Guest vocalist teaches diverse song and dance

Emily Babcock

West African rhythms and South African songs emanated through the walls of the Great Hall on Thursday in Coffman Union.
More than 100 students, children, staff and faculty members gathered to participate in a workshop by Ysaye Barnwell, a member of the African-American a cappella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The workshop, titled “Building a Vocal Community,” was part of a week-long series of events organized by the Office of the Associate Vice President for Minority Affairs and Diversity.
The office is sponsoring exhibits, readings and performances throughout the week with the theme of building and celebrating community at the University through the arts.
During the workshop, Barnwell taught audience members several different rhythms to songs, and eventually the entire group joined in dancing and creating one song. Each singer had to listen to the entire room in order to hear the new melody created.
Participant Angela Scharfenberger, a College of Liberal Arts senior, said there is an emphasis on individualism in education, and that the workshop was a way to take the focus off the individual.
“We all have our own voice, but we all affect each other,” Scharfenberger said. “I think it is important to have the symbolic scenario, like music.”
Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for the minority affairs and diversity office, said her department is made up of many diverse groups on campus.
“But there is a certain harmony,” Barcelo said. “We all have individual identities, but together it weaves a tapestry.”
The workshop was proof that diverse people can easily join together, as long as an effort is made, Barcelo said.
Jamie Nolan, Barcelo’s assistant, said the workshop’s ability to combine the unique differences and experiences into a visible community on campus was possible through the arts.
“Arts can provide windows and experiences of understanding,” Nolan said.
Barcelo’s department also hosted a reception in honor of Minneapolis artist Helene Oppenheimer and photographer Sandra Colson, following the music workshop. Oppenheimer’s sculptures of African-American deaf women are some of the first in the country to be put together in a collection.
Oppenheimer said because she is Jewish and white, there are already walls constructed when she meets African-American women. But she added that by seeing her art, bridges are built between the communities, and people know she understands.
“Art breaks down barriers, builds community and understanding,” Oppenheimer said. “I hope it inspires people to push down the walls in our minds that keep us apart.”