Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
From blues and punk to rock and roll, Arthur White has at one point in his life played in nearly every kind of band, but now he believes he has finally found “the perfect gig.” As the director of MU’s Jazz Performance Studies program and Assistant Professor in the School of Music, White now handles all things jazz at MU.
M. Heather Carver is framed by her clown shadow—a black mannequin head wearing a pink camouflage hat and red clown’s nose—as she joyfully begins to describe her place at MU. “I come from a background of performing,” the Associate Professor of Theatre offers. “As a means of studying something, we perform it.” As a way of studying autobiography, for example, Carver performs autobiography.
Peter Miyamoto characterizes his career as a classical concert pianist as "moonlighting." Although modest, this MU professor of Music has played extensively throughout the United States and the world and is widely renowned for his solo work. Performing classical music becomes by necessity a re-creative art, Miyamoto explains. Making "a bunch of black dots on the page" come to life isn’t easy.
MU Theatre Professor Jim Miller emphasizes happenstance events, moments of inspiration, and intriguing connections as he talks about his work in the theatre—from a revelation while working on a Pepto-Bismol commercial in New York years ago (that he couldn’t “stomach” life as a struggling Broadway actor) to selecting which plays to direct at MU. Now, after twenty-six years of teaching and directing at MU, Miller has not only gathered a large repertoire of these stories, but has also come to believe in the power of such intangible resources as serendipity and instinct in the realm of acting and directing.
Between teaching viola individually and in groups, directing the Missouri String Project, and playing professionally with several internationally renowned chamber music groups, music professor Leslie Perna keeps very busy. Yet you have the distinct impression in listening to her talk that all of her work is thoroughly enjoyable.
On November 20, 2013, as part of a series of educational events on American music, Dr. Shonekan hosted the event Hip Hop 101 at the Blue Note. The event included performances of spoken word poetry, spinning, hip hop music, and freestyle rap.
The basic idea behind the study of oral traditions, explains John Miles Foley, is that we must approach them differently from how we approach written texts. Foley’s seminal book, How to Read an Oral Poem (2002), now translated into Chinese, offers a methodology for approaching oral tradition while paying attention to such crucial aspects as performance, audience, structure, and specialized language.
From selecting charts and arrangements to planning the nitty-gritty details of rehearsals, considerable work goes into preparing for concert performance. “Sight reading is a very important skill,” remarks former director Leibinger, “and the more you sight read, the better you are going to get.” Being able to take a brand new score, and breathe life into the notes on the page is a wondrous thing. After a few weeks, they begin focusing on the harder parts. As concert day nears, the director and band must quickly determine how to spend the remaining practice time.
The big concert occurred on a drizzly November evening in the Missouri Theatre and featured former director Doug Leibinger and guest saxophonist Ron Dziubla. While several jazz combos performed, this montage represents snapshots of the songs played by MU’s big band, including: “Boom Boom” (Bob Brookmeyer), “Liberian Suite (Dance #5)” (Duke Ellington), “Scooter” (Ron Dziubla), “The Macadam of Good Intentions” (Doug Leibinger), “Hole in the River” (Rob Dziubla), “Just Friends” (Raymond Davies, John Klenner, and Sam M. Lewis), “A Long Time Ago” (Bob Mintzer), and “Day by Day” (Sammy Cahn, Axel Stordahl, and Paul Weston).
In this segment, faculty members talk about how their research and creative activity contribute to better teaching, as well as the relationship between these two aspects of their work. Frequently, the two endeavors intersect, profitting both. Carmen Chicone remarks, “If you are actively involved in your subject, you’re bound to be a much better teacher.”
Heather Carver describes herself as “a performance studies artist/scholar,” someone who investigates an issue through performance—“so we study autobiography, and we do autobiographical performance.” Carver teaches several kinds of creative writing, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, in adaptation and performance of literature for theatre and the screen. She also co-directs the Writing for Performance Program, which helps students adapt different kinds of writing for the stage or screen, including poetry, short stories, autobiography, or ethnography. And Carver serves as creator and artistic director of the Life and Literature Performance series to showcase original and adapted work by MU students for the stage.
Performative writing is a way of writing about performance that engages the reader as one would engage the audience when performing in theatre: “So instead of performing over here and then writing about it over there, writing about the work as if the reader were not involved in any kind of audience relationship, performative writing takes the combination of audience, performer, and text and moves that into the writing of performance.” By involving those different levels, Carver suggests, writing “is more accessible to people.”
In her article, “”http://liminalities.net/3-1/heart.htm">Methodology of the Heart," Carver does several things to draw attention to writing itself as performance: “I was trying to expose the nature of the self in this writing. That’s really what it’s about – trying to make our experiences more raw, more real for the reader.” While this kind of writing takes a lot of courage, because it leaves the writer vulnerable and exposed, Carver adds that “it also takes a sense of play; play is such an important part of performance.”
One of Carver’s research areas involves “auto-performance”—a style that “brings the self to task in writing and in performance.” Whether this involves the
autobiography or autoethnography, “performative writing is very much a part of it, because you’re writing about your_self_.” Rather than taking other people’s perspectives and points of view, Carver tries to make clear her position from the get-go: “What I try to do in my performative writing is say, ‘this is about me,’… Because I really just want to write about what I’m experiencing for people to understand as a way of opening the conversation.”
With her background interest in women’s health, it was no surprise to find Carver collaborating with Elaine Lawless, MU Professor of English. After adapting some of the survivor stories for performance, in 2003 they formed the Troubling Violence Performance Project “to create a venue for people to communicate about intimate partner violence.” While they began performing stories from Lawless’ book, the stories soon emerged from elsewhere: “People starting coming up to us after the performances and asking if they could give us their stories,” many of which were then incorporated into subsequent performances. “If one out of every four women likely to suffer some kind of intimate partner abuse, then we need to really speak out. We don’t think we’re going to come in and perform and all violence is going to end. We just know that if people don’t talk about it…it’s going to be swept under the carpet.”
Since October of 2006, Carver has been developing Booby Prize, a comedy about the unfunny subject of breast cancer. “It’s a one-woman show featuring me [laughs],” and how she was “lucky” to be the one of every seven women to get the disease. Through Booby Prize, which is ever evolving, Carver is able to combine her interest in social activism, women’s health, and autobiography: “I decided that I could have breast cancer and still have a sense of humor, and still do my work. And so that’s when Booby Prize, you know, became born, the idea that—unfortunately—I won the prize. I won the Booby Prize, which you don’t want to win, you don’t want to be the 1 out of 7 who wins, but I won, and so that’s how I start off the performance.” Much of the performance features Carver performing actual stories that happened to her, infusing humor into the reality of her situation. At the conclusion of Booby Prize, Carver warns the audience against expecting closure and a happy ending. Despite the clean bill of health at her last medical checkup, the possibility of cancer returning lingers on, and so Carver reminds the audience, “I don’t have a pretty ending; my ending is still up in the air.” Among audience members, Carver has observed not only laughter and tears, as might be expected, but “people doing both at the same time, and not quite knowing what to do about it.” The thread that runs through Booby Prize—like Carver’s other scholarly and creative projects—is storytelling. Some of the stories are painful, and some are funny. Either way, Carver always tries “to keep it raw.”
Although our recording can’t do Miyamoto’s music justice, listen to and watch him perform a sample from Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G minor, op. 23.
Miller performs eight short pieces of Tennessee Williams letters as edited by Albert Develin, Professor of English. Miller is accompanied by singer and professional actress, Jennifer Gray.
Miller discusses how he chooses a production and what audiences seem to like the most.
MIller talks about how he got involved in the performance of the letters of Tennessee Williams.
Miller discusses his changes in roles over the years, including his recent role as Tennessee Williams.
Devlin disscusses various performances of his works by actors such as Sean Leonard and Richard Thomas.
Devlin continues to discuss performances of Tennessee Williams’ letters and how Steve Lawson of New Your City Center scripted and staged them.
Devlin discusses how an accomplished actor such as Sean Leonard can bring the letters of Tennessee Williams to life.
Watch Perna in a short viola performance.
The Missouri String Project, which Perna directs, provides outreach to the community and valuable teaching experience for music majors.
Perna found herself drawn to viola performance, and especially chamber music, because of the collaborative and democratic nature of the music-making process.
The Esterhàzy Quartet, the string quartet with whom Perna performs chamber music, focuses particularly on work from contemporary living composers. The Esterhàzy Quartet established residency at the Berklee College of Music in Boston six years ago, where they experience the magic of the collaborative process while working with the best student composers.