Texas Tech University

4th International Arts and Culture Symposium

The Museum recently co-hosted our 4th International Arts and Culture Symposium. Our partners were once again Sowoon Arts and Heritage, a locally based organization here in Lubbock supporting international dialogue and understanding under the presidency of Mrs Kyungah Nam.

It was the first of the symposia that I have attended. However I have been to lots of events like this over the years, in various countries, and I never know in advance whether I will find them truly engaging or just a duty to perform. This event was all engagement and very little duty. It was also a great example of engaging campus and community, a core role for the Museum of Texas Tech University.

The afternoon involved talks on Asia and Asian connections, including the significance of jade in the East and West (Dr Carolyn Tate, Professor of History of Pre-Columbian Art, Texas Tech) and the place of Vietnam in American identity through fiction and film (Dr Robert Peaslee, Chair of the Department of Journalism and Electronic Media at Texas Tech).

During Carolyn's recount of Mesoamerican use of jade I was reminded of the important place of jade in another culture, that of the Maori people of New Zealand. I worked in New Zealand for three years and had close involvement with Maori culture. Their greenstone, or pounamu, is the most highly treasured of the precious materials used in ornamentation, ceremonial art and practical weapons. Maori were formidable fighters in close combat. In dense forest and mountainous terrain, their short heavy clubs called patus were used with lethal effect against British soldiers with horses and guns. The most valued clubs were made of greenstone. Maori sportsman carry their warrior heritage onto the Rugby field today as Australia rediscovers to its continual angst year after year when it plays the New Zealand All Blacks.

The Museum of Texas Tech University has some extraordinary examples of Asian jade artworks on display in our Diamond M Gallery.

Robert's exploration of Vietnam, war, film and the American sense of identity took me back to Vietnam, which I have had the good fortune to see as a tourist not as a combatant. Australia fought with the USA in 'the American War' as it is known in Vietnam, and the War has a similar, still uncomfortable place in Australia's sense of identity and history. When travelling in that lovely and welcoming country, I remember seeing many older American men sitting in cafes and bars, most of them Veterans either revisiting or in fact living in Viet Nam now. One of my lingering memories is of the Military History Museum in Hanoi. Among the artifacts and photographs, many typically graphic as war photos are, was an image of a captured American soldier with hands behind his head followed by a Vietnamese woman, a member of the Viet Cong, who seems tiny in comparison, She holds an AK-47 into his back. That image presents as a metaphor for how the global balance of power was shifting at that time, and how the very nature of war was changing.

A panel session moderated by Dr Aliza Wong (Texas Tech Associate Dean of the Honors College and Associate Professor of History) discussed the rhythm of life as expressed through percussion and drumming, in Eastern and Western contexts. This was followed by an eclectic mix of percussion performances. Dr Eun Ha Park of Korea presented traditional dances with drum (notably the janggu, a double ended Korean drum) and small gong (ggwaenggwari). Her movements were entrancing, ranging from the most delicate and poised, through to explosive leaps and pounding of the drum or gong. It was a mesmerizing performance.

Professor Alan Shinn (Professor of Percussion and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Texas Tech) discussed the evolution of drumming in Western popular music. I was elated to hear him defend the legacy of Ringo Starr as a pioneer in flat (as opposed to traditional angled) drumming. I have wanted to have Ringo confirmed as a good drummer for most of my life. Alan, Dr Ben Haughland (Assistant Professor of Jazz at Texas Tech) and Joy Harris, respected local musician and student in percussion at Tech, then formed a jazz trio to demonstrate variations in jazz beat and to get the audience's toes tapping.

Alan and Dr Park brought the East meets West fusion to the day's finale. I find that attempts to integrate traditionally unassociated instruments and musical genres can have mixed success. I recall many years ago attending an event in Australia where the didgeridoo, the haunting Aboriginal wind instrument, was paired with the bagpipes. There be dragons in some fusions ... and I would not suggest anyone go into that dangerous realm of mismatched wind instruments again. But with the percussion blend, Eun Ha performing with Korean gong and Alan on a Western drum set, it really worked. The standing ovation from the audience confirmed it.

I think that we humans respond to percussion because it is imprinted in our DNA. When the first humans gathered together, whether you believe that was 6,000 or 200,000 years ago, they would have begun their exploration of music through vocals and beat. In the smoky caves and dark forests of Africa where modern humans began, the chanting and singing around the fires would have been accompanied by the hypnotic beat of sticks, stones and bones.

The late Pablo Casals, the famous Spanish cellist, who wrote music for the United Nations Anthem for World Peace, said, "The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?" Events like the International Arts and Culture Symposium demonstrate how cultural awareness and appreciation spans borders. They remind us of our greater humanity as global citizens. They also remind us of the role of museums in engaging communities with the issues that matter, and in the case of the university museum, in linking between the rich creative resources of the university and the many communities that the university serves.

Gary Morgan Executive Director April 2016