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School of Social Work celebrates with songs for societal change

By Jacob Axelrad, Daily Community Culture Editor
Published November 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent offshoots have gripped the nation since September. Tonight in Stamps Auditorium, the protesters of the 99 percent will get their very own soundtrack.

School of Social Work 90th Anniversary Cantata: Reach Out, Raise Hope, Change Society


Tonight at 7 p.m.
Stamps Auditorium, Walgreen Drama Center
Free

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As part of its 90th anniversary celebration, the School of Social Work collaborated with renowned composer Bruce Adolphe from The Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center in New York. With help from the University Chamber Choir, an original cantata based on the school’s slogan, “Reach Out, Raise Hope, Change Society,” will be performed tonight.

The piece was originally intended to underscore historical themes of social justice and civil liberties. But when the tents and tarps unfolded in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Adolphe realized that his cantata had taken on a new cultural relevance. He smiled at the thought of aiding a cause near and dear to his heart.

“When I started working on this piece, there were basically no protests going on about anything at all,” Adolphe said. “But as the rehearsals went under way, you had Occupy Wall Street and Occupy everywhere else and all kinds of new urgency and protest … it’s good for the School of Social Work that it all of a sudden has that sense of urgency.”

The cantata is divided into 10 movements of roughly three to five minutes each. Adolphe structured each individual movement around texts and quotations of lesser-known activists and authors to emphasize that change is possible on a grassroots level — it doesn’t need to originate with the most notable leaders in society.

He said Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi might not speak to people as role models because they appear untouchable.

“It’s hard to say, ‘I want to be Martin Luther King,’ ” Adolphe said. “As a kid you might, but as you get older you’re looking for realistic role models — people you could possibly be like.”

While the majority of the work represents serious matters, Adolphe made sure to include some lighter fare. He characterized the seventh movement as one of the cantata’s few humorous components. It was inspired by an East Indian proverb: “If you live by a river, make friends with the crocodile.”

Adolphe laughed and said, “I guess today, the crocodile would be Bloomberg and the New York Police Department.”

Throughout the performance, members of the Chamber Choir will sing words written by Civil Rights activist Rabbi Joachim Prinz and poet June Jordan, among others. Prinz and Jordan figure prominently in the 20th-century social and political landscape. Though most Americans don’t know of them, Adolphe hopes to change that fact by setting their words to music.

“(These texts) speak very powerfully about civil rights, about social justice, about equality,” he said. “And now they get a very powerful voice because it’s music, which means it’s probably going to get performed in other places that are not schools of social work, but music schools. Choirs around the world will eventually do it.”

In the view of Talya Gates-Monasch, a student in the School of Social Work and anniversary committee member, the obscurity of the authors should remind students that they too can make a difference, which relates to the third part of the slogan, “change society.” According to Gates-Monasch, this is the goal of students in the school: getting out and making the world a better place to live in.

The writers chosen by Adolphe have also been incorporated into the school’s curriculum throughout the semester. Study guides were made to inform the public of each writer’s relevance and will be available to those in attendance tonight.

The audience can expect an evening of woodwinds, percussion and melodies from a choir equivalent to professional choruses, Adolphe said. But they should expect the message, not the music, to take precedence. Beginning with the language of poetry and speeches and complemented by musical accompaniment, the final product will ground the performance in pertinent social issues affecting Americans today.


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