Bridging the Gaps: Guitars for Social Justice

Dean Vaglia, Staff Reporter

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Whoever says poetry is dull may never have heard it like this.

Bridging the Gaps: Guitars for Social Justice is “collaborative and interdisciplinary project” that combines poetry with music performance. As the name of the event suggests, the six compositions featured themes of social justice and situations where someone is disadvantaged.

The first performance of the night on Tuesday, Nov. 6 was “Loretta,” a composition by Terry Herald featuring poetry by Felicia Krol. The performance was based around the poem’s narrator – spoken by Tiffany Palmer – coming across the carcass of a heron on the side of a road and being upset that such a creature would die in developed land. The guitars of Desmond Doneen, Daniel Byrington and Shea Socrates were played in a way that was meant to evoke the calls of birds.

Bill Withem’s “Mud” followed. Using the poetry of Peter Markus, a performance by vocalist Angela Tocco combined with Seth Miller’s guitar performance, completed the picture.

The third composition was “Lessons” by Christopher Burns. Based off of Vanessa Stauffer’s poetry, the story was divided in two parts – the first a lesson by an origami master and the second a tragedy in a majority black Houston neighborhood. According to Burns, the composition was about memories. The first section was meant to be mellow and the second jarring, while guitarist Socrates made a point of scratching his instrument to convey the folding of an origami.

Another performance of the night was the duo of Elena Hensel and Samad Ansari for “DTE.” Based off another poem by Stauffer, it told the visceral tale of a poor Detroit-area college student told through his or her professor. 

Hensel continued her spoken-word with the next performance “Hungry,” a Joo Won Park composition featuring the poetry of Jenifer DeBellis. Park’s composition was one of two to use non-acoustic compositions with a dull, electronic hum playing throughout the performance. The narrator of poem was a starving teen living with parents too proud to accept assistance, with Hensel working to convey the intense desperation of the narrator with fervor.

The final performance of the night was Stuart Scott’s “The Moon.” Based off another Markus poem, “The Moon” began with the performers speaking in reverse on recording, led into a brutal spoken word section talking about the dismembering of a fish. The fish dissection was accompanied by an edgy electric guitar, and stabbing of the fish’s eye led into psychedelic final section that saw the recording play, closing the performance on the phrase “the moon is a fish eye.”

Provost James Lentini, who has a background in music, was in attendance and was pleased with the show, although he could not decide on a favorite composition.

“I think they’re all very different in a sense of different kind of use of technology and the way that they set the text,” Lentini said. “Favorite is hard for something like this.”

As the last performance of the 2018-2019 Bridging the Gaps season, audience members were encouraged to donate to The Baldwin Center. The Baldwin Center is a Pontiac non-profit that serves impoverished members of the local community.