Truman Blues Project Fuses Music with Academics

Clifton Kreps, chair of classical and modern languages, always envisioned a class that merged academics with performance.

So when the opportunity for Innovative Academic Initiative Grants was publicized, Kreps jumped at the chance to establish The Truman Blues Project, a class with three components: academics; composition and performance; and civic engagement.

Participants in the Truman Blues Project follow in musician Charlie Love’s footsteps during his performance as part of an on-campus visit earlier this semester.

In November 2008, The Truman Blues Project was announced as a recipient of the Innovative Academic Initiative Grants. The criteria for selection of the proposals were that the initiative must be innovative and creative, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, be able to be implemented in the 2009-10 school year and have learning objectives. Also it must incorporate two or more of the following: involve more than one academic discipline and have global or international relevance, community-based research, service-learning, connection between the curricular and the co-curricular or civic engagement.

“I was happy when they funded it, but on the other hand, it was the beginning of the real work,” Kreps said. “I would say the implementation has been more difficult than even creating the proposal.”

Kreps said implementation included deciding how to list the class, selecting an appropriate classroom and scheduling the best time. From there, he worked on the structure of the course and filling in the gaps of his blues knowledge.

The Truman Blues Project began with its first class this spring semester. Students in the class have various musical backgrounds and abilities.

Hank Eddins, a student in the class, has been playing music on his own for the past several years.

“With this class, you’ve got a hugely varied skill-set between each member,” Eddins said. “The great thing about the blues, though, is its inherent simplicity. It creates a playing field where everyone can step in and play.”

The grant has allowed students to hold a clinic with musicians such as local artists Peter Rolnick and members of Blue Voodoo. The group also conducted a class with musician Charlie Love from Chicago and attended one of his performances. Additionally, the group is traveling to a B. B. King performance in Columbia and taking in the Round Barn Blues Festival in Kirksville.

Alex McKamie, a student in the Truman Blues Project, said he enjoyed the Charlie Love class.

“It was great to talk to someone who had been living the blues for almost his entire life,” McKamie said. “It was also great to see a group that had been playing with each other for so long that they made the blues look effortless.”

The academic component of the class involves the early history of the blues, an area in which Kreps said students are not always familiar.

To tie the history into the coursework, students are working on research projects involving some aspect of the blues, and will be giving presentations during class. Some participated in the Student Research Conference.

Student research topics range from the importance of the fiddle in early blues music and its influence on great blues musicians, to the semiotics of guitar playing and poetry of Skip James.

Kreps said he hopes to be able to teach the course again and establish the Blues Project as a permanent organization to build upon each year.
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