Mark your calendars and get ready for an uplifting experience with the Rogue World Ensemble in concert Friday, February 8th at 7 pm at Crater Performing Arts Center in Central Point, and Sunday, February 10th at 4 pm at North Mountain Avenue Theater at Ashland High School. The program includes 20 different numbers, all with roots in Celtic and British traditions. In todays interview, I speak with Rogue World Music’s executive and artistic director, Val Rogers.
Hi Val! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. To begin with, can you clarify the distinction between Rogue World Music and the Rogue World Ensemble?
Sure, that’s easy! The Rogue World Ensemble is a world-music community choir, and it is one of the programs operated by Rogue World Music. So the umbrella organization is Rogue World Music, a 501c3 non-profit, and the Ensemble is one of the programs through which the organization advances its mission of “building community and cultural-awareness through world music”.
So does that mean you are both executive director of Rogue World Music and artistic director of the Rogue World Ensemble?
Exactly right Shields.
How long have you been in this dual role?
I’ve been executive director of Rogue World Music for two years and recently took on artistic director duties of the Ensemble this past summer.
Our other programs include:
“Choristers”, a world-music singing program, both in-class and after-school, at elementary schools in Talent and Phoenix.
Community participation events such as pub-sings, folk-dances, and music parties combining performance and participation, which is a common structure in many cultures.
The Ashland World Music Festival, a FREE community cultural celebration in Lithia Park the third Saturday in May featuring global music traditions from within and beyond the Rogue Valley.
Wow! That sounds great Val. Tell me more about the Rogue World Ensemble and your upcoming concert. Please tell us about the inspirations for your upcoming show.
Over the years, the Ensemble has learned and performed songs from many different cultures, including a few with Celtic/British roots. We were inspired to plan an entire program focused on this musical tradition partly because of its diversity and beauty, partly by our access to traditional musical experts and culture-bearers who could teach us, and partly by the fact that so many Americans have some Celtic/British heritage in their ancestry, including many Ensemble members.
Is that part of your personal heritage too Val?
Yes it is. It’s not something I’d given much thought to previously, but learning these songs, some in their original language, plus their meaning and context, has certainly giving me a much deeper sense of connection with that part of my ancestry.
Tell me more about how some of the songs have touched you personally.
I always learn a lot of cultural history through songs. For me, songs are a condensed multi-layered historical record, one that has been distilled through the generations and the passage of time into some kind of essence that can be a very potent messenger. Through the imagery of the songs, I’ve gained insights into my ancestor’s ways of life and some of their challenges and joys. And by singing the songs, I almost feel like I’m stepping into their experience a little bit.
Part of the power of songs is in merging words with melody and rhythm of course. But when sung in their original language, there’s another evocative dimension. It’s hard to describe, but it’s carried by the expressive forms and sounds of a particular language. As I’ve been singing these songs, I feel like some of them have touched me on a deep level through the way the language feels in my mouth and resonates in my body. It’s not an intellectual thing, it’s physical, and it’s a pretty amazing feeling.
I’d say some of the best gifts relate to the quality of expansion, or expansiveness, both as musical artists, and as human beings. It’s truly gratifying to experience the growth and expansion in our musicality that comes from developing fluency with different rhythms, mastering new melodic intricacies, or expressing meaning in other languages. So artistic development is certainly one big benefit of this kind of musical and cultural journey.
On another level, I believe such a journey can expand our personal identities as well. When we share a culture’s stories through songs, and move our bodies to those rhythms, and shape those languages with our own vocal cords, however imperfectly, we are stretching ourselves to include and integrate those powerful cultural components into our own being and experience. And through that process, we can build a bit of common ground with all kinds of people across all kinds of differences.
Are you performing primarily traditional or contemporary songs?
The Ensemble prefers songs that are connected to cultural roots. Often these have proven their durability and value through a long transmission process. We sometimes do contemporary arrangements of traditional songs and we do occasionally perform contemporary songs that grow from living traditions.
I understand you like to incorporate dance into Ensemble performances. Please say more.
Movement brings so much energy to the music! In many cultures, music and dance are almost inseparable. One of the traditions of Celtic music was developed during an oppressive time when musical instruments were banned. It’s a singing style and songs that are specifically for dancing. There’ll be some examples of this in the concert.
Also, we are incredibly fortunate to have Brooke Friendly as a member of the Ensemble. Brooke is a well-known expert teacher, caller, and choreographer of Celtic and British dances. So several numbers include dance with both members of the Ensemble and Brooke’s group, Ashland Country Dancers. There’s a longsword dance and a border Morris dance with vigorous moves and really colorful costumes. It will make for a very fun evening!
Will there be some audience participation at this show?
Absolutely! We love it when audiences join in. That helps make the whole experience more like it probably would have been in its original cultural context. More of a mutual sharing that really uplifts everyone.
There seems to be a real openhearted quality to how you present the music in your performances. Why is that quality important?
It’s important because, honestly, the purpose of the performance is not the music per se. The purpose is connecting – connecting with each other and with the culture – through the music. If we did a perfect performance, aesthetically speaking, but it didn’t create real connection, it would not be a success. We pursue these cultural and musical paths of discovery with passion, as humble and grateful learners, and we strive to bring audiences with us on that journey. We know every culture has beautiful gifts to offer humanity, and if we can convey some of those, we have served our purpose.
Is that why the Ensemble memorizes everything?
Indeed it is. By memorizing, singers can completely internalize the song and infuse it with their own unique expression. With no mental processing occupied by reading a score, or even a wordsheet, one’s full capacities are available for connection.
You have been inviting people to write down one word to describe how they’re feeling after a performance. What types of reactions are you getting?
Great reactions like “happy”, “excited”, and “ecstatic”. So far, the most frequent word folks have shared is “inspired”. We think that shows people are having both a positive and an energizing experience. We hope the experience inspires people to connect with each other and with artistic traditions of different cultures.
Last, but not least, are there any closing thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you Shields for all you do to support our community through the LocalsGuide. We are also really grateful to our individual and business supporters who make the Ensemble, and all our programs, possible. Because of their generous contributions, Rogue World Music helped build community and cultural awareness with more than 3500 people in the Rogue Valley last year.
The Ensemble is always looking for tenors and basses! We’re auditioning tenors & basses now and will audition altos & sopranos in the summer. Choral or singing experience is helpful, but music reading is not necessary. The essential requirement is a passion for learning! Contact me to schedule a fun, private, audition.