WKAR-TV is launching a new locally produced series this weekend exploring current issues facing society through music. music for social justice premieres sunday.
In 2020, the MSU College of Music produced a series of videos using music as a way to consider social inequalities following the death of George Floyd.
The videos caught the attention of WKAR Television, and the idea of a joint project for a second series was born.
Rodney Whitaker serves as the series’ executive producer. He is director of jazz studies at the MSU College of Music. Whitaker wants the series to show the diversity of the college and adds that the performers weren’t asked to do anything in particular.
“We sat down with them and really said, at the outset, ‘Do you want to tell your story, or do you want to tell the story of what excites you about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?'” he said. . “We had initial meetings with everyone, and everyone had an idea of what they wanted to talk about.”
One such artist is bassist and songwriter Jordyn Davis. Her contribution to the series was inspired by the works of Nina Simone. It’s called Meditations on four women. Davis thinks it’s important to represent black women in music.
“I think people often take for granted how important representation is and how really impactful it can be to see another person who looks like you doing what you want to do,” she said.
Violinist Yvonne Lam is the child of American-born immigrants, something she feels should be emphasized, although there have been times when she downplayed that status in order to fit in. She thinks classical music is evolving from the reputation of being only the music of dead white men.
“Classical music and the people who perform classical music and write classical music are very different from a century ago,” Lam said. “And I think it’s very important to celebrate that.”
Yvonne Lam chose Memory by composer Chen Yi for this series.
Rodney Whitaker appears in several episodes of music for social justice. In one, he interprets his composition The big fourwhich was the street name of the controversial police unit known as STRESS in his native Detroit in the 1970s. He says people in distress during police encounters often call their mothers, so the piece opens with a lullaby.
Whitaker adds: “If you notice that in the piece there’s always an accent on the big four, so every other bar the band puts an accent on four, which is pretty typical of early jazz. And so, I use that as a metaphor for the police department, The big four.”
Rodney Whitaker says it’s part of a musician’s job to tell the truth. He hopes that the truths revealed in music for social justice will appeal to viewers.
“I think there is something for everyone. I think there’s a story to tell, and our job was really to articulate the stories and the tales that we wanted to share, and if we can touch a person’s heart and mind, then we did our work.
music for social justice airs Sundays at 4 p.m. on WKAR-TV, with repeats at 1:30 p.m. Thursdays through June 23rd. The episodes will also be available on WKAR.org.