Studying in Senegal built many bridges for Paige Klunk.
It bridged her two majors, music and Africana studies.
It linked American and African hip-hop. It connected the European and African traditions of royal court music.
And it brought the intellectual abstractions of Western classical music into living contact with the physical and communal experience of African music.
Mastering a new instrument was at the heart of Klunk's life-changing sojourn in Senegal. She had studied trumpet and marimba in Gettysburg College's Sunderman Conservatory of Music. In Senegal, she took up the marimba and xylophone's predecessor: the balafon.
"I had the conservatory experience," she said, "very Western, with the classically trained mentality. And then I had a completely different experience with the balafon. There was no written music. It was all oral. To learn like that was a whole different approach, using a different part of the brain. As a musician I'm more open to feeling the music now."
"Two years ago, in the World Music Ensemble (led by Sunderman Conservatory Instructor Babathunde Lea), I focused too much on subdividing everything into 1-2-3-4 and how the music fit within Western structures. I had to go to Senegal to help me realize that the music just is, and you don't have to have structure all the time. It's more about the feeling - and the people who are playing it with you - than keeping correct time," said the 2011 graduate, who also played in the Gettysburg College Symphony Orchestra. "My (Senegalese) balafon teacher advocated total body movement. It's not part of western music to move the body like in Africa. I bought a balafon and it made it home intact." She played it and her trumpet for her senior recital, performing both European and West African royal court music. Hip hop flavored the mix too.
The Senegal experience changed more than Klunk's music. "I'm more easygoing now," she said. "Before I went to Senegal I was very tense, very much in the western mentality of time equals money and focusing on results. But going to Senegal helped me relax. It sounds fuzzy, but it helped me learn how to enjoy life more. It changed my world-view a lot."
Klunk studied in Senegal from August to December 2010, spending some time traveling in rural areas but living primarily with a host family in the capital city of Dakar. Klunk said she loved her "mom," a seamstress who employed two tailors and worked in the home making dresses. The family also included three sisters. In some ways, Klunk said, she learned more from her host family than her studies during the trip.
With about 15 other Americans, she attended classes at a facility run by the global SIT Study Abroad program (formerly the School for International Training). All but one professor was Senegalese. Klunk studied French, which is still widely spoken in Senegal as a consequence of its colonial past, as well as the indigenous language, Wolof, which she also had the opportunity to use day-to-day.
She took courses in anthropology and Senegalese national identity in the arts. She also took part in hands-on workshops around the city, most importantly on the balafon. She also studied percussion and the trumpet, the latter being her longtime main instrument.
"I studied Senegalese hip-hop before I went there," she said. "It's usually about the issues and problems of everyday life. I heard rap artists, but without experiencing it, I had no idea of what their everyday life sometimes is, the power cuts, not having enough to eat, bad water. With real-world experience of something I had only studied, I felt more of a connection." She met a number of Senegalese rappers. "It was just about being there, but living there and seeing the culture, the way of life," she said. "And the language of most hip-hop there is Wolof. Before, I couldn't understand it at all. Now I have a better understanding." Her studies focused on phrasing and emphasis, which are key elements of hip-hop.
"My favorite thing about Senegal is learning the language, especially how nuanced other languages can be," she said. "My favorite phrase from Wolof is no'kobok (the o sounds are long). You say it, then the other person says it. It means ‘we're together.' It's like saying ‘you're welcome,' and it shows the communal nature of the African experience. I had a hard time understanding that before I went. One of the things that influenced me the most from my study-abroad experience was eating from a communal bowl. At dinner, we sat on the floor with a large bowl. We used spoons and all shared from the same plate. And when you go to the market, the vendors ask ‘Have you eaten? Come eat with me.' There's a sense of hospitality and looking out for each other. That's probably the thing I miss most here in the U.S. There's more focus on the individual rather than the community here."
The research that Klunk began before journeying to Senegal examined American rappers' social awareness and activism and their influence on hip-hop in Senegal. Influence flowing to Africa reverses the direction of the human trafficking atrocity that brought African people to America, Klunk noted, adding that it has been fascinating to learn "what Africans have done with African-American music like jazz, pop, and hip-hop. It's interesting to see both ends of the spectrum." She presented her work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Ithaca College in New York this spring.
Activism and social awareness were also part of the undergraduate experience for Klunk, who, as a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, provided volunteer services for a blood drive and carried out trail maintenance at a local nature preserve.
The influence described in Klunk's NCUR paper isn't the only thing shared by the Western and Senegalese traditions. Much Western classical music was composed at the behest of royalty, to be played at court. The same is true in Africa, where court music extends back to at least the 13th century. The difference is that the African court tradition remains active today - and that Klunk is connected to it by one of its main instruments, the balafon. Comparing the two traditions was her ethnomusicology senior project for African-American studies; performing music from the two traditions was her senior recital for the College's Sunderman Conservatory of Music.
An important step on the road to Senegal was Klunk's relationship with her mentor, ethnomusicologist and jazz performer Paul Austerlitz, a Sunderman Conservatory of Music professor who also teaches in Gettysburg College's Africana Studies Program. "Without the one-on-one experience with Paul, I wouldn't have had the tools to pursue these project and wouldn't have had the same experience," Klunk said. "He has played a very important role in everything during my last two years at Gettysburg."
Especially important were two classes taught by Austerlitz, her advisor in both majors, one on African music, the other on Caribbean and West African music. "They let me explore different aspects of music than I would have at another institution because of the interdisciplinary approach" that is inherent in a liberal arts college like Gettysburg. "It's been easier for me to double-major because of Paul's expertise as a musicologist and performer," Klunk said. "We took the ideas of Africana studies and literature and showed how they relate to music. Pop music in Senegal includes a lot of American music and a mix of Cuban with a lot of African drumming and the Arabic vocal tradition. It's quite a syncretic mix of several styles."
Klunk "certainly changed a lot during her trip. I've seen a big transformation in her since she started focusing on ethnomusicology," Austerlitz said, adding that Klunk plainly thrived on that discipline's open-ended and curiosity-driven character. "I was really struck by her curiosity and initiative. If I mentioned some literature, she'd come back the next week having read it, even it wasn't a for-credit assignment. She did a lot of follow-up and really started thinking in an original way about music's cultural context. A liberal arts college is the perfect setting for doing that."
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Jim Hale, associate director of editorial servicesPosted: Mon, 20 Jun 2011
Get all the latest news delivered to your inbox or RSS reader:
The Office of Communications and Marketing is looking for stories about Gettysburgians doing great work.
Send your suggestions to email@example.com.