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Yale music ensembles travel to Ghana this May

Yale Concert Band performing

The Yale Percussion Group and Yale Concert Band will soon travel to Ghana for 12 days of cultural exchange, musical research, and community service. This marks the first time that the undergraduate Yale Concert Band (YCB), which in 1959 became the first college band to tour internationally, will travel with the graduate Yale Percussion Group. The two ensembles will perform several times, including “unity” concerts at two universities and a joint concert with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana.

The participants will also undertake service projects in the village of Yamoransa, with which Yale has an ongoing relationship. While based in Yamoransa, the percussionists will study, perform, and recordtraditional drumming and dance with Ghanaian drum masters.

Reciprocal cultural exchange is an integral part of the trip. Each concert will involve musical exchanges with Ghanaian musicians. Every day the group will be immersed in the local culture, through activities including home visits, storytelling, and student exchanges.



One of the highlights will be a benefit concert, conducted by Thomas C. Duffy, on Friday, May 23 at the National Theater in Accra. This joint performance, in which the Yale musicians will perform alongside the National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana, will benefit the Ghana-Yale Partnership for Global Health. The initiative, announced in March, is a collaboration between Yale University, the government of Ghana, and other high-profile organizations to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Ghana.

Ghanaian and Yale musicians will also take part in two Nkonsonkonson “Unity” Concerts. The first is at the University of Ghana at Legon on May 22. Held in Legon’s outdoor amphitheater, the concert will bring together the Music Department Pop Ensemble, University African Ensemble, Yale Concert Band, and Yale Percussion Group. On May 26, a joint concert at University of Cape Coast (UCC) will feature dances and traditional music with the UCC Dance Ensemble.

Other concerts include a performance at the United States Embassy on Thursday, May 22, hosted by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz. Here the travelers will meet participants in the Young African Leaders Initiative, spearheaded by the Obama Administration to strengthen U.S.-Africa partnerships, and Ghana High School Scholars, who will be able to talk to Yale students about attending college in the United States.

Drumming Research

Ghana has an extraordinary musical legacy, and the Yale Percussion Group (YPG) will be working with Ghanaian drumming masters to record and transcribe ancient drumming patterns. The YPG, directed by Robert van Sice, comprises the School of Music’s six graduate percussion students. They will study 8–10 types of drumming from different regions, including the villages of Oguaakuma, Waakron, and Eduma. The music includes dances for major life events, such as the christening of babies; dancing for more ordinary days, such as farmers’ and fishermens’ days off; and music accompanying storytelling, among other traditions.

These teaching sessions will be recorded on video in order to be transcribed. The material can then become the basis of further in-depth ethnomusicological study, and some of the Ghanaian drummers participating in the project have already expressed interest in using the videos in their university teaching.

Community Service & Cultural Exchange

In the village of Yamoransa, the musical ensembles will team up with the Yale Alumni Service Corps and volunteers from Ashesi University in Accra and UCC in several ongoing projects. The combined teams will install water filters in community buildings and homes; plant 1,000 trees, including fruit trees; and continue ongoing work to construct the Information, Computer and Technology Center. In addition, student musicians will share their music with students in five local schools, introducing themselves and the instruments they play.

Throughout the trip, the Yale students will visit museums and other cultural sites, and will learn about food production, fishing techniques, and traditional crafts, including fabric arts. Yale students will be paired with families in Yamoransa for home visits, and there will be joint social events for Yale and Ghana university students at both Legon and UCC.  


Schedule and Updates

Ghana Travel Highlights
May 21–June 1, 2014

May 22, 1:00 pm
Concert at U.S. Embassy
Hosted by Ambassador Gene A. Cretz

May 22, 6:00 pm
Nkonsonkonson “Unity” Concert
at the outdoor amphitheater of University of Ghana at Legon. Featuring the Music Department Pop Ensemble, University African Ensemble, Yale Concert Band, and Yale Percussion Group

May 23, 8 pm
Benefit Concert
at the National Theater with National Symphony Orchestra of Ghana. Concert will benefit Ghana-Yale Health Initiative

May 25
Travel to Yamoransa
Traditional welcome ceremony and home visits

May 26
Nkonsonkonson “Unity” Concert
at University Cape Coast (UCC) with the UCC Dance Ensemble

May 26–30
Service projects in Yamoransa
including Pure Water Project, tree planting, music teaching, and ongoing construction of Technology Center
Drumming Study
in Yamoransa and nearby regions

May 31
Durbar Harvest Festival
Closing ceremony in Yamoransa