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American Music Month at Illinois to show how artists bridge borders

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

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Columbia Graphophone, Type Q, 1899, with two-minute cylinder of Patrick Gilmore Band performing "American Students' Waltz."

Released 10/17/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “Music Without Borders” is the theme of the 2007 American Music Month at the University of Illinois.

The fourth annual tribute to American music, held every November on the U. of I. campus, offers a variety of events, from exhibits and concerts to lecture-performances and competitions. This year’s events will attempt to demonstrate “how artists and inventors creatively bridged across musical, technical and cultural borders to refine their crafts,” said Scott Schwartz, founder of the event and the archivist of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music (SACAM) at Illinois.

Among the highlights this year are an old-fashioned fiddle fest featuring Nashville’s Andrea Zonn, exhibits of whacky wind instruments that never made it, and an evening of exploration into the far-out world of music composition in computer games. A schedule of events, most of them free and open to the public, can be found online.


Central to this year’s celebration are two guest performance concerts and two performance-lectures, Schwartz said.

Among the seven concerts:

Nov. 1, “The Jewish Connection” featuring The Prairie Ensemble, Sid Robinovitch and Little Oy on the Prairie, 7:30 p.m. at Faith United Methodist Church, 1719 S. Prospect Ave., Champaign. A pre-concert talk by Kevin Kelly begins at 7 p.m.

Now in its 12th season, the ensemble will perform Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” written originally for 13 instruments; Leonard Bernstein’s “Three Dance Episodes” from “On the Town”; George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for Strings”; and Sid Robinovitch’s “Suite for Klezmer Band and Orchestra.”

The “anchor” of this unique program, Schwartz said, is Robinovitch, a relatively unknown Canadian and U. of I. alumnus. “If you’ve never experienced klezmer music before, imagine a sort of Yiddish jazz and you’ll have the general idea.”

For more information about tickets, call 217-355-9077 or visit

Nov. 10, “Breaking Barriers: Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington,” featuring the Champaign-Urbana Symphony and the U. of I. Jazz Ensemble, 7:30 p.m. at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana; a pre-concert lecture begins at 6 p.m.

One of America’s most influential composers, Ellington “pushed far beyond the boundaries of jazz and dance music,” Schwartz said. The symphony will explore Ellington’s genius through orchestral arrangements of his “Suite From the River,” by Ron Collier; “New World A-Comin,’ ” by Maurice Peress; and “The Three Black Kings,” by Luther Henderson.

In addition, the U. of I. Jazz Ensemble will join the symphony to explore portions of Ellington’s and Billy Strayhorn’s groundbreaking arrangement of the “Nutcracker Suite.”

The lecture by David Berger, a guest jazz scholar and leading authority on the music of Ellington and the Swing Era, will “offer insights into Ellington’s creativity as a composer, arranger and world renowned band leader,” Schwartz said.

Tickets available at KCPA, 217-333-6280 or

Andrea Zonn
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Fiddler Andrea Zonn, a Champaign native, will be featured on “Granny’s Porch: Music Without Borders,” at the Virginia Theater on Nov. 16.

Nov. 16, “Granny’s Porch: Music Without Borders,” featuring Andrea Zonn, one of Nashville’s leading fiddlers and a native of Champaign, who will sing and perform on fiddle, and join her brother, Brian Zonn, on bass, at 7:30 p.m. at the Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park St., Champaign, during the annual “Granny’s Porch,” a step back to the era of the Grand Ole Opry and the “swinging melodies and foot-tapping rhythms of old-time music, bluegrass and all things played with fiddle and bow,” Schwartz said.

“This is our little piece of historical Nashville sound right here,” he said.

Gary O’Brien of WDWS-AM (1400) will be returning for a third year as the evening’s announcer and will be joined by Marlys Scarbrough of the U. of I. music library to re-create several George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show skits.

Other porch entertainers include Prairie Dogs; Oberon, the Possum King; the Bow-dacious String Band; and other local artists, Schwartz said.

In addition, Zonn and Dale Cockrell, best known for his unprecedented work uncovering the music embedded in the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, will introduce the audience to the popular Stephen Foster song, “Oh Susanna,” which depicts life during the 19th-century California gold rush days. Cockrell is a professor of musicology at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University.

Tickets for the “Granny’s Porch” concert are required; more information is available by calling the Virginia Theatre at 217-356-9063.

A special fundraising event for this year’s Granny’s Porch concert, “Puppets on Parade,” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Urbana’s Lincoln Square Village. Sponsored by The Community Center for the Arts in cooperation with SACAM, the music, dinner and show will feature the Schwartz Family Headin’ Home Band; Oberon, the Possum King Band; and Lorene Anderson’s new puppet play, “The Most Powerful Witch in the Midwest.” For more information call 217-384-2946.

Among the five performance-lectures:

Nov. 3, “Battle of the Garage Bands: Tune In, Game On, Rock Out!” 7 to 10 p.m. U. of I. Undergraduate Library, 1402 W. Gregory St., Urbana; no admission charge. Guy Garnett, a professor of music at Illinois who is interested in interactive computer performance, and others from the U. of I. and the computer game industry, will discuss how new computer and video game technology is carrying on the legacy of 1960s, ’70s and ’80s American do-it-yourself rock bands such as The Kingsmen and The Devil Dogs.

“A panel discussion will provide some insight into the DIY spirit of the American garage movement and its relation to modern interactive models of composition and games such as ‘Guitar Hero’ and the locally developed ‘MusiVerse’ program,” Schwartz said.

Panelists also will discuss the themes of new computer music games and the creative process involved in using aspects of interactive gaming technology in music composition. No gaming night would be complete, Schwartz said, without a friendly rumble between new-age garage bands in the form of a “Guitar Hero III” competition with prizes. “This won’t be your mother’s ‘American Idol,’ ” Schwartz said.

For more information contact David Ward at 217-244-2856 or

 Nov. 10, “Myths and Legends of the 1920s Harlem Jazz Scene,” 4 to 6 p.m., Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 S. Lincoln Ave., Urbana, in partnership with the U. of I. Alumni Association. 4 p.m., hors d’oeurvres reception; 5 p.m., UIAA-sponsored lecture at the Campbell Center; 6 p.m., pre-concert lecture; 7:30 p.m., C-U Symphony Ellington concert at KCPA; member and non-member fees. Jazz scholar and musician Berger will take the audience on a musical and historical journey documenting the birth of early jazz in America.

All of the American Music Month events are co-sponsored by the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, which is part of the U. of I. Library and the University Archives, and other partners from the university and community, including the university’s Alumni Association, C-U Symphony, The Prairie Ensemble, Champaign Park District and the Community Center for the Arts.

SACAM acquires and preserves significant archival records and historical artifacts in multiple media formats that document America’s local and national music history and its diverse cultures.

The center’s collections, including the world’s single-largest archives of original music compositions and arrangements by John Philip Sousa, are used for scholarly research, exhibitions, journalism, documentary productions, school programs, music performances and other research and educational activities. It actively pursues alliances inside and outside the university community.