New course offers culture, music, travel

by Onize Ohikere

Lying on the beach and listening to the sound of steel drums in the distance would seem a far sought dream for anyone in the Midwest. For some MSUM students and one professor, this dream became a reality when they traveled to Trinidad for a study abroad program.

MSUM’s percussion ensemble director, Kenyon Williams wrote his dissertation on the steel drums in Trinidad. Two years later, he seized another opportunity to return.

“I went back to Trinidad on sabbatical to play music,” he said.

Besides savoring the chance to do what he loves, Williams had other plans in mind. “I also wanted to explore the idea of creating a world music class run through MSUM,” he said.

Williams met with Harvey Price, director of the percussion program at the University of Delaware, to bring his plans to fruition.

“The university has a big study abroad program,” he said. “I asked him if we could come along with them to Trinidad during the first week of January to reduce costs and get the students to interact, and he agreed.”

After consulting with the department heads at MSUM, Williams was given approval to lecture the class. With seven students and tickets to Trinidad, World Music Survey, MUS 360, officially became a course at MSUM.

Trinidad’s rich musical culture is mostly known for its steel drums and calypso music, which the students got to see and try from Jan. 2 – 12.

“I’ve never really gotten the chance to do percussion,” said music industry major Emma Allen. “It was such a completely different experience, and I completely miss it.”

For Williams, the opportunity to lecture in an environment submerged in music was thrilling.

“It’s such an ideal environment to learn in because we go and have a lecture, talk about something and then we go see it done in real life and go learn it,” he said.

But aside from getting the chance to be immersed in music, the course had some additional requirements.

“We completed three hours of lecture every day,” Williams said. “When they got back to campus, they had to complete 10 hours of online instruction, and write two papers.”

But when the work was done and the books put away, the group had the chance to experience other aspects of the Trinidadian culture.

“The weather was always good. People were very friendly, and I noticed a strong sense of national pride around the area, which I thought was pretty cool,” said music industry major Kyle Sperle.

Allen expressed mutual feelings.

“We spent time at the beach, got to meet the locals, had a boat tour and got to snorkel, and we went to a dance party at the beach,” she said.

Williams explained that the three-credit course was open to all students regardless of their majors. While the spring tuition rates covered the enrollment costs of the class, the students paid an extra $2,200 for their flights and other expenses.

For the students, the experience isn’t one they will be forgetting anytime soon.

“It was probably the best 10 days of my life,” Sperle said. “It made me realize how cool indigenous music is and made me want to spread it through my own music.”

Allen agreed.

“It was probably the best trip I’ve been in, and I’ve been to England, Scotland and Mexico,” she said. “We worked a lot but really had some fun and relaxing time.”

For students interested in taking the course, Williams said there are plans of possibly offering it again in about two years.

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