Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Spirituals conference kicks off a summer of programs and special events at DU

Poet Nikki Giovanni is one of the keynote speakers at the REAP Conference in June.

Fifteen years later, Art Jones is realizing the true vision of the Spirituals Project, the nonprofit he founded in 1998 to preserve and revitalize the religious folk songs created by enslaved African-Americans.

“The mission is not only to have people hear the music, but to learn the history behind it and how it got formed, what happened after slavery, why we should still be singing these songs today,” says Jones, associate dean of inclusive excellence at Colorado Women’s College of the University of Denver. He originally founded the Spirituals Project to make a documentary film about the music he loved, but within a few years the Spirituals Project Choir, a performing group, became the organization’s primary focus.

But the larger educational mission never left Jones’ mind, and three years ago he started planning a summer conference on the spirituals that would bring together academics, performers and enthusiasts to dig into the music and its legacy. Now called the REAP National Conference on the Spirituals — the letters stand for research, education, activism and performance — the event is slated for June 13–15 at the University of Denver.

The conference features keynote presentations by civil rights historian and activist Vincent Harding and poet Nikki Giovanni, as well as a presentation by Reiland Rabaka, from the University of Colorado, on the connections between the spirituals and hip-hop.

On the musical side, REAP will pay tribute to the University’s musical past with the premiere of a choral piece inspired by the life of Emma Azalia Hackley, a music major who, in 1900, became one of DU’s first African-American graduates.

“There hasn’t been anything like this,” Jones says. “There have been small symposia on spirituals; there have been spirituals festivals where they have lots of choirs that come together, but nobody has organized a national forum where people can talk all about these different aspects of this cultural tradition and also hear music and share ideas and invite people from the general public who don’t know anything about it to be part of that.”

REAP is one of more than 50 cultural and academic conferences being held on campus this summer: The Lamont School of Music hosts its Summer Pre-College Academy June 16–30, as well as the annual Rafael Mendez Brass Institute July 14–20 and the Pan Ramajay Summer Steel Drum Festival July 21–26.

Academics are well-represented on campus over the summer as well: In addition to DU’s regular summer-quarter classes, the Publishing Institute holds its annual four-week course in July; August’s Pedagogy of Privilege Conference explores ways in which privilege impacts education, social justice work, helping professions and research; participants talk medieval philosophy at the Philosophy in the Abrahamic Traditions Conference, co-hosted by the philosophy departments at DU and Marquette University and DU’s Center for Judaic Studies; and the HERS Summer Institute in July addresses issue facing women in higher education.

Elsewhere on campus, DU is also hosting Internal Drive’s computer, video game design and robotics camps for kids; the STARS national conference for youth leaders; Play Week West — a chamber-music program for adults — and the SHIFT Conference, which brings together 250 new Daniels Fund Scholars before they head off to college.

Finally, for kids looking to break a sweat this summer, the University of Denver campus is home to several athletic camps and clinics — many led by DU coaches — focused on such sports as basketball, soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse and volleyball.






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