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The Music to ‘Wabash Always Fights’

Steve Charles—Making a living as a professional musician requires a “Wabash Always Fights” attitude like few other vocations in America.

We may love music, but we prefer not to pay much for it. The Internet has broadened the range of music available, even increased the number of musicians who can reach an audience, but just try to make a living off of iTunes, CD baby, or Pandora if you’re not a mainstream artist.

Which makes the careers of the Wabash musicians I’ve been working with this past month—several who will return to campus Friday for Wally Tunes: A Symposium on Music and the Liberal Arts—even more remarkable.

All of them contributed tracks to a commemorative CD that Media Specialist Adam Bowen and the Wabash Office of Communications and Marketing produced for the Wabash Archives and to be given away to the first 180 attendees at the symposium. All of them embody that “Wabash Always Fights” spirit in their own way as they’ve built liberal arts lives around music. Working with them on this project was one of the great pleasures and honors of my time at Wabash. Just room here for five of the dozens of memorable moments:

1. We call the CD Scarlet Hues after a song written by Dick Durham ’64, and it’s the final song on the CD. I had emailed Dick to discern his interest in the project, and I found out in succeeding emails that 1. He had recorded a song called “Scarlet Hues”;
2. He had dedicated it to Wabash on his solo album, Solilokeys; 3. It was the first song he ever wrote; 4. He wrote it when he was a student at Wabash, only a few years after he began playing piano, which he used to sneak into the Chapel to play. In between emails with Dick, I learned that Sam Vaught ’16 was being interviewed for an article on the Web site and had told us about his own recent experiences playing piano and organ in the Chapel: “I like to go in there whenever it’s not being used – often in the dead of the night – and just play…create so much sound.  You can rattle the windows with that instrument.”

I emailed Sam’s comment to Dick, who responded: “Cool—the aura lives on!”

2. Allen Schulz ’87, founder of Random Access Music in New York City and an award-winning composer, wrote a piece for the symposium called 3 Phantasies. Thanks to pianist Diane Norton (Allen’s teacher at Wabash), cellist Kristen Strandberg, and Wabash Audio Technician Phillip Merriett ’08, we were able to include the beautiful second movement of 3 Phantasies as a sort of prelude (a world premiere!). But because we had limited space on the CD, we had to edit Throttle, the other piece Allen had contributed. Rather than getting angry, he gave us permission and thanked us for the work we’d done. The Gentleman’s Rule in music! Philip Seward ’82 was equally gracious when we had to change his selections, as was Professor Peter Hulen when we had to ask him to edit his.

3. No one embodies that “Wabash Always Fights” spirit quite like Dan Couch ’89. He worked 15 years as a performer-then-songwriter in Nashville, currently the most competitive music market in the world, before his songs written with Kip Moore— “Somethin’ ‘bout a Truck” and ‘Hey Pretty Girl”—hit #1 on the country charts. (Read about the “Moment of Inspiration” for one of those songs here.) With that success, Dan’s been crazy busy lately, but he still took time to record “songwriter night”-style versions of those songs—just Dan and his guitar—for the Scarlet Hues CD and worked up a bio and photos for us. When it came in just a day after I’d expected it, he thanked us for our patience! We felt lucky just to have it.

4. I was playing guitar in a jam session with a friend in the pouring rain at the Indiana Fiddler’s Gathering last summer when a guy and his wife in the circle sang a song. The guy played and sang like a pro—way above our pay grade. That’s when I found out we’d been playing with Gordon Bonham ’80, who I had known only from articles that declared him one of the best blues players in the country. Or, as WFYI’s Matthew Socey writes, “one of the best musicians in any genre in the state.” You could tell from his playing, but you would never have guessed that from his generosity and interest in everyone else’s music that night. (He was there, in part, doing research for his “banjo meets the blues” project.) At the top of his game and still learning!

5. I emailed Amos Garrett ’64—one of the most respected players in the world and a guitar hero of mine—not expecting a reply. His kind response was cool enough, his contribution of a track (okayed by his agent and sent from Stony Plain Records) way beyond that. I’ll be interviewing him in March for the magazine (along with several of the folks on the CD) and hope to confirm a story from Jim Durham ’64 that has Jim driving the poet James Dickey to the airport after a Wabash reading, Amos along for the ride, and Dickey pulling out his guitar and playing for them. Got to know if Amos, then 18 or 19, played along.

There’s a story behind every one of these “musical warriors” on that CD—each makes Wabash proud in his own way. Gordon, Allen, Philip—along with Eric Stark ’88, Andrew McKone ’07, and Rick Fobes ’72—will join Wabash faculty at the Wally Tunes symposium Friday. If you’re near campus, I hope you’ll join us in welcoming them home.

Kesling ’02 Cites Liberal Arts in Diverse Career Path

Scott Morrison ’14 – Ben Kesling ’02 ha spent his entire life “finding his major” with his liberal arts perspective on life. Monday evening, Kesling gave the fourth and final talk in a series called “The Liberal Arts at Work.”

Ben Kesling ’02 talks about his career journey.

I was privileged to have dinner with Kesling and a few of my fellow current students and then attend his talk titled “Don’t Bury the Lede, A Few Thoughts on the Liberal Arts.”

Kesling’s career has embodied the utility of a liberal arts education. A religion major and member of Sigma Chi Fraternity at Wabash, he went on to attain a graduate degree from the Harvard Divinity School.

About that time, the war in Iraq was beginning, and Kesling was faced with a decision. “I sat and watched the initial invasion of Iraq on a television in a common room in grad school housing,” Kesling said. “I was able to wrestle with these questions of war, politics, and humanity thanks in large part to the liberal arts mindset that I had been able to build. I was able to think not only to the arguments being made prima facie but to the motivations behind those arguments.”

Kesling made up his mind to serve his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. After deciding that a career in the Marine Corps was not for him, Kesling went to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern on the GI Bill. He left Medill before graduating in order to pursue his career opportunities and now works for the Wall Street Journal.

His message to students was focused on the importance that liberal arts has had on his life. To Kesling, the liberal arts is not simple dilettantism which entails mere dabbling in subjects in a superficial way.

“A liberal arts approach to life is having the ability and willingness to study a variety of subjects, the capacity to focus in on one when need be, and the humanity to make connections between everything,” Kesling said. “[It is] Like a good physician who knows all of the various organs and muscles in the body and can tell you a great deal about any single one of them but realizes also that the whole physical enterprise ceases to function without the sinews, tendons, and ligaments that connect those parts together.”

Kesling’s liberal arts background and his desire to learn and explore new subjects helped make him be successful as a graduate student, a member of the Marine Corps, and a journalist.

His message was comforting and inspiring as a 22-year-old senior who knows that life may hold a lot of twists and turns ahead. As Kesling never thought he would be a Marine or a journalist while he was at Wabash, I do not know what I may be pursing five to ten years from now.
I would like to thank Dr. Herzog and Wabash College for bringing alumni like Ben Kesling back to Wabash to share their advice and perspectives.

 

A Good Time for a Road Trip

Richard Paige — Teachers always say they’ll go to the ends of the earth for their students. Oscar Santos did just that for one of his.

Santos, a 10th-grade geometry teacher, volunteered to drive Jonathan Alcala the roughly 1,200 miles from Pharr, Texas, to the Wabash campus to make sure that Alcala could attend today’s Top 10 Visit Day.

Alcala wasn’t sure he’d be able to make the trip due to some issues with his visa, but those cleared up Friday afternoon, a little too late to purchase a plane ticket, so Santos stepped up.

“It was kind of a last minute thing,” said Santos. “He found out Friday afternoon that he could make it, so he needed someone to drive him. I said ‘sure, I’ll do it.’ I knew it was important to him.”

Oscar Santos covered 1,200 miles in 22 hours to deliver a student to Top 10 Visit Day.

Santos, a first-year teacher and former social worker, is the coach of the math club of which Alcala is a member, and he freely admits that he didn’t know Alcala all that well. That changed dramatically over the previous 22 hours.

“I got to know him really well on this trip,” Santos laughed. “He’s a great kid.”

They pulled out of the Rio Grande Valley at 9:30 p.m. CST and arrived in Crawfordsville just after 8 p.m. Sunday. Aside from the two speeding tickets he received in Texas – “I was worried about getting him here on time,” he said – there were a number of stops including a few cat naps along the way.

It was the first trip to Indiana for both driver and passenger.

All in all, it’s been a memorable experience.  “I never imagined I’d have that kind of road trip where you do the whole trip in one day,” Santos explained. I didn’t think I could do it, but it was a good experience.”

Like any high school senior making his college choice, Alcala had his own share of questions and reservations during the trip north. Santos did his best to allay those fears.

“We live in a very small town in the Rio Grande Valley,” he explained. “It’s a different culture. I warned him about some of the things he might see and emphasized not to get frightened by the snow or the cultural differences.

“I don’t know quite how he feels about campus and things because I haven’t talked to him yet,” Santos said after the alumni panels, “but I loved the presentations this morning.”

The Big World of James Makubuya

James Makubuya performing on the ndingidi at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Shay Atkinson ’05

Wabash folks on campus know James Makubuya as an associate professor of music and artistic director of WAMIDAN, the College’s world music ensemble.

But long before he arrived at Wabash he was an internationally known world music performer—”world” writ large—and that reputation has only increased during his tenure here.

A musicologist who makes frequent trips back to his native Uganda to do fieldwork, James has studied with master musicians from various East African musical traditions. Though the endongo (bowl lyre) is his primary musical instrument, he is also proficient on the adungu (harp), akogo (thumb piano), ndingidi (tube fiddle), madinda (log xylophone), and in various East African dance drum styles. He has performed nationally and internationally with the New York-based African Troubadours, the Kayaga of Africa and the Kiyira Ensemble, and he has arranged traditional music for the Kronos Quartet, with which he performed in concert on the endongo.

Before coming to the U.S. he was the artistic director of CACEMCHO, Uganda’s 150-voice national choir, which he led in several successful international tours, including a concert and mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Makubuya performed on the soundtrack to the movie Mississippi Masala and several television movies and documentaries, and he has released three CDs, including The Uganda Tropical Beat I, Taata Wange and Watik, Watik: Music from Uganda.

But his most recent collaboration may be the most interesting. In 2005 he recorded Wu Man and Friends with Wu Man, the premier virtuoso on the pipa, a Chinese lute-like instrument with a 2,000-year history. His playing, singing and compositions were highlights of the CD. Joining them were masters the Appalachian-style five-string banjo and the Ukrainian bandura, and the mix was so compelling and successful that the group continues to perform from time to time.

James tries to keep a low-profile on the Wabash campus about these international collaborations and accomplishments, but you’ll have a chance to enjoy his mastery of these instruments this Friday in Salter Hall during the 7:30 concert at Wally Tunes: A Symposium on Music and the Liberal Arts.  His extraordinary skills and the joy he experiences and expresses are not to be missed.

“The Most Lyrical Guitarist”

Amos Garrett ’64

Can you name the Wabash alumnus who is one of the world’s most influential electric guitarists and has recorded with more than 150 artists, including Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, and Jerry Garcia?

Who has won two Juno Awards, the Canadian version of the Grammys?

Whose one-take guitar break on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” (the solo Stevie Wonder calls  “the second best recorded solo of any instrument”) made that song a hit?

That’s Amos Garrett ’64.

We couldn’t convince him to attend the Wally Tunes Symposium February 21 (extensive damage to his home on Alberta’s High River during one of the worst floods in Canadian history is keeping him close to home), but his original song “Bert’s Boogie” is one of the tracks on the commemorative CD we’ll be giving away to those attending the symposium.

Page Stephens ’65, who helped found the Wabash Folksong Club—which brought to campus some of the leading folk and guitar acts of the 1960s, including the powerful Delta blues man Son House and folk music legend Doc Watson—calls Garrett his guitar hero.

In a story in the Summer 2002 issue of Wabash Magazine, Page recalls the first time he heard Garrett play: “Amos and I were both Kappa Sigs, and the first time I heard him play his guitar—an old Goya flat top which he probably has forgotten he ever owned—I learned that there was much more to playing the guitar than I ever realized.”

A writer for Scene Magazine wrote in 2002 that “the reason that Garrett’s name floats along the periphery of pop music instead of the front lines is because Garrett eschewed mainstream rock to make consistently interesting music.” That sounds like a Wabash man.

Guitar Player calls Garrett “one of the most lyrical and original guitarists playing today.”

You can hear Amos’s music all over the Web, but start with his site at Stony Plain Records. And here’s a youtube link to “Midnight at the Oasis” and that famous instrumental bridge. Amos’s solo starts at about 1:21 in.

Wally Tunes: Music and the Liberal Arts is February 21 in the Fine Arts Center.

Wabash Pulse: Winter Olympics

Richard Paige — Just because the Winter Olympics are a half a world away in Sochi doesn’t mean that the glow of the Olympic flame can’t be felt here on our campus.

Most of the North American viewing audience may have to brush up on the differences between skeleton and luge, pairs and dance, and the confluence that gives us the Nordic combined. Bonus points will also be awarded for knowing the difference between classic and free technique.

I took a very brief Wabash pulse on these Games to see what interests these Little Giants about the XXII Olympic Winter Games.

Location matters in the Olympics, as nothing casts a longer shadow as the vibe displayed by a host city. Looking back at the host cities in the last 20 years, the most mentioned hosts were Vancouver (2010) and Lillehammer (1994).

It’s interesting to see the weight that Lillehammer’s well-earned reputation for delivering a transcendent Games resonates with a group that, at best, were mere toddlers two decades ago.

The 2014 Olympic Winter Games opened Friday, Feb. 7, at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia.

When it comes to favorite sports, the answers ran the gamut, as skiing (“the body control they have is insane”), hockey (“I’m from Wisconsin where hockey is huge”), figure skating (“it’s very interesting because of the precision”, ski jumping (“they defy gravity while effortlessly flying through the air”), and superpipe (“all the biggest stars are there”) all received mentions.

Prompted for a favorite athlete or moment, the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” trumped individuals like Bode Miller, Peter Forsberg, and Apolo Anton Ohno, and my anticipated winner Shaun White.

While the Miracle on Ice still might be the greatest upset in sporting history, the geopolitical implications still bubble up. When explaining why it’s so memorable, Ben Cook ’14 said, “I love capitalism and freedom.”

Bonham ’80 and the Hoosier Blues

Gordon Bonham ’80

Steve Charles—In 1995 I’d been working at Wabash only for a few months when I was startled to see a name in the alumni directory: Amos Garrett ’64. Canada’s master of the Telecaster, whose groundbreaking solo on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” made that song a hit in 1974, was a Wabash man?

Later that year I interviewed Larry Bennett, the Grammy-nominated tenor the College hired to rebuild the music department. In 2000, James Makubuya arrived, making Wabash the only College in the country where you could learn to play East African instruments from a virtuoso who had performed in Carnegie Hall.

A year later we featured a story about Gordon Bonham ’80—a biology/philosophy major, student of Bill Placher ’70, and one of the top blues players in the country. And these days we’re writing about Nashville singer-songwriter Dan Couch ’89, whose songs co-written with Kip Moore were #1 Country Hits in 2012 and 2013.

You get the idea: Wabash may be a small College, but our musicians are Little Giants.

This year on February 21, the Wabash campus will host Wally Tunes: Music and the Liberal Arts, the 5th Annual Alumni/Faculty and Staff Symposium. As a gift for those attending and participating in the event, 13 Wabash musicians generously contributed tracks to Scarlet Hues, a commemorative CD (a limited run of 250) that Wabash Media Services Specialist Adam Bowen is producing.

With the event less than two weeks away, I’d like to tell you a little each day about the musicians on the CD, and Gordon Bonham is a great person to start with. Not only is his work included on Scarlet Hues, but he’ll be presenting and performing at the symposium.

Gordon brings together a mix of blues styles from the Mississippi Delta to the back alleys of Chicago, from big Texas shuffles to jumpin’ West Coast swing. He performed with the legendary Pinetop Perkins at the grand opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has opened for such greats as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and B.B. King. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians.

Lately he has been accompanying former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf in a series of poetry and blues performances. In 2011 he released his most recent CD, Soon in the Morning, (check out “Get Back, Jezebel”) featuring original tracks performed by some of the region’s leading blues musicians. His solo acoustic album, Get Back Home, includes a collection of original country blues and Delta blues played on National steel guitar.

The host of Blues Jam at the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, Bonham recently received a grant from the Indiana Arts Council to study and incorporate the five-string banjo into his blues arrangements. He’s traveled the country learning from other banjo players and developing his own style for the blues. He’ll be talking about that (and, we hope, playing some of those 5-string banjo blues—he’s come up with a version of Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” that brings out the essence of the song in a new/old way) during his presentation at the symposium. He will also be a featured artist during the performances beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Check out his web page and links to his CDs, where you can hear a sampling of his work

And here’s the story Howard Hewitt wrote about Gordon in Wabash Magazine: “Those Good Time, Hard Drivin’, Philosophical Blues.”

Tomorrow: Amos Garrett ’64