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Preserving traditional African church music for future researchers

Combining his interests in computers and music, senior Solomon Fenton-Miller (Marcellus, Mich.) spent the summer working on a project to preserve recordings made by Professor Emerita of Music Mary Oyer of traditional African church music onto a computer database as part of the Maple Scholars program.

Over a 30-year period, Oyer traveled to 22 different countries in Africa. She tape-recorded traditional vocal and instrumental African church music – a process that caused her to change her theories about what kind of music can be played in church.

“My journeys greatly expanded and enriched my understanding of music,” Oyer said. She began to use African music in her teaching, impacting GC students over 15 years.

Fenton-Miller had help in setting up the process from Oyer as well as from his research adviser, Professor of Music Debra Brubaker. Fenton-Miller transferred each tape to computer, filtered out background noise, divided the program into tracks, burned the music to CD and wrote Oyer’s notes for each track onto a music database program that he created himself.

While there are larger African music collections at other universities in Indiana and across the country, Oyer’s collection offers a new opportunity for Goshen students and local researchers.

“The collection would be fine for a student beginning to get acquainted with African music,” said Oyer, “especially in the recorded instrumental lessons I took, in the changes that were taking place in mission music, examples of African Initiated Churches, and various styles of music which I happened to collect. I have African literature, visual arts and the instruments themselves to support such a study.”

Fenton-Miller has one-third of the 85 hours of audiotapes copied to CD and translated to a computer database. He hopes to complete the remaining audiotapes next year and to make the database available to researchers through the Music Center on campus.

– By Megan Blank ’07