In search of common ground Celebration: Art and music are used to foster multicultural awareness for a week at Western Maryland College.

July 08, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Appalachian cloggers step to the beat of African drums. Students from across the country learn to play the Celtic harp and Native American flute. A few take up basket weaving or origami, Japanese paper art.

Musicians and artists with backgrounds as varied as their styles are reveling in Native American, black and white traditions this week at Common Ground, a celebration of music and the arts at Western Maryland College in Westminster.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," said Carol Shook, who is taking Celtic harp lessons for the first time. "I'm intimidated by reading music. This is breaking me out of my shell."

Shook, a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Westminster, has been playing the harp for nearly three years. She and two other students -- a science fiction writer and retired computer database administrator -- are learning to play old Irish tunes in new ways.

"I'm teaching them how to take a traditional piece and do something different with it," said instructor Jay Ansill, whose music combines ancient Celtic harp music with elements of classic jazz and rock.

His teaching method requires students to play by ear. There are no textbooks, no sheets of music. It is exactly the kind of class Shook was looking for.

"This is the first time I've taken the harp out of the house," she said. "I play for my own pleasure. But I couldn't pass up an opportunity to learn from a master."

Shook's story is not uncommon. For many participants, this week will mark their first public performance. Several storytellers, artisans and writers will make their debut in classes this week and during nightly performances.

Common Ground was founded four years ago by Walt Michael, a 1960s civil rights activist who is credited with reviving the hammered dulcimer. Michael said the 227 registered students are learning more than just the highland bagpipe or Native American storytelling techniques.

The multicultural aspect "allows you to have the kind of dialogue that just doesn't happen," Michael said. "It's really hard to hate someone who is painting a picture next to you."

The blending of varied cultures produces unusual performances such as last year's hammered dulcimer and didgeridoo concert and this year's "Afro-lachian" dance by African drummers and Appalachian cloggers.

Scott Ainslie, a blues artist known for his transcriptions of the recordings of guitarist Robert Johnson, said he joined the 68-member teaching staff last year after hearing about Common Ground's multicultural focus.

"For years, I have been playing music to which I was not born, so I apprenticed myself to another culture -- the African-American culture," said Ainslie, a 1960s civil rights activist who followed the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"The work King started must go on. We must erase racism as a motivator and ignore the ignorance that breeds it."

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: 7/08/98

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