Frederick Kwasi Dunyo

What they are saying...

Outside the Voice Box

Lorna MacDonald with master drummer Kwasi Dunyo, who teaches African Drumming at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

By Prof. Lorna MacDonald

I've looked at the Ocean all my life having been born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. But my vantage point has been changed; now I have the recollection of looking at the marvelous, ocean deep from the western shores of Ghana, Africa.

In July 2003 I participated in the Western African Cultural Exchange, led by drummer, percussionist and alumna Kathy Armstrong (MusBac Ed 1989, MusM Perf 1992). What was the Lois Marshall Chair in Voice Studies doing learning African singing, drumming and dancing? I was thinking "outside the box" -- literally outside the vioce box! As Head of Voice Studies I continue to look for ways to enhance and refine our cultural, musical and vocal program for our singers. Sometimes I fear that the "study" of voice tends to hinder the vocal imagination rather than ignite it.

With a variety or thoughts about the definition and recognition of true, innate vocal talent, and the desire for more spontaneity within our collective music-making, I headed to the remote, beautiful Ewe village of Dagbamete, in western Africa. Here I was to encounter the vulnerability of being a student again; trying my hand at music-making for the first time as a drummer, learning songs that had nothing to do with beautiful tone, but with the culture of the spirit, and dancing barefoot in the burnt red sand of Africa. Singing in an unknown ancient language and feeling rhythm, undiscovered within me learning both in a completely oral tradition -- was freeing and celebrating the human spirit through the patterns of chant and drums were as exhilarating as I could have imagined.

The experience of being a student never ends in academe; but the experience of learning now, as a full professor, the way I did did as a child, when I first explored my voice and capacity for expression through music was a glorious rediscovery.

My master drummer teacher, Kwasi Dunyo said "Our spirits tell our bodies what we need to do, and not the opposite", and in that spirit lies our true talent. In the same way that I see the Atlantic Ocean and the galaxies above it from the African perspective, so too, do I see and feel the spirit of music-making anew... more "outside the voice box", so to speak!

Reprinted from a University of Toronto Faculty of Music publication, 2004.

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