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CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to singer-songwriter Omnia Hegazy, who performs with her band this Friday, March 27, 2015 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.

You began writing lyrics for your first EP on a trip to Egypt in 2010.  What about the trip inspired you to start writing?

Omnia Hegazy

Omnia Hegazy

I tend to take a notebook with me and scribble wherever I go, and it was the summer before [Hosni] Mubarak was overthrown, so everyone was talking about politics all the time.  I was staying in a youth shelter at the time and talking with other Egyptians about what was going on and writing down my observations about how women are treated, about things I felt were unfair in the culture.  These are things that I grew up with in America, as well—people take their culture with them.  So I started writing things down and not necessarily as an outsider because these things do exist in America too.  These inequalities are not just among Egyptians but everybody.

What inspired your second EP, Judgment Day?

I wrote this song after watching a film called The Stoning of Soraya M, based [on] a true story about a woman in Iran who was stoned because her husband framed her for adultery. This actually happened in the 1980s.  I was so upset by the film that I wrote a song, not so much about the film, but about what is happening to people of my faith.  It was a critique about how I feel some people of my faith have taken religion and made it so evil and how it can really harm people.  The song became the title track of the EP.

Judgment Day is a provocative title.  What does the title mean to you?

I feel that as a Middle Eastern woman, there is a lot of judgment.  We face a lot more judgment than our male counterparts.  Our reputation is our biggest asset in a lot of cases. The title was about that feeling of constantly being judged.  I feel like every day is judgment day for an Arab woman, a Muslim woman.  Everyone else is judging what you should do, what you should say, what you should sing.  That’s what I tried to address with the title and specifically with that song.

You say you might have been a journalist, had your life gone a different direction.  Thinking about journalism and songwriting as two forms of storytelling, what do you think song achieves that journalism does not? 

For me, writing a song can appeal to people’s emotions in a way that hard news just can’t.  Often people just want to turn the news off because it’s so depressing, but with song one can elaborate behind whatever story you’re telling to make people really feel.  It’s not just the facts, not just what happened.  I think the reason song is so effective is that it helps creates empathy in a way that sometimes hard news just doesn’t.

What do you hope people will gain from listening to your music? 

I want to make people think.  I want people to have a good time, but there’s a lot of music out there that doesn’t necessarily really make people think.  To be fair, I think that all music has a place.  I don’t think you have to address an issue for the music to be important, like the stuff I’m writing now is more about personal things.  I think that’s just as important because I think songwriting attempts to reach an understanding about the human condition.  I want people to feel something when they listen to my music.  Whether I’m writing about a break up or political evil, I just want them to feel something.

Do you think your songs fall into either a personal or political category, or do you think both the personal and the political are manifest in each song you write?

To me the two are intertwined.  How I feel about any given issue is political, and it’s personal.  I’m observing, and I recognize that there’s bias in my music.  I wouldn’t see it as hard news, so much as an op-ed.  It’s personal and political.  One of my newer singles that just came out is very personal.  It’s about street harassment,  about being a woman and feeling unsafe.  That is actually something political—there’s a feminist message in the song, [and] it’s talking about the place of women in society—but it’s very personal.

Who are some of your greatest musical influences?

One of the biggest is a singer from Columbia named Juanes. He’s a pop/rock singer-songwriter and a mean guitar player.  He’s actually the best selling artist in Columbia, even before Shakira.  But if you listen to his older stuff, he was using really catchy melodies to write really meaningful things.  He has one song that is so catchy you want to bob your head to it, but then you really listen to it and realize he’s talking about landmines.  He made me realize that pop music is actually a really useful vehicle to spread a message, and it doesn’t have to be esoteric or metaphorical to be political.  Other than Juanes, I’m influenced by the 1960s—any of the singer-songwriters of the 1960s.  Also, India.Arie.  She writes some really catchy songs, but there’s a good message behind them.  She has soul.  I like artists with consciousness, not just political consciousness but any kind.

Omnia Hegazy
Friday, March 27, 2015 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$18 general public; $15 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students

At Wesleyan, Ms. Hegazy will be accompanied for the first time outside of New York City by drummer Max Maples, bassist Carl Limbacher, electric guitarist Coyote Anderson, and Natalia Perlaza on Arabic percussion and tabla.

CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 interviewed Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Art Studio Technician Kate TenEyck about a project the Center for the Arts is partnering on with John Lyman Elementary School in Middlefield, Connecticut.  

Last year the Center for the Arts teamed up with John Lyman Elementary School, located seven miles from Wesleyan University in Middlefield, Connecticut, to apply for an Arts in Education grant that partners public schools with arts organizations. Out of a total of over 80 applicants, the CFA and Lyman were one of only eight to receive a grant.

The idea for the partnership started when teachers at Lyman had the vision to transform the school’s aging, fading walls into blank canvases for students to fill. They envisioned a series of murals, which students would help design and paint.

When Lyman first approached the CFA about partnering on the grant, Director Pamela Tatge knew that Wesleyan Visiting Professor of Art Kate TenEyck should be involved because Ms. TenEyck, in addition to being a gifted artist, is a generous community citizen. But Ms. Tatge didn’t know that Ms. TenEyck had attended school in the same regional school district.

Excited about the prospect of collaborating with Lyman, Ms. TenEyck signed on as faculty advisor to the project. She then assembled a team of four students from the Wesleyan Art Department to assist her: Addie McDowell ’16, Zach Scheinfeld ’16, Virgil Taylor ’15, and Sonya Torres ’17.

“I couldn’t ask for a better team,” says Ms. TenEyck. “It’s truly the perfect team to be doing this project.”

Every Tuesday and Friday, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students go to Lyman to work with the eighteen students in Phil Moriarty’s fourth grade class. Together they are creating the first of the murals made possible by this grant.

“I think for the Wesleyan students it’s really nice to go into the community and understand a little more about the place where Wesleyan exists,” says Ms. TenEyck. “I think that’s a huge benefit.”

For Lyman, a Higher Order Thinking School with a strong emphasis on arts integration, it was important that the project be imbedded into the curriculum.

“The subject of the first mural is the school’s core ethical values: courage, kindness, respect, honesty, and responsibility,” says Ms. TenEyck. “Phil had his students do writings about these values, and they came up with all sorts of wonderful ideas that ranged from very straightforward—‘courage is getting up in front of people and performing’ or ‘responsibility is cleaning up after yourself’—to very abstract.”

JohnLymanMural3-9-15Ms. TenEyck gave a lesson on how visual representation can communicate meaning. As examples, she showed the students a painting by Pieter Bruegel, a print by Kathe Kollwitz, and a sculpture by Tom Otterness. The students then set about drawing their ideas on Lyman’s core values. Their images, like their writings, ranged from straightforward to abstract.

One fourth grader came up with the image of a killer whale to represent honesty. Another drew rays of sunshine illuminating a tree and field of grass.

“When you’re in fourth grade you’re not quite at the point where you’re trying to draw realistically, so you draw more symbolically,” says Ms. TenEyck. “And your motor skills aren’t quite there yet, so between those two things the images tend to be really fabulous and engaging.”

The Wesleyan students scanned all the images and, using graphic design technology, cut and pasted a landscape based on the drawings. This composite landscape was taken back to Lyman and projected onto a smart board in Mr. Moriarty’s class. Students could go up to the board and physically trace the figures, change their size, and move them around. What the students created became the final composition for the mural.

“The idea is that the kids really are doing it,” says Ms. TenEyck. “Not that they do something and then some professional comes in and does it all fancy.”

Next, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students brought in the white boards of the mural, which together measure six feet high by twelve feet wide. They projected the new composition onto the boards and let students trace the images. With the composition outlined, students began painting the mural just last week.

After this mural is complete, Ms. TenEyck and the Wesleyan students will team up with a different class of either third or fourth graders to make a second mural on the topic of math and computation.

Lyman’s ultimate goal is to have the majority of its hallways house student-painted murals. The idea is for the building itself to reflect the integration of the arts that is central to Lyman’s educational philosophy and school community. The hope is that Wesleyan students, under the direction of Ms. TenEyck or another faculty advisor, will return to Lyman each year to make new murals with new classes.

“There’s definitely a sense of pride over the mural,” says Ms. TenEyck. “My favorite part was when we brought in the digital version that combined their drawings, and we put it up on the screen. All of a sudden they were just so excited about it, saying: ‘That’s my killer whale!’ and ‘There’s my tree!’”

“Best Jazz Song” Independent Music Award winner Stanley Maxwell played original music with intricate group improvisations as part of the Music at the Russell House series on March 1, 2015, at the Russell House. The quartet features Andy Chatfield on drums, Mark Crino on bass, Eric DellaVecchia on alto saxophone, and Evan Green on piano. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

 

The Connecticut premiere of Tari Aceh, nine female traditional Acehnese dancers featuring songs and body percussion from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, took place on February 27, 2015, at Crowell Concert Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

Members of the all-female group Tari Aceh taught Saman, a popular dance form from Indonesia that combines text, poetry, and movement, at a workshop on February 26, 2015, at Fayerweather Beckham Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

 

 

Organized and moderated by University Professor of Music Sumarsam, the panel discussed performing art as a space for expressing Indonesia-Islam encounters, on February 25, 2015, at CFA Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

Members of Tari Aceh taught Saman, a popular dance form from Indonesia that combines text, poetry, and movement, at a workshop at the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center in Middletown, on February 25, 2015. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

Performed on February 23, 2015, in the Olin Library lobby, A Body in a Library is part of A Body in Places, dancer/choreographer Eiko Otake’s first solo project, incorporating both performative and non-performative elements, and including the photography exhibition A Body in Fukushima. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

 

 

John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce presented and performed the fifth in a series of CD-length recitals of his piano music, on February 22, 2015, at Crowell Concert Hall. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.

The Connecticut premiere of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental: 17 Border Crossings, a solo work written and directed by Thaddeus Phillips based on his actual travel experiences, was performed on February 21, 2015, at the CFA Theater. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the entire album on flickr.

 

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