Bridging our distances

School of Music initiative aims to repair, strengthen, unite communities through the arts

The School of Music’s Southern Exposure New Music Series is devoted to exploring contemporary classical music and masterworks of the 20th century. Next up in the series is “Glory: A Tribute to Richard Greener” on Sunday, Nov. 1. We sat down with assistant professor Claire Bryant to talk about the upcoming performance and how it fits into the School of Music’s larger initiative, Bridging our Distances.

What is Bridging our Distances, and why is it important to the School of Music?

Bridging our Distances is our pledge, as the School of Music, to actively share music with a wider cross section of society through a series of public performances, events and projects presented in-person and virtually, transcending the traditional concert hall. We are committed to sharing music from underrepresented voices, such as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), LGBTQ+, Latinx and female composers, to promote equity while championing diversity and aiming to repair, strengthen and unite the communities in which we live.

There is no question that, as a society, we are experiencing feelings of isolation and disconnect while living through a global pandemic, in addition to immense suffering felt from the inequality and inequity of liberty. With that in mind, we created this initiative to focus on four bridges: uniting our communities, amplifying voices, celebrating heroes and spurring our future.

The pandemic has been particularly challenging for those in the performing arts, almost entirely wiping out live performance for months. What role do you see for Bridging our Distances in helping musicians find their footing in this new landscape?

It’s time to say it out loud — artists, performers and creators have lost their jobs, their health insurance and, for many of them, their homes because of this pandemic. There has been no bailout for arts institutions and little to no artist relief for individuals who are suffering. We need to think creatively about how we can support artists and foster the arts within our communities. Bridging our Distances is our collective effort in the School of Music to pull up our bootstraps and not only do what we do best but think about new ways of doing it and how we can empower and collaborate with members of the larger community.

The name of the initiative speaks to the deep divide we see in our communities and our nation. What role do you see for music to play in healing our social and political divisions and uniting communities?

Music has the power to connect people in the mind, heart and soul. Bridges connect us as well, through our physical distances. No matter who you are or what your background is, everyone has an expertise on what music they love and why they love it. So there is a sense of empowerment of self and of community when music is the connector. Now is the time for the School of Music to bridge our own distances from the greater campus and civic communities in which we work and live. Music has the strength to communicate the complexities of the human condition. It’s time we wield this power together.

Music has the strength to communicate the complexities of the human condition. It’s time we wield this power together.

Claire Bryant, assistant professor, School of Music

You have done lots of outreach in correctional institutions with the ensemble Decoda. What have those experiences taught you about how to reach out effectively to those whose life experiences might be very different from your own?

My first time inside a prison changed my life and I have written a lot about my experiences inside. But to paraphrase, what I gained as a human being writing music alongside incarcerated musicians has been more of an education in music and life than I received in any classroom, including my alma mater, Juilliard. Sharing music with, and learning from, those who have a different perspective than your own is an invaluable gift and a humbling opportunity.

We have all seen musicians transitioning to virtual concerts during the pandemic. What do you see as the role for this initiative in preparing students to survive and thrive in these uncertain times?

There is a whole new stage now — the virtual “interwebs.” It’s completely awesome, but one of the challenges is that most people are Zooming and using their screens constantly so there is an understandable burnout. As musicians and artists, we are all thinking more and more about engagement. Not just “how many views can I get?” but more “how can I make this experience unique and meaningful to my viewers who have been staring at a screen all day?” I think Bridging our Distances taps into listening and hearing what the world around us needs. I think these uncharted waters are new for all of us so it’s a time to experiment and find new best practices; to dig deep for fresh ways of engaging our audiences both virtually and safely in person.

On Nov. 1, the Southern Exposure series will present a musical tribute to Richard Greener. How does this concert, honoring the first African American professor at the university, speak to the larger goals of the Bridging Our Distances initiative?

UofSC music faculty and special guests will perform works originally commissioned for the 2018 unveiling of the Richard T. Greener statue in what we are calling “a bridge connecting the university and nation’s present with its past through a clear-eyed look at racial injustices that are still perpetuated today,” This event amplifies voices that deserve great respect and recognition. In addition, it’s a moment to come together as a community to celebrate the influential legacy of a UofSC hero.

Additionally, our student-led kickoff event for Bridging our Distances will take place on Greene Street in front of the Russell House on Friday (Oct. 30) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. School of Music ensembles will perform a series of socially distanced pop-up concerts to remind and encourage their peers to “Play Your Part — VOTE!”

If you go

Glory: A Tribute to Richard Greener 3 p.m., Sunday (Nov. 1.) Russell House Patio Stage. Free, but seating is limited and reservations are required.

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