Choir Practice

I did something last night that I haven’t done in quite some time: I went to choir practice. The wife of the newly-arrived Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy is a professional music teacher. Apparently, in each post they have been in, she starts a choir. The one here is pretty impressive.

I rode my bike over to her house yesterday evening, after going to the grocery store downtown and having a nice dinner at an expat-style restaurant (avoiding drinks so as not to ruin my voice). When I got there, I found a very nice house and grounds – presumably the former US Ambassador’s residence when the embassy was in the downtown area – and a bunch of people in the living room doing warm-up exercises. There were, quite unusually for the choirs I’ve been in – a roughly even number of men and women. I took a spot among the tenors and tried to figure out what was going on. There was a woman singing next to me, Kerry, a former professional singer, who really knows her stuff. So I was able to listen to her and sort of follow along. After a while, a Burkinabè man, Patrice, showed up and stood on the other side and he also could hit the right notes. Makes it a lot easier. Especially because the stuff we were singing was not easy. The first song we worked on, after the aa-ee-oo-ee-ah phase of scales and warmups, was a Ladysmith Black Mambazo tune. I don’t remember the name. Lots of interesting harmonies, not necessarily what you think is going to be there. A lot of grooving and high soloing. We went on to another very complex swing-era arrangement of “Deck the Halls”. I said it sounded like “The Jets and the Sharks Have a Christmas Party”.  We should have been snapping our fingers. In that one, I was wishing I was a bass, both because the tenor part is very, very high for me and because the basses have all the fun. Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Not us. If only I could sing like these guys (that’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo).

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. We’re meeting again next Tuesday, and hopefully over Christmas we’ll have a concert. The ambassador was there and the Public Diplomacy guy who is taking care of my program, Todd Sargent, is part of the group though he couldn’t make it last night. There is a preponderance of embassy types but also plenty of Burkinabè and some other folks; a French woman who has a beautiful voice and I think must also be a professional. Anyway, we sounded pretty good, and it gives me something to do since the darn students are still on strike.

It is Thursday morning, and I’m on my way to class in a few minutes. Inshallah there will be students. I understand that the student leaders went to meet with the Minister of Education yesterday, and hopefully some face-saving resolution to the problem will be found. I would hate to spend my time here hanging around rather than actually teaching. I’ve been working hard this past week on my new class, “Expansion Européenne, XIXème Siècle”, which I’m planning to do more or less along the lines of the Philip Curtin seminar “The World and the West” that I took at Hopkins lo these many years ago. I went to Amazon and bought an e-book copy of “The World and the West” and I am shamelessly using Dr. Curtin’s examples of various ways non-European societies reacted to the European expansion. I want to put the emphasis on the non-European side, though I will talk about strategies of rule, cultural ideas about empire in Europe, and so on. I’ve only got 15 hours of lecture to get it all done, though, and given that my audience are citizens of a former colony, I thought the perspective of the colonized should be given priority.

I’m also still working with my CCC students. I got to talk to my department chair at CCC the other day, and it seems like the decision to pull my class away next term doesn’t have much of anything to do with me. They still like me there and I can have classes next year. It has to do with departmental politics. This is a relief for me, still annoying since I lose the money and all the work I have already invested in the class but at least not a sign that I am in danger of losing my job there when I return.

Update: Université de Ouagadougou students are still on strike. There are plenty of folks around on campus but no classes today :(.  The class representative, Ali Sawadogo, said he’d be by to see me in my office this morning.

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