Nile Project’s April 4 performance at Appalachian inspires a slew of residency activities over a 3-day period, benefitting programs from sustainability to the arts
By Ken Keuffel
BOONE, N.C.—On April 4, the Nile Project will perform in the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts at Appalachian State University. A collective of 35 musicians from 11 Nile countries will make sounds reflecting a remarkable synthesis of highly diverse rhythms and tonal systems, lyrics sung in numerous languages and instruments ranging from Kenyan kettledrums to Egyptian flutes.
The chance to hear such international music is rare, so fans of “The Schaefer Center Presents” series are awaiting the arrival of the Nile Project performers with great anticipation.
But that is not all. A similar buzz is building about a related residency at Appalachian involving the Nile Project. This will include 11 activities over three days beginning April 2, affecting not only various arts programs but also initiatives related to sustainability, of which Appalachian is a leader.
“We quickly saw that this project was more than just a performance,” said Denise Ringler, interim director of arts engagement and cultural resources at Appalachian. “It had the potential to engage the entire campus in something so much broader and far-reaching.”
The “broader and far-reaching” part will mean residency activities ranging from a cleanup of the New River on April 2 to masterclasses for music and dance students the following day. There will also be several workshops on the role that music can play in uniting people behind sustainability goals – something that Lee Ball, Appalachian’s director of sustainability, supports.
“The Nile Project comes to Appalachian State at a time when diverse perspectives are critically needed,” Ball said. “Sustainability-related problems desperately need people from different cultures to unite around our commonalities. This unity allows us to share ideas and solutions, and it inspires hope.”
Fulfilling a mission through music
To understand how and why this all came about, consider the Nile Project’s mission, which is “to educate, inspire and empower citizens of the Nile basin to foster the sustainability of the Nile River’s ecosystem.” Then consider that the Nile Project fulfills this mission through music, viewing it as a basis upon which to build understanding and to break down the barriers among peoples living along the river.
“Nile Project musicians discovered their common ground as artists by creating and performing music together, based on the cultural traditions of their respective nations,” Ringler said. “Having built a strong foundation of understanding and trust, they embarked on a journey toward greater understanding of the geo-political issues that divided them, and discovered ways in which to unify and collaborate in fostering the sustainability of their shared ecosystem.”
As explained in the Nile Project’s press materials: “In this way, the Nile Project seeks to address the cultural and environmental challenges at the root of the Nile Basin’s problems and shift the Nile discourse from a divisive geo-political argument to a uniting conversation.”
The Nile Project residency encourages Appalachian to apply a similar approach to sustainability issues in its backyard. Such thinking, which the Nile Project promotes, underscores a consortium of partnering institutions where the Nile Project is also performing and conducting residencies with similar goals between March 13 and April 8.
Appalachian and the other schools in the consortium have been meeting for about two years to share ideas about the directions their Nile Project residencies might take. The consortium’s other schools include Western Carolina University, which will host the Nile Project March 13 and 14; North Carolina State University (March 15-21); UNC Wilmington (March 25-29); Wingate University (March 30-31); and East Carolina University (April 5-8).
“We’re all doing similar things in slightly different ways,” Ringler said.
Several entities have designed and administered the residency activities at Appalachian. They include the Office of Arts and Cultural Programs, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development, the Office of Sustainability and the Hayes School of Music. They also include the Department of Biology, the Department of Theatre and Dance, Outdoor Programs, the Office of International Education, and the Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), as well as the departments of Art, Appalachian Studies and Anthropology. Representatives of Boone’s Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, the New River Conservancy and the Blue Ridge Conservancy also provided support and assistance for the project.
All of the activities in the Nile Project’s residency at Appalachian are free and open to the public. Here are some highlights:
- On April 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., there will be a workshop and fellowship at Boone Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. The workshop, titled “Musical Collaboration and Water Cooperation,” will combine a lecture with music provided by Nile Project performers.
- On April 2, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., there will be a cleanup of the New River in Brookshire Park. Nile Project musicians will perform for and converse with the cleanup’s participants.
- Also on April 2, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in the Turchin Center’s lecture hall, Mina Girgis, the Nile Project’s producer and CEO, will lead “River Stories,” a discussion in which he will use stories about the Nile to engage panelists familiar with local watersheds in a conversation exploring the diverse ways our rivers create meaning in our lives. Joining Girgis for the panel are faculty members Laura England, lecturer in Appalachian’s Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development; Thomas S. Hansell, assistant professor in Appalachian’s Center for Appalachian Studies; and Cody Miller, adjunct instructor in Appalachian’s Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development. Following the panel discussion, guests are invited to a reception in the Turchin Center’s Mayer Gallery, featuring music by Nile Project musicians and a viewing of the exhibition “Collective Vigilance.”
- On April 4, the Nile Project will present a show and a workshop for area schoolchildren.
There will be two additional workshop/panel discussions for students on April 3. One, titled “Musical Collaboration and Water Cooperation,” will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in Room 155 (Tater Hill) of Plemmons Student Union (PSU). In it, Nile Project artists will relate their collective creative process to diplomats and water professionals who are seeking win-win solutions to hydro-political conflicts.
Another workshop/panel discussion on April 3, “Music, Citizen Engagement and Water Resource Management,” will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Room 155 (Tater Hill.) Panelists will include Mina Girgis, joined by faculty members Dr. Richard Rheingans, who chairs Appalachian’s Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development; Dr. Dana Powell, assistant professor in Appalachian’s Department of Anthropology; and Dr. Shea Tuberty, professor of biology. The workshop will explore ways in which music has become a positive force for action both between and within nations where water has become an impediment to peace and socio-economic development.
“Our students are going to be change-makers,” Ringler said. “They are hungry for new ways to tackle the world’s problems. Inspired by the arts, the Nile Project responds to that need.”
Tickets for the Nile Project performance are $25 for adults, $20 for current or retired faculty and staff and $10 for students; for tickets and more information, call the Schaefer Center Box Office at 800-841-ARTS (2787) or 828-262-4046, or visit http://theschaefercenter.org/events/id/423.
About the Nile Project Performance and Residency at Appalachian State University
The Nile Project performance and residency have been funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the university’s Quality Enhancement program.
About “The Schaefer Center Presents”
“The Schaefer Center Presents” is a series offering students, faculty, staff and the community a diverse array of music, dance, theatre and film, designed to enrich the cultural landscape of the campus and surrounding area. By creating memorable performance experiences and related educational and outreach activities, the series promotes the power and excitement of the live performance experience; provides a “window on the world” through the artistry of nationally and internationally renowned artists; and showcases some of the finest artists of our nation and our region. Musical events range from symphony orchestra and chamber music performances to jazz, folk, traditional, international and popular artists. Theatre productions run the gamut from serious drama to musical comedy. Dance performances offer an equally wide array of styles, from ballet to modern dance to international companies representing cultural traditions from around the world. For more information, visit http://theschaefercenter.org.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.