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Student Translates an Oral History of Dayton to ‘Bring Back the Funk’

By Allison Brace '22

University of Dayton senior Caleb Vanden Eynden wants to bring the funk to Dayton-area middle and high school music curricula.

Vanden Eynden, a music education major from West Chester, Ohio, spent his summer interviewing musicians from Dayton’s funk music heyday during the 1970s and ’80s to create an oral history of the genre’s local roots for his honors program thesis.

His goal is to show younger generations how Dayton was once a hotbed of funk music in hopes of generating interest in the rhythmic groove-based genre and introducing it to school musical ensembles.

Through his research, Vanden Eynden had the opportunity to meet with funk musicians including Keith Harrison, Deron Bell and Charles Cedell Carter. He also got the chance to talk with David Webb, president of the Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center. These meetings brought to life his idea to integrate a “learning by hearing” curriculum when he begins student teaching in spring 2020.

“I interviewed almost a dozen people this summer,” Vanden Eynden said. “I was able to get a lot of oral history this way because the history of Dayton funk isn’t written down in a textbook or anything. This is something I had to seek and research to transcribe Dayton’s funk history.”

Meeting with Slave’s Cedell Carter, he learned that they were both striving for a similar goal. Cedell Carter had already begun moving forward on an initiative to design a funk revival mission within Dayton schools, and others around the area. Cedell Carter invited Vanden Eynden to be a part of an additional initiative that he is working on with a friend in Columbus.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, in their free time kids would make their own bands, play on street corners and even have ‘battle of the bands’ competitions,” Vanden Eynden said. “It was ‘the thing’ in downtown Dayton. Everyone was doing it.”

His honors thesis is split into three sections: an overview of the funk music style, Dayton’s funk history and the pedagogy that he plans to use for this teaching.

The pedagogical approach will expand music education learning by providing students with a diverse curriculum that stresses the importance of African-American popular music, specifically Dayton funk, within an educational setting at a critical time in the city’s history.

According to Samuel Dorf, associate professor of musicology, Vanden Eynden’s project uses musicology, ethnomusicology and music pedagogy to address real issues within the Miami Valley in an effort to improve educational programming.

Funk is still alive in the heart of Dayton. In September, a benefit concert for the Greater Dayton Relief Fund showcased four funk bands from the ’70s including Steve Arrington, Faze-O, Lakeside, Zapp and the Ohio Players. Vanden Eynden is hoping to draw more public attention to these events, especially among younger residents, to generate excitement about Dayton’s funk heritage.

Vanden Eynden was able to devote his full attention to researching his thesis during summer 2019 when he was chosen as one of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellows. The fellowship program provides an opportunity for College undergraduates to conduct summer research in any academic discipline under the guidance of a faculty mentor. The resources and funding for this fellowship allowed Vanden Eynden to build relationships with members of the broader Dayton community, which aided in his attempt to build an oral history of the city’s funk heritage.

“The Dean’s Summer Fellowship research money, housing, food and faculty support was all covered by the University, which was truly awesome,” Vanden Eynden said.

Dorf, Vanden Eynden’s adviser, and Sharon Gratto, professor of music and Graul Endowed Chair in Arts and Languages, have been mentors for him throughout this journey. Dorf even credits Vanden Eynden for inspiring his own research.

“It is so exciting to watch a student catch the 'scholarship bug,'” Dorf said. "It reminds me of why I got into music research in the first place.”

Gratto is no stranger to funk herself as she put together the University’s first Funk Music Symposium in September 2018 and helped Vanden Eynden get in contact with all of the funk artists he interviewed for his research.

On Sept. 6, Vanden Eynden presented his research to the Department of Music during a Friday Recital class in which students showcase their work. He is also applying to present his research at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Conference at the University of Michigan in May 2020.

As a French horn player and singer who is a member of the University drumline, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and several other ensembles, Vanden Eynden is no stranger to learning outside of the classroom. For the last two years he was a semi-finalist for the Department of Music’s Honors Recital, and in 2018 was a finalist. Last spring he was named the Presser Foundation Scholar for the University. The Presser Foundation was started by a prominent music educator and annually gives scholarship funds to university music programs around the country that meet their criteria.

Vanden Eynden says that the Dean’s Summer Fellowship, Department of Music and Honors Program have driven not only his desire to do this thesis but also supported him in all of his research. This research has moved him forward in developing his teaching style for when he steps into the workforce after his graduation in May 2020.

“Caleb Vanden Eynden is one of the Department of Music's brightest students and finest musicians,” Gratto said. “He has demonstrated how a spark of interest in something new can lead to an innovative honors thesis and learning beyond the classroom. I know his project will prove to be exciting for the students in his first music teaching position.”

For more information, please visit the Department of Music and Dean’s Summer Fellowship program websites.

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