Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dr. Wendy Hymes: African Musical Arts, Founded by Dr. Fred Onovwerosuoke, Receives $50,000 Innovation Grant from Regional Arts Commission

African Musical Arts Founder, Fred Onovwerosuoke

Songs of Africa Ensemble after an educational concert at the Sheldon Concert Hall

Songs of Africa Ensemble
Sonic Safari Educational Concert for Schools

Dr. Wendy Hymes:

ST. LOUIS – Last November, five innovative projects were announced as the winners of the Regional Arts Commission’s ­Innovation Fund. Out of fifty-two letters of intent, one of the selected projects is a two-year pilot project called the African Performing Arts Exchange, (or “the Exchange”) which will produce concert performances and music engraving of works by African-descent composers and build a web-based platform to share these musical resources in a wider market. The Exchange will provide a comprehensive digital database for sheet music, audios, videos, and other materials, projected to become an innovative gateway to information accessible to performers, arts presenters, educators, students, researchers and the general public - a one of a kind web-based resource.

“These innovation grants provide the support necessary for arts organizations to implement new ideas that they haven’t been able to try and that’s exciting,” said Jill McGuire, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission. “These grants will both impact the St. Louis cultural landscape as well as advance the organizations’ capacity to grow and engage the community.”

The African Performing Arts Exchange is a realization of the dreams of Dr. Fred Onovwerosuoke[1], the founder of African Musical Arts Inc. “FredO” as friends and colleagues call him, has collected a large music archive over his decades of field research in over thirty African countries, a unique resource which will be digitized and made available through the Exchange project. “The African Performing Arts Exchange project is a unique product that responds to current unmet needs of the music marketplace - the need to have easy access to the unique music resources that we provide,” says FredO. “Today, as new immigrant populations enrich America’s musical culture, musicians and teachers are looking to expand their repertoire and horizons with new styles, and they want access to resources quickly and easily, preferably in the palm of their hand through their mobile phones.”  

In the last decade, this St. Louis-based non-profit organization has become a dominant resource for publishers such as Oxford University Press, who drew heavily on the music archives held by African Musical Arts’ founder, FredO, to publish “Songs of Africa: 22 Pieces for Mixed Voices”[2] in 2008 and “Songs of Africa for Upper Voices Set 1 and Set 2” in 2012. The first “Songs of Africa” book was made available with an accompanying CD of sample choirs’ performances to demonstrate performance practice of specific songs from the collection, and has since become one of Oxford’s best sellers. “In addition to partnering with leading publishing firms, our organization, African Musical Arts should go the extra mile to share our unique resources,” adds FredO. Choirs, chamber music groups, orchestras, as well as researchers from a wide-ranging field of disciplines will have a readily accessible resource literally at their fingertips.

“We see this project as having the potential to blossom into a global resource, similar to how Wikipedia encourages independent contributors on various topics, only that our database will focus on all kinds of music by African descent composers,” says FredO. The Exchange will enhance the way the African Musical Arts organization does business, allowing them to use tools of modern technology to expand the scope of their operations and positioning it to serve a wider audience. The location of the African Performing Arts Exchange in St. Louis will also cement St. Louis’ legacy as a provider of unique music resources to assist teachers and groups looking to enrich their repertoire.

The two-year, $350,000 project will begin this January. The pilot website of the Exchange should be accessible by late fall of this year, with the launch of the full online database in spring 2016. The $50,000 grant from the Regional Arts Commission will help kick start the construction. Several events to raise additional needed funds for the project are planned, beginning with the May 9, 2015 concert, The Epic Piano Duel, featuring local St. Louis pianist Peter Henderson and Romanian-Nigerian virtuoso pianist Rebeca Omordia visiting from London, UK. Other fundraiser concerts by IMI Chamber Players, Songs of Africa Ensemble, New Horizons Studio Orchestra and others are planned through 2016.

About African Musical Arts Inc.
African Musical Arts is an award-winning arts organization founded in 1993 with the mission to enrich America’s overall cultural heritage by highlighting African-descent composers. Their annual programs include a concert series and community outreach programs which offer unique cultural enrichment and music education opportunities to residents of our metropolitan St. Louis community and beyond. Follow us on FACEBOOK at African Musical Arts Inc. or on TWITTER at AMAinc1

About the Regional Arts Commission
The Regional Arts Commission (RAC) is at the forefront of efforts to transform St. Louis into a more vibrant, creative and economically thriving community by elevating the vitality, value and visibility of the arts. As the largest annual funder of the arts in the region, since its inception in 1985, RAC has awarded more than 6,300 grants totaling over $84 million to support nonprofit arts, individual artists, cultural organizations, consortiums and programs. Directed by a board of fifteen commissioners appointed by the chief executives of St. Louis City and County, RAC is a pivotal force in the continuing development and marketing of the arts in the region.

Dr. Wendy Hymes

Director of Development
African Musical Arts Inc.

Comments by email:

1) Good News !!!!!!!!! [John Malveaux]

2) Hi Bill, This is great news indeed and something that just would not happen in the UK just now. Congratulations Fred, I hoped that this would happen!

At present, our weak UK austerity-led government seems hell bent on strangling the arts and grants are being savagely cut. Even the English National Opera – who have had a very bumpy ride for the last few years where they have had to cut staffing, including the orchestra are seriously in danger of becoming dysfunctional. Arts subsidies are not ‘profitable’ in the way that accountants work. However, this strangulation of the arts is having a serious knock on effect in the prosperity of all aspects of performing arts in the UK. This seems to be particularly affecting musical events outside of London. We have a crumbling theatre of great historical importance in Plymouth, music and arts festivals that are closing, good but only partially professional orchestras and choirs struggling for their very existence. Small wonder that they are not encourage to depart from popular mainstream composers who are household names. It is bleak! Somehow, visual arts seems to have not suffered the same way in the UK. At the same time, the taxpayer is still funding huge bankers bonuses to those at the Royal Bank of Scotland. They continue to ‘lose’  money like ‘no tomorrow’ – just one example of government incompetence....

There will be a general election in the UK in May but don’t hold your breath. Another ‘hung’ government will mean that nothing happens! Absurdly false views by right-wing and bigoted politicians on matters like immigration, race relations and religious beliefs seem to a worrying trend that is not being helped by the mostly right-wing press..  Kind regards, Mike [Michael S. Wright]

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