the conference was a presentation and art installation by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, painter of Salish, French, Cree and Shoshone heritage. Under the direction of Joyce Robinson, curator of the Palmer Museum of Art, the Palmer commissioned Smith to develop an installation that would be a response to the Lewis and Clark expedition and its legacy.
During an informal gallery talk at the museum, Smith discussed ways to apply the knowledge gained through the conference in classrooms. She called on educators of all levels to reconsider the common practice of having students make their own versions of Native American art. Often, she explained, the objects have religious significance, and the student projects actually border on blasphemy.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith made me realize we are so na•ve in the way that we teach and think about Native American cultures, Trinkley said. We arent actually going to the people of these cultures to find out about them. We arent listening to them.
Listening to members of other cultures also was the theme of composer David Clearys Cross-Cultural Variations. His work also was commissioned by the Palmer Museum through a Continental Harmony grant from the American Composers Forum.
According to Robinson, one of the stipulations for the commission was that the work address the interactions of Native Americans and European New World settlers in a tangible way. Clearys piece, she noted, was cast in an unusual double-variation format featuring a Shoshone Sun Dance Song and melodic motifs from the Revolutionary War era tune Chester, composed by William Billings.
Clearys composition was written for and performed by Penn States Castalia Ensemble, which includes faculty members Kim Cook, professor of music; Dr. Timothy Deighton, assistant professor of music; Marylène Dosse, distinguished professor of music; James Lyon, professor of music; and Rob Nairn, assistant professor of music. Clearys Cross-Cultural Variations is the first work to be composed especially for the ensemble.
Because the Lewis and Clark event was the focus of so much original creative and scholarly work, several activities are under way to continue outreach efforts by distributing conference experiences through other media.
With funding from a Ford Foundation grant, Penn State Public Broadcastings WPSX-TV is preparing a documentary of the York performance for broadcast this summer. Jerry Sawyer, producer/director for WPSX-TV, is the programs producer.
In addition to its appeal to the general audience, we feel that the York program will be of interest in the schools, where it can enhance the teaching about the Lewis and Clark experience for students, Sawyer said.
The WPSX production may eventually be offered to the other PBS stations in the state and beyond.
The planning group also is exploring the possibility of an interactive DVD of York for teachers and students that would offer in-depth lessons both about the historical content and about the artistic components of composition, production, set design and opera appreciation.
Digital Webcasts of conference presentations are being prepared for archiving and public access through the Lewis and Clark conference Web site (http://www.outreach.psu.edu/LewisAndClark/). In the future, the site will include brief bios of the speakers, the text of their presentations and short video clips of their talks. More information about York: The Voice of Freedom also is available online at http://www.music.psu.edu/York.
Lewis and Clark conference models outreach partnerships
| Conference planners for Lewis and Clark: The Unheard Voices demonstrated the value of local, national and international partnerships both in enhancing faculty scholarship and in ensuring that scholarship remains engaged with the issues confronting society today.|
At the center of the event was York: The Voice of Freedom, an original opera performed for the first time during the conference. The opera tells the story of William Clarks slave, who was the only African American member of Lewis and Clarks Corps of Discovery.
The whole production was a wonderful town and gown effort, Bruce Trinkley, professor of music and opera composer, said. We were all brought together by the sense that York was telling an important story. The kind of interaction we were able to achieve in the way the production was put together is exactly what outreach should be about.
Trinkley created the opera, along with librettist Jason Charnesky, graduate student in English and member of the conference planning committee, and the production involved faculty, students and community members from a multitude of disciplines.
Dr. Norman Spivey, associate professor of music, performed the role of Meriwether Lewis, with visiting artists and students from programs in opera, theatre, music and the general University playing other parts. Other performers came from African American churches in the State College area.
The set was designed by an architecture professor, and architecture students built it in the University shop. Costumes were made by a member of the community with a passion for the Lewis and Clark story, Trinkley said.
In addition, the conference itself brought together scholars and artists from history, art history, political science, literature, philosophy, anthropology, education, music, painting and the life sciences.
Coordinating all these different groups and their contributions was a real challenge, Trinkley admitted. It was a difficult task to hold together all the groups who were involved, and a lot of credit goes to Melanie Doebler. [Dr. Melanie Doebler, Outreach Program Resources manager for the College of Arts and Architecture and member of the Lewis and Clark planning team,] did so much to make these events happen. Her expertise here in the college was invaluable.
Conference partners included: