Diversity of arts and music defines Common Ground Week of classes designed to forge cultural ties

July 03, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Students can play the didgeridoo, learn the art of songwriting and build their own Native American flutes at the fourth annual Common Ground on the Hill next week.

While dabbling in the arts, they might learn about other cultures.

The weeklong celebration of music and the arts opens Sundayat Western Maryland College in Westminster, with courses and performances designed to build bridges between cultures.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with new people and reuniting with some of the musicians I've performed with in the past," said Peggy Seeger, a songwriter and instrumentalist who has taken part in nearly 100 recordings. She will teach songwriting at this year's festival.

Seeger, who lives in Asheville, N.C., is the sister of folk singer Pete Seeger and wrote the classic "Gonna Be an Engineer," the theme of the North American women's movement. She and her late husband, Ewan MacColl, and colleague Charles Parker produced groundbreaking BBC radio ballads in England, where Seeger made her home for more than 35 years.

It is for Seeger that MacColl wrote the classic "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." This is the first year that Seeger will participate in Common Ground. She has been teaching songwriting for about 15 years.

"We are delighted to have such a consummate artist join us," said Walt Michael, Common Ground founder and artistic director. He promises a quality learning experience with master musicians, artists and crafts people.

"There are many, many workshops and concerts that celebrate the arts," Michael said. "What sets us apart is our mission -- to find the commonalities among people of different races and celebrate them. So, although people are coming to learn the arts, they're taking the time to look inward and break down cultural barriers."

About 200 people have preregistered for Common Ground, nearly twice the number that participated in the event when it made its debut in 1995, Michael said. Common Ground is expected to draw at least 300 people this year, many of them from Annapolis and the Baltimore-Washington area.

Michael, who has organized the workshops each year, knows which classes are the biggest draws -- such as African dance lessons taught by the Baltimore-based Sankofa Dance Theater -- but he is also adept at creating novel courses.

Photojournalism, bagpipe classes and lessons in building a Native American flute are among the latest additions to the curriculum. For the first time this year, Common Ground courses can be taken for college credit.

Sixty-eight instructors from across the country are scheduled to teach this year. Many of them are returning to the Westminster campus for a fourth season, but with new perspectives on their traditional themes.

The flagship course of the Common Ground curriculum, a dialogue on black-white race relations, has been expanded to include an examination of the life of Russell Means, who became a symbol of the American Indian movement. In the past, the dialogue focused on the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and the relationship between European Americans and African-Americans.

After a day of classes, participants can spend evenings jamming with well-known musicians and listening to traditional gospel songs. The performances are open to the community.

The week of music and art lessons will culminate with the American Music and Arts Festival, a two-day concert at Carroll County Farm Museum. Concertgoers are invited to camp out at the farm museum.

The weekend concert, which begins at 10 a.m. July 11, will include Michael's reunion with fiddler Tom McCreesh and bass guitarist Harley Campbell. The trio performed during the closing ceremonies of the 13th Winter Olympic Games in 1980.

"It will be the first time we have played together in 18 years," said Michael, who has helped revive the hammered dulcimer, an instrument favored by the early settlers of the Appalachians. The trio's performance is scheduled for 2: 30 p.m. July 12.

The two-day concert will include blues, bluegrass, folk and jazz, gospel, Celtic and Native American music. Storytelling, poetry, African drumming and dance, and a juried art and craft show also will be featured.

Michael is selling concert tickets and accepting registrations for the Common Ground courses. Prospective students can enroll in one class or several, and campus housing is available. Information: 410-857-2771.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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