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Four Rehearsals and a Performance: An Oral History

Liam Oliver Lair, Ashley Mog, Authors

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"Dreaming Out Loud": The Origins of FRAP

Sherrie TuckerNicole Hodges PersleyMichelle Heffner-Hayes, and Kip Haaheim are the four faculty members that are responsible providing us with an opportunity to participate in what we now know as Four Rehearsals and a Performance. 

The interest in the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI) at the University of Kansas grew from Sherrie Tucker’s history of involvement with music, scholars, and artists. In graduate school, she began to present her work at the Guelph Jazz Festival and Colloquium, one of the few places at the time that welcomed work on women instrumentalists. This was unique because when Sherrie began this work, jazz historians were generally not interested in gender analysis. Through her involvement with the Guelph Jazz Festival, Sherrie met Ajay Heble, who is the current and founding artistic director of the festival. He is also an individual who sees activism, critical thinking, and scholarship as intertwined. Heble asked Sherrie to be a member of a project called “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice,” involving international scholars and interdisciplinary work. He applied for a SSHRC grant, a $2.5 million, 7 year grant, to “do a study of how improvisation… how the skills improvisers have, how they can be used in social practice and community.” He received it the second time around. This grant enabled the group to “study the possibilities for improvisation – to create new kinds of pedagogy, law, policy... new ways of thinking about embodiment and social justice.” Sherrie said yes to being involved in the project. Heble appointed Sherrie as the facilitator of the “gender and the body” subgroup. 

Since winning the grant, the group has put on conferences and published. They were even able to conduct a conference on jazz and sexuality in British Columbia, the first of its kind, and created a special issue of a journal based on that conference. They have offered postdocs and even produced a book through the project. 

Sherrie has long since thought of research as improvisation and improvisation as research, and she discusses how this grant forced researchers to improvise to fulfill the requirements of the grant. The “gender and body” group contained a very interdisciplinary group of people from artists to scholars. They were able to meet only three times funded through the grant, but found other ways to meet online in order to plan and conduct research. 

Sherrie became involved with Pauline Oliveros (one of her heroes) through the "gender and the body" subgroup because Oliveros was assigned to be a member of this team.  Oliveros is a composer, musician, philosopher, humanitarian, and creator of the AUMI.  Oliveros suggested the AUMI as a possible research topic for the group.

Thinking about the possible uses of AUMI tapped into Sherrie’s long-standing interest in notions of community.  She describes community as a fraught concept – “it’s so necessary for social justice yet it also so often enacts social injustice by deciding who’s in and who is out in ways that are exclusive.” AUMI is “a kind of technology that used the arts to facilitate a community formation” in ways that used difference in new, transformative and generative ways. 

Sherrie wanted to work with the AUMI, even when she was not able to travel to Poughkeepsie to participate in the AUMI work happening at the REHAB school. After her visits to the school, Sherrie worked to find a way to keep working with AUMI within the perimeters of the original grant. Oliveros challenged Sherrie and the other individuals involved in the grant to continue using AUMI in innovative ways, and to specifically interact and improvise with their local communities. Everyone was challenged to learn about disability studies and to learn about the communities of folks who have disabilities in their local context. 

Sherrie began making connections with individuals in the disability community in Lawrence. Ray Pence, one of Sherrie’s colleagues in American Studies (AMS), is heavily involved in incorporating disability studies into his classroom and is also involved on campus with disability activism. Through Ray, Sherrie was able to begin making connections on campus. Ray connected Sherrie and Dot Nary, an important collaborator and thinking. Dot was instrumental in thinking through how AUMI could be incorporated into classrooms on campus. Ray also introduced Ranita Wilkes at Independence Inc., who was fully on board with bringing AUMI into Independence, Inc. 

Sherrie began talking to other faculty members interested in improvisation at KU about the AUMI. Michelle Heffner-Hayes, of the Dance Department, had been previously working with Sherrie on team teaching a course. Sherrie and Michelle decided to design a course collaboratively called Improvisation, Bodies, and Difference. Rather than officially request a co-taught course, they simply aligned their teaching schedules and designed the course to accommodate the needs of their students. In this space, dancers could generate sound with their body using AUMI, rather than having the music either try to interpret what they are doing or dictate what they are doing. 

Sherrie also spoke with Kip from the Music Department and Nicole from the Theatre Department, two scholars whose work Sherrie finds very inspirational, to bring them into this project. These four faculty members really gravitated towards the possibilities of AUMI because of their skills and experience with improvisation. Ray Pence and another AMS scholar Pete Williams, were also heavily involved from the inception of this project. 

Because none of the scholars at the University of Kansas invented AUMI, the quest for funding for the collaborative KU project had to be based on the difference the instrument makes for individuals and communities. The faculty members watched for opportunities to “connect the AUMI to things… like Bold Aspirations.” Sherrie sees AUMI as complementary to Bold Aspirations. Initatives such as theme 3: “building communities, expanding opportunities,” theme 4 “harnessing information, multiplying knowledge,’ and using technology to bring different kinds of knowledge together… promoting well-being… Improvising across ability promotes well being.”

The Hall Center for the Humanities at KU had a Collaborative Seed Grant for faculty working across disciplines, so the group applied and the second time around were awarded the grant. Through this grant, they hired Pete Williams, AMS graduate student, to be the project manager. The grant also allowed them to purchase equipment, which provided the foundation for educating others about AUMI and how it works.

The group began using AUMI in classrooms through conducting demonstrations, but they began to realize that beyond these demonstrations, people were not continuing to use AUMI. That was not their hope for AUMI and did not get at the potential of AUMI for communities. Even the regular jam sessions they arranged were poorly attended because people were so busy. They knew they had to get beyond the demonstration model, which was the topic of conversation at their end-of-the-year wrap up meeting. Nicole pitched the idea of a performance in order to add interest outside of the original group. A performance would give people a reason to commit and show up.  

Sherrie, shortly before this meeting, presented at a conference called “Red Hot Research” in the Commons, and put out a call for a flash mob to occur during her presentation. She was very surprised how many people showed up to participate in the flash mob, and saw this as a sign of interest in the AUMI. Emily Ryan in the Commons was impressed with the flash mob and offered the idea of a AUMI concert at the Commons. After Nicole pitched the idea of a performance, Sherrie connected the pieces and mentioned that the Commons was willing to host the concert. 

Every one of the faculty members was incredibly busy, but they all decided that if it was a limited commitment they could do it. That is when they planned around the idea of three rehearsals and one performance, with the requirement of attendance at all three rehearsals in order to participate in the conference. As Nicole began creating the skeleton script for the performance, they realized that four rehearsals would be necessary to at least have a chance to do a “dress” rehearsal. Thus, Four Rehearsals and a Performance was born. 


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