Gregory Acker is a community artist from Louisville, Kentucky. Since his return from Peace Corps service in Africa (Morocco and Togo), he has provided community-building world music workshops and related arts activities for groups of all ages and abilities.
A musician, instrument builder, and arts educator, he works with the Kentucky Arts Council, VSA Kentucky (arts for students with disabilities), the Kentucky Center (Arts in Healing, Arts in Education), and with numerous churches, community groups and treatment centers. He coordinates the Pati Kele Drum Ensemble, devoted to the study, teaching, and performance of West African music and dance, in collaboration with Hamidou Koivogui (former National Ballet featured dancer, from Guinea, West Africa, now residing in Louisville). He also performs with Yapa—an Andean music-based project—and with Transito (Ladino music of the Jewish diaspora).
Mr. Acker holds a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology with extended study experience in India and Indonesia. He has taught college-level world music courses and has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, South Arts, Greater Louisville Fund for the Arts, and the City of Louisville. Selected by the MidAtlantic Arts Foundation as “one of America’s most skilled and experienced community artists,” he is also an APPEX fellow (Asia Pacific Performance Exchange, UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance), and has received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council.
Potential Residency Project
General information: Residencies may be adapted to suit all ages, and the artist will work with teacher applicants to craft a project that meets the needs of the students and the school community. All residency activities reinforce most curriculums with regard to general music and dance/personal well-being competencies, and provide an active window into culture-based studies (social studies, geography, foreign languages, visual art). Related residency activities (folktales/storytelling) support language arts objectives. Students learn through abundant hands-on activities, occasional short audio and video clips for context, and frequent opportunities to reflect and respond to their learning experiences with the artist (formative assessment).
Residencies often conclude with student performances for the school community and invited guests, but may include additional community outreach. Pre- and post-residency activities are provided in a residency handout. After-school professional development workshops on culture-based musics and accessible group music-making strategies are available for teachers and interested parents/families.
Residency needs are basic—a standard classroom with a circle of folding chairs, and tolerant neighbors. Larger spaces also welcome—gym/stage/multi-purpose room. Collaborations with special area arts/Arts and Humanities, and PE teachers welcome; we also frequently collaborate with special ed teachers, K-12.
KUVEBO! A West African Drum and Dance Celebration (with Gregory Acker and Guinean dancer and musician Hamidou Koivogui).
This residency invites students to take a journey to the village where Hamidou grew up—a setting where everyone’s contributions are vital to the community. With few resources, all must lend a hand! That spirit imbues the art forms of music and dance, too—with only ourselves as entertainment (no radio, no TV, no electricity), we must make the music and share the dance! Everyone’s voice is needed for us to sound our best, and everyone can learn to lock in the basic beats.
With instruction on basic playing techniques, students play individual djembe drums, accompanied by other percussion (bells, shakers). Students learn call-and-response songs in West African languages, along with the meaning behind the words: often stories that praise good behavior or that call the people to a celebration or gathering. Students learn group dance movements (adaptable to seated dance), and also have the opportunity to develop their own combinations with friends or as a solo; drummers also have the opportunity to solo.
Along the way, short video clips from West Africa can set the cultural scene, and conversations with the artists about their personal journeys and educational experiences help students understand something of the historical and contemporary aspects of West Africa. Along with introducing great rhythms and dance moves, this residency emphasizes community building, celebrating our unique contributions, and inclusion.
Students can participate in the three main aspects of the residency (singing, dancing and drumming) during a single session. With multiple sessions, students are prepared to present a show sharing what they have learned with friends, classmates and families.
INDONESIAN/ASIAN MUSIC-CULTURE: Gamelan and Shadow Theater
Wayang Kulit (shadow show) and Gamelan (tuned percussion ensemble) go together in Indonesia, telling stories of ancient myths on a giant lamplit screen, with drums and gongs and chimes accompanying the action from behind the screen. Inspired by this tradition, I have built a homemade set of gamelan instruments and shadow screens, and developed some low-cost puppet-making approaches, to facilitate group creation of a homemade shadow show with original music.
Students will engage with the arts and culture of Indonesia through audio and video excerpts and meeting traditional wayang kulit shadow puppets, as a springboard to creating their own epic big-screen shadow show performance. The multiple art forms employed in this residency encourage students to try numerous avenues of creative expression: composing and playing music, drawing and creating a puppet character/scenery/props, creating character voice and movement styles, collaborating on dialogue and choreographing puppet and puppeteer movement.
Student projects may focus on a curricular or topical theme chosen by the group or one suggested by the teacher. For example, an Owensboro class wrote music about a tornado they had survived. Others have included advice to youth on how to stay out of trouble, a vernacular version of Hamlet, a shadow Jack Tale, Kentucky flora and fauna and history, short stories from Asia, a project about dreams, and even a shadow-show about hairstyles. Projects can also be more open-ended, including free character development and later workshopping to figure out a story (the Unity in Diversity approach—Indonesia’s national motto).
Gamelan musical instruments do not require reading Western-style music (there are numbers on the keys), and may also be adapted in other ways for accessibility. Numerous roles in the project offer multiple avenues for student participation in an atmosphere of cooperation and cohesion—yes, “everyone will get a chance to do everything” is actually the case here.
This residency ties in well with science (sound and light/shadow), history/geography/culture (Asia), and language arts, and works best with elementary students. Professional development is available for faculty team building.
HOMEMADE MUSIC: The Science of Sound
What fills the air almost all of the time but we can rarely see? Sound, of course! This residency explores the science behind the sounds we hear all the time, invites students to create their own musical instruments out of readily available materials, and provides a world-music framework for understanding music across many cultures.
Using musical instruments from many cultures as springboards for learning, students will learn by doing: free improvisation and student-conducted orchestras encourage everyone to join in and put all the musical elements to use. Examining the design and materials of instruments helps in the teaching of music history, the families of instruments and acoustical physics. Simple xylophone building and other quick homemades (paint-stick bullroarers, straw-oboes) prepare students with the basics about vibration and instrument families. Then, they build their own instruments out of recycled materials and develop small-group compositions for recording/performance.
As humans, we have developed many diverse ways of organizing sound and making music, and this residency introduces some of those as a prelude to students developing their own compositions using their homemade instruments. Student-generated music can be used as accompaniment for storytelling, drama, dance, or with visual art, either live or in recorded form, and the processes of creating group music can be used in many settings to bring an artistic moment to the classroom, unify a group, or just have some fun filling the air with creativity!