Professor brings music of the world to campus

ashley.berken

Assistant News Editor Ashley Berken sat down with the new International Performing Arts Series Director Louise Bourgault to talk about the series that has been in production since 1989 and put on three performances this semester.

NW: You had The Boys of the Lough here last Thursday night, how did that go?
LB: It went wonderful. I think we sold 500 seats at the Kaufman Auditorium. Irish music always does really well in Marquette and one of the reasons we booked the group was we were really confident that it would do well, and indeed it did.

NW: What other performances did you have with the series this semester?
LB: We had the Santa Cruz River Band, which is a folk group from Tucson, Ariz. They sang in English, Spanish and a Native American language from the Southwest. It was a cross between Mexican mariachi music, American cowboy reels and melodic Spanish ballads. It was absolutely beautiful; it was breathtaking.
They also did a guitar workshop while they were here because one of the exigencies of the series is to have an educational workshop with most of our performers.
We are trying to have educational components which are either workshops, teaching in the classroom or media appearances. We want students to become more global consumers of music and the performing arts.

NW: What influenced you to become part of the series and bring performance groups here?
LB: Well, I have been teaching in the department of communication and performance studies so there’s a natural tie-in. But apart from that, my academic specialty is broadcasting media and within that my specialty was African media.
In my last sabbatical in 1999, I was looking at the AIDS issue in South Africa, and I discovered to my great delight that African performers were using musical theatre-song, dance and drama combined into one.
I was so impressed by the quality of this musical theatre and the power of it as a communication tool that I started bringing the groups [to NMU]. I thought people at Northern should see this.

NW: How do you decide which groups to bring here?
LB: Now that we have a series, what we’re trying to do is provide a range. So, this fall we brought Santa Cruz River Band, but obviously they have to be touring in the area otherwise they cost a fortune. Then of course they have to be willing to do, in most cases, a workshop.
Then, we had Festival of the Desert which, again, has the beauty of African performers. I believe that Northern students and the townspeople will love African music as soon as they’re exposed to it. That always happens. I’ve never been wrong about that. People were blown away by the Festival of the Desert.
I think it’s important to bring something new. So, we had Hispanic [Santa Cruz River Band], African [Festival of the Desert] and European [Boys of the Lough].
That’s how we did it this year, so we would have different music for different people. But of course, many people go to all of them and love them all for different reasons.

NW: Where does the funding come from for these groups?
LB: The funding is coming from the provost’s office, but we would do well to have a big donor and we are looking for a corporate sponsor.
Most university performing arts series are funded by corporate sponsors.
The provost has been good to us, but I suspect that she would like us to have a corporate sponsor. We could do more with one.

NW: What do you think these performances bring to NMU that the university isn’t getting with other performances?
LB: We, at Northern, have a student group called Standing O that produces musical TV shows. This year we were able to use professional quality musicians and have our broadcasting students make a TV show with a real musical professional.
So, this year with The Festival of the Desert, one of the performers was Mamadou Diabaté, and he performed for Standing O.
Most other universities are not doing things like that because it’s not easy.

NW: Do you think these performances bring culture to NMU?
LB: Oh, absolutely, because here’s the thing, some of the students that are majoring in broadcasting, I know, could care less about African music, at first.
There’s a lot of opportunity for students to interact with performers, and I know that students can interact with other performers like Platform Personalities.
I think what’s different about our series is the classroom and media production. Also, after the media shows are produced, they’re aired in the community.
The community gets educated; the students get educated and then we have a good relationship with the community. I just think this it is a win-win.

NW: What are your plans for next semester? Do you have plans for groups to be coming?
LB: Next semester we are going on hiatus, kind of, because we want to look very carefully at how our box office did.
I’m going to look at what we did very carefully, what made money and what’s didn’t. Some of this we already know.

NW: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LB: We continue to hope that students will be interested. My experience is that when students come to these events they are delighted.
Most of the time, if students don’t come they think it won’t be interesting but when they come they are pleasantly surprised.