Hitting the ground running two weeks after finals and holding fresh excitement from last week’s St. Olaf Orchestra tour, I eagerly enter into the space of the Musical Geography Project’s own “tour” of sorts, albeit one of African American musical history. I’m ready to embrace the work and increase my knowledge & understanding of our research topic; frankly, I can’t wait to learn more about myself and all of the team members through a deep historical, geographical, and musicological exploration over the next two months. I’m Davis, a rising senior at St. Olaf. Over my time here, I’ve been balancing attention between numerous academic disciplines, and my interests—including Music, History, and Environmental Studies—line up well with the primary research goal of our project. (Below: Me at Canal Park in Duluth on orchestra tour; and a rough map of the hotels and performance venues comprising the stingray-shaped tour route around Minnesota).

Essentially, we’re attempting to find out what impact graduates of a specific HBCU (Washington Conservatory of Music) had by mapping how they spread out through America and considering what they did in their respective communities. Additionally, this research angle—considering the musical and personal lives of less well-known black American musicians and ensembles around the turn of the 20th century, who’ve historically lacked significant research attention compared to groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers or composers like William Grant Still—will consider how they navigated careers and built community with contexts of contemporary social situations (like the oppressive practice of redlining) potentially in mind. Hopefully, we can develop such additional considerations in addition to the purely musical side of things, and I look forward to the possibilities of map-making, as I’ve seen what ArcGIS can do. 

As previously mentioned, my background in three discrete disciplines presents some of the interdisciplinary strengths I’m bringing to this project. Through Environmental Studies, I’ve had some experience using ArcGIS—still, while I understand the basics of the program, mapping “Musical Geography” will be new to me and is something I’m highly anticipating doing. I also possess experience in musicology through multiple classes, and consider the Intro class with Professor Epstein two years ago as a solid foundation for the work I’ve done since and will begin this summer. Having just had an upper level history course bolstered my research skills, especially in wading through primary sources. Because of this, I’m better at performing rigorous research and pulling the most important content from multiple books/sources in a short amount of time than when I’d originally applied for this team.

Performing research in such a singular, devoted manner as demanded by this project is new to me. Since a strength (not in every situation, though!) of mine is having a detail-oriented mindset (which I bring to research/related projects), the ample time CURI will allow me to consider details is something I’ll relish. Personally, I hope to expand my research skills beyond myself and become a better collaborator and sharer/articulator of ideas. With the arguably loose, yet still demanding constraints of being a CURI researcher, I’m hoping that my abilities of time management develop and send me into a productive final year of college. Furthermore, I hope this lays the groundwork for upper-level academic environments should I choose to continue my education beyond St. Olaf. Professionally, growth both as an independent worker and a team member, through improving interpersonal skills and better managing my own work and communication, is something I look forward to potentially achieving.

Besides my academic interests and year in school, more of an informal introduction is likely warranted. I’m from Worthington, Minnesota, a small town in Southwest Minnesota. While some might call a small farming community “quiet”, I’ll counter this for the time being since I was involved with many noisy musical activities and instruments from a young age. I eventually took up piano, singing, orchestra (string bass), band (tuba), jazz band (string bass and bass guitar). I really love music and it occupies a lot of my time at St. Olaf; I play string bass primarily, both in the St. Olaf Orchestra and Band. Singing is still fun, though time constraints kept me from continuing choir after Spring 2021.

Other past times of mine are playing acoustic and electric guitar when I have the chance, collecting vinyl records and consuming science fiction. I have a pet cat named Snowflake and a bearded dragon named Darwin; while I enjoy interacting with them both, it’s generally best if they observe each other from a distance. While The Musical Geography Project is primarily occurring within the confines of a college on a hill in Northfield, MN—in contrast to he orchestra’s geographic journey around northern Minnesota—it’s nevertheless a new tour I’m happy to embark on. I anticipate my work and collaboration will comprise an insightful summer research experience and expand my horizons.