Offering more than 2,000 courses, activities and events annually to more than 200,000 nontraditional learners worldwide, University Outreach is dedicated to educating students and the general community. Central to that mission is the role of Outreach professors, whose techniques and relationship with students is integral to enhancing the quality and value of those students’ classroom experience. The experience of students enrolled in Intersession courses taught by University of Oklahoma music instructor Miranda Arana is a prime example of the positive impact on students’ learning that comes from that relationship.
This past January, Arana taught World Music for Non-Majors, a course focusing on tribal, folk, and popular nonwestern music. Following a lecture, students engaged in music-making projects that included live performances of West African tribal music. In comments from those enrolled in the course, students expressed having greatly benefitted from Arana’s hands-on approach to analyzing and reproducing the sounds and rhythms of tribal musical instruments.
“The breadth of knowledge that Professor Arana brought to the classroom made every class inspirational, enlightening and compelling,” said Robert Fairbanks, a retiree who was enrolled in the course. “Professor Arana taught us to reproduce each of the rhythms played on the traditional music instruments of the West African Agbekor ensemble. Students were given direct involvement with this powerful and dynamic form of music.”
The West African Agbekor ensemble involves a “family” of drums, with a father, mother, baby and twin brother drums, each working in concert with beaded shakers and double bells to build a strong fabric of sound, the “war beat” preparing their tribal community for battle. Recreating this sound required teaching students to establish the steady beat of the compound meter of Agbekor by repeating the three syllables of “A-fri-ca.”
After delivering a lecture contextualizing the music as a “call and response” rhythm, Arana established the strong even beat of the “A” sound on “Atsimevu,” the father master drum in the Agbekor ensemble. Arana first instructed her students to form an interlocking rhythm, encouraging them to keep a steady beat on the last two syllables, “fri-ca,” with their own drums. She then assigned shakers, bells, mother drum (kidi), baby drum (kaganu), and the twin brother drums (kloboto and totodzi) to her students, weaving their sounds with the master drum beat into a solidly established foundation of rhythms. Accompanied by the shakers and bells, with the father, mother, and twin brothers beating “A-fri-ca!” the baby drum beat responded to the others, “Let’s fight!”
“Professor Arana guided the ensemble to near perfection: a truly wonderful concert of Agbekor music that fosters group readiness, self-confidence and coordination,” Fairbanks said. “Her teaching is among the very best I have experienced in a lifetime of learning.”
Further information about Intersession can be found at intersession.ou.edu.