Athens Hip Hop Harmonic: Building a Bridge Between UGA and Local Music



As every artist in the community taking part in the Athens Hip Hop Harmonic walked across the stage at the Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall and watched the soon-to-fill 1,100 seats, a universal “wow” was heard. Reunited with their UGA partners Hugh Hodgson School of Music and program directors, Connie Frigo and Montu Miller, for the flagpole cover shoot was the first time these local artists set foot in the concert hall.

The Athens Hip Hop Harmonic (AHHH) is a multi-year collaboration between the local hip-hop community and the UGA Hodgson School of Music that launched in August 2021 and is supported by the UGA Arts Lab under the Willson Center and Ideas for Creative Exploration. On Thursday, October 20, the African-American Choral Ensemble, Combo Jazz, Symphony Wind Orchestra and UGA Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will premiere music co-created by Cassie Chantel and Julien Berger; Ishues Cuthbertson and James Weidman; Sentencing Julie (Camilla Sims) and Tom Hiel; and Celest Ngeve and Ayako Pederson-Takeda.

While this month’s performance isn’t the first, it comes a year after AHHH was officially introduced to the public through a workshop at Creature Comforts in October 2021, featuring music created by Caulfield (Curtison Jones) with Emily Koh and Kxng Blanco (Jeffery Blakely) with Peter Lane. However, this month also marks three years since directors Frigo and Miller first met and sat down at Hendershot’s to discuss what AHHH could be.

Frigo and a colleague from music school, who has since taken another stance, first started with the question of what the orchestra doesn’t do that it should be, which they answered in s fitting naturally into the wider Athens music scene. After pitching the idea of ​​pairing local hip-hop artists with UGA songwriters at the Willson Center, Frigo reached out to Mariah Parker who connected with Miller and has since been on AHHH. It all started to fall into place pretty quickly, and in February 2020, a larger group of members of the hip-hop community met with members of The Globe School of Music. Then almost immediately, the pandemic shut it down until summer 2021.

Suzanne Evans

“We decided early on not to plan anything too much, because we were afraid that if either of us over-planned, we would miss the collaborative part,” says Frigo, explaining that the first couples came together intuitively with very little. some advices.

“We really wanted to be as organic as possible. Almost putting the pairs together is like putting a seed in the ground,” says Miller.

Taking an organic approach is the foundation of the entire program, even when it comes to charting its future. Frigo and Miller share the feeling of taking things step by step and seeing what emerges from the present. Miller emphasizes the importance of capturing these moments as they happen via audio or film and documenting the work done for an unknown future. There may be a live studio album or documentary coming out of it, but for now everyone involved is immersing themselves in the creation and production of this music while inviting the community to do the same.

“I prefer the collaboration to be like this, where you kind of start to really get to know each other first. You learn when you have some of these conversations that there’s a lot more people have in common than they don’t,” says spoken word artist Ngeve of his collaboration with Pederson-Takeda. “The more we talked, the more I was like, ‘I think this is a great opportunity to really talk about our two stories without saying who the story belongs to, you know?’ The title of the piece is “Kindred Metamorphoses”.

AHHH pairs have been free to collaborate without guidelines or restrictions, and the uniqueness of each artist and musician shines through clearly through each piece. But there is one common thread that surfaced: everyone involved embraced the opportunity to get to know each other as people and tell a new kind of story through their music.

“I think the biggest difference is that it’s not just a different genre, but it’s jazz in particular, and we’re building something totally from scratch instead of just reusing music that I I already have,” says Cuthbertson, who has worked with bands in the past, but not this way. Recently inducted into the Athens Music Walk of Fame as an accomplished emcee, those familiar with Cuthbertson can expect a similar performance experience rendered in a new way. “I’m going to incorporate a lot of elements into it, call and response, different things like that. I would like to involve the public in my performance. So I think you’ll see the same level, but just a different vibe.

© 2022 Suzannah Evans, 4076705148, [email protected] (lr) Camilla Sims, Cassie Chantel, Montu Miller, Ishues Cuthbertson and Celest Ngeve will share the stage with the UGA School of Music.

Inviting School of Music artists and local hip-hop artists into each other’s worlds happens not only through the creation of music, but also through the sharing of resources and performance in spaces on campus and off-campus that talk about where these artists exist. Each artist involved gains a unique new experience and the opportunity to learn something professional or community through this symbiosis.

On behalf of the hip-hop artists involved, Miller says, “I think they’re learning a very strict professional side. They also learn that the world is bigger than the places where we are. We built this bridge to where now we kind of work together [with UGA] and guest. I think it allows them to broaden their way of thinking about what’s possible.

“[The UGA musicians] say these performances are some of the highlights of their entire musical life because they feel like they were listened to and the audience that attended really cared about what was going on in the performance,” says Frigo. about what faculty and students have gained from the program. “I also see students starting to redefine what they want to play and who they want to play with. I mean, I studied music myself. I sometimes have the impression of achieving my goals… And the particularity can disappear.

“You know what’s interesting: one of the student composers [Julien Berger] who currently works with Cassie said hip hop was a huge influence for him. He listens to it all the time. He said, “I can finally write music that I listen to.” He does not compose any music that is representative of what he comes home and listens to for inspiration and for the community.

The AHHH was funded for an initial three-year period by the university, currently in its second year. Frigo and Miller hope to see it continue for as long as there is interest, but the importance of the program model they have developed could have an even greater impact. Ideally, they would like to see other universities adopt similar programs that unite music schools with their respective local music scenes. As AHHH continues to refine its strategy and produce meaningful performance, taking it to other universities to clearly illustrate what is possible and what opportunities are available is the next step.

“I really hope this will inspire other universities to reach out to their communities. Hopefully we’re setting the bar,” Miller says.

Prior to the concert at Hugh Hodgson, there is a “Where Athens Hip Hop & UGA Come Out to Play” Common Hour event on Wednesday, October 12 at Edge Hall from 1:50 p.m. to 2:40 p.m. Attendees can meet hip-hop artists, composers and bandleaders before the main event. The October 20 concert is free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is free at the UGA Performing Arts Center, so all barriers to entry have been removed in hopes of truly bringing the community together through creative expression.

“It’s really exciting that we’re doing this, and it was about time. I feel like it should have been a long time,” says award-winning film composer and UGA professor Tom Hiel. It’s our civic duty here at UGA to do that, you know, to work with members of the community.”

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WHO: Athens hip-hop harmonic
WHERE: Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall
WHEN: Thursday, October 20, 7:30 p.m.

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