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UD Chorale director, students perform in Kenya through global peace project

By Dave Larsen

University of Dayton Chorale Director Steven Hankle and two undergraduate students traveled to Africa, where they joined choral groups from the U.S. and Kenya to perform A Vision Unfolding, a new work about social justice commissioned in part by UD.

Their 12-day tour in June culminated in a benefit concert at the Kenya National Theatre, where UD Chorale members Dylan Reynolds and Katarina Lagodzinski performed composer Kyle Pederson’s A Vision Unfolding with the Festival Singers of Florida and Nairobi Chamber Chorus. Hankle, assistant professor of choral music and music education, was a featured conductor. 

Hankle and the students also performed with Kenyatta University’s Blend Ensemble and the Talanta Afrika Singers during their trip. They spent their final night in Kenya visiting with Marianist brothers at their community in Nairobi.

“It was an awesome experience to sing with the Kenyan choirs and connect with people our age in Kenya,” said Lagodzinski, a junior biology and music major from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. “To also connect with the Marianists was very cool. They live across the world from Dayton, but they knew the names of the streets in the student neighborhood and asked how the UD basketball team was doing.”

Lagodzinski was impressed with the Marianists’ Chaminade Training Center, located in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum of Nairobi, where the brothers’ teach community members skills such as machine knitting and metal work to help them find jobs and move their families out of the settlement.

“I thought that was very inspiring, just how humble and kind the Marianist brothers were, and how connected they were to us,” she said.

Hankle, Africa trip, 2023

The trio toured Kenya through AVoice4Peace, a global peace awareness project led by the Nairobi Chamber Chorus and Festival Singers of Florida.

During spring 2021, the UD Chorale joined a consortium with four universities and two community choirs to commission A Vision Unfolding. Pederson composed the work, originally titled And Justice for All, in 2022 for narrator, chorus, piano, violin, trumpet and percussion.

“It was a brand-new piece we performed that was about social justice, in a sense, and it was about how different genres of music were used in the piece to talk about certain social issues, and then at the end it was brought together by Langston Hughes’ poem, I Dream a World,” Hankle said.

The UD Chorale first performed A Vision Unfolding in November 2022 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on campus. Members of the Chorale also performed the piece at the Ohio Music Education Association State Conference in February 2023, and in Puerto Rico during 2023 spring break.

In Kenya, Reynolds and Lagodzinski worked with featured conductors from Florida State University, Northwest Missouri State University and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which allowed them to learn from other choral directors.

Rehearsing and performing with the Kenyan choral groups also exposed Hankle and the students to the country’s cultural approach to music.

“One of the professors there at Kenyatta University, Silvester Otieno, showed us certain things,” Hankle said. “Their choir performed for us. He did some call-and-response that was native to their culture and how they did music. We got a chance to see them perform and how they put things together. They involved us in that experience, so it was a really cool educational experience as well.”

Lagodzinski, who received donor-funded support for the trip from the Tobias International Leadership Scholar program and the Daniel J. Curran and Claire M. Renzetti Scholarship Fund for International Studies, enjoyed connecting with members of the Kenyan choral groups.

“There was a girl in one of the choirs, Chloe, who I got to meet and become friends with,” she said. “It was cool seeing their experience — their day-to-day lives and how it differed from ours, but also how it was so much the same.”

Their cultural immersion also included visits to the Kenya Giraffe Center, Mount Longonot National Park and the August 7th Memorial Park, located at the site of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi. In addition, they spent three nights in tents at Mara Fig Tree Camp in Masai Mara, where they enjoyed guided game drives and where Reynolds celebrated his 21st birthday.

“I think the biggest experience culturally was when we went to the safari and met and spent time with some of the Maasai people, who were the tour guides for the safari,” said Reynolds, a junior music major from Dayton. “There was a lot you could learn just by talking to them, being around them and asking questions. Also, having my 21st birthday at the safari was a great time. It was a great birthday present for me.”

As a musician, Reynolds has a passion for gospel music and African-American spirituals, which are most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American south.

“Being able to go to Africa, where a lot of the roots of this kind of music started was fascinating to me, because you can definitely see how American gospel and spirituals ended up the way they did,” he said. “You can see how their musical tradition transferred over. That was an invaluable experience for me.”

For more information, visit the UD Department of Music website.

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