Castle of our Skins finishes impassioned residency at Gettysburg
By Diego Rocha, Contributing Writer
Castle of our Skins (COOS), a musical collective based in Boston, visited the Gettysburg campus from November 13 to the 15, holding a series of events over their brief residency that inspired and moved many on campus. For this stay on our campus, COOS brought members Fred C. VanNess Jr. (tenor), Orlando Cela (flute), Ashleigh Gordon (viola), Javier Caballero (cello), Anthony Green (composition and piano), and special guest Amber Rose Johnson (spoken word), an ensemble created to perform their piece Oh, Freedom! which features music by Anthony Green and poetry by Amber Rose Johnson. This piece was performed as part of their Monday afternoon concert, the most prominent event of their residency. Oh, Freedom! is a piece meant to portray the constant struggle for freedom faced by many black Americans “yesterday, today, & tomorrow” through music. It culminated in a stirring performance of Green’s setting of the post-civil war spiritual “Oh, Freedom,” which was also used heavily during the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s, bringing the audience to their feet in song. This work was also preceded by a mix of music and spoken word poetry, performed by various members of the visiting ensemble and Amber Rose Johnson.
COOS held several other events as well, such as their session with Gettysburg College’s Music Education students on the Sunday night before the concert, where they presented on ways to “embed culture, race and history into music curriculum.” In this discussion, COOS artistic director, Ashleigh Gordon, and assistant artistic director, Anthony Green, presented students with difficult questions regarding the role of an artist and the value of black history and artistry within a broad and diverse curriculum. Gordon also provided students with a sample of a presentation that she does with elementary students in her own lectures. The following morning the ensemble read a piece that was written for them by Diego Rocha, a sophomore music education student after they asked student composers to write pieces for them inspired by black artistry and history. This provided the composer an amazing opportunity to work with the ensemble to improve upon his piece. That night, after the concert, Fulbright Scholar Amber Rose Johnson also held a lecture without the COOS ensemble, in which she presented on “gender representation in poetry, politics, history and spoken word,” providing audiences with an insightful perspective.