Professor uses drums to explore culture

Professor uses drums to explore culture

Professor uses drums to explore culture
July 22
09:52 2013

Renee Hansen / Senior Staff Writer

Donning a tribal-patterned shirt of numerous colors with a similar-fashioned bracelet on his wrist, music professor Gideon Alorwoyie introduces the  attitude of traditional Ghanese culture without saying a word.

Instead, he usually lets something else do the speaking: his passion, his life calling, his profession. The drum.

The 68-year-old music professor was born in Anlo-Afiadenyigba, a city in the Volta Region of Ghana, and raised in a culture where the drum was once the only form of communication. But today, it goes way farther than just a measure of music or sound.

“These drums can talk and they have a history behind the rhythms,” Alorwoyie said, the black-lined African marks on each cheek wrinkling as he spoke.

But according to the professor, it requires an understanding of the rhythms to fully grasp the language.

“Most people play the rhythm but if you ask them what the rhythm says, they can’t tell you,” he said. “Because they don’t have access to it.”

So 15 years ago, Alorwoyie set out on a mission to write a book that would educate the reader, not only, about the rhythms of the drum but to also take him beyond the language spoken by the drum.

The book contains 25 songs that he compiled into 25 drum rhythm patterns, with each song corresponding to its own story, and each pattern with its own meaning.

While Alorwoyie retained much of the knowledge in the book from his own immersion of the culture while living in Ghana, he still had much to research. He said he often talked to fellow drummers, including his uncles, to gather their insight.

“When I’m with the older drummers, I always ask them, ‘What do you play? What does it mean?’”

Too often, the original meaning gets distorted, Alorwoyie said. For instance, he described how one person might think he heard a word to mean “ant” when in reality, the meaning was “gunpowder.”

It’s these inconsistencies that Alorwoyie aims for clearing in his book, and through it, he desires to leave a legacy.

“This is what it’s about, this is what I want to leave,” he said as he held up the book.

But the book isn’t the only impact the African native has made on UNT.

Steven Friedson, distinguished research professor, praised Alorwoyie’s reputation as “one of the great master drummers of Africa” and said he embodies a true reflection of African culture to the students.

“It affords our students a rare opportunity to work directly with a master in the tradition, learning not from written musical scores, but more in a traditional way through listening, watching, and imitation,” Friedson said.

Students like senior music student Matt Bennett, who prove that Alorwoyie is making a difference in the music department.

Bennett said his own curiosity of the culture initially drove him into the field, but once he experienced the African drums for himself, he realized how the concepts go beyond just the drum boundaries.

“It’s not just music, a lot of it is the collision of cultures,” Bennet said. “It really is a language, and he treats it like that.”

Photo of Gideon Alorwoyie courtesy of UNT news

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