ASU professor takes opera from the classroom to the world stage

November 27, 2017

A recent work composed by Arizona State University School of Music Professor of Practice Daniel Bernard Roumain is changing the possibilities of what opera is and can be. His critically acclaimed opera, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” is a rare piece in the operatic world — a multi-disciplinary work created by artists of color that addresses race relations in America.

“We Shall Not Be Moved” debuted on Sept. 16 at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia with sold-out performances. The opera then moved to the Apollo Theater in New York on Oct. 6, and will be performed in Amsterdam and London in the coming months. A U.S. tour is being planned for the 2018–2019 season. Daniel Bernard Roumain Daniel Bernard Roumain of ASU's School of Music is bringing opera to the mainstream. Download Full Image

Roumain said the foundation for “We Shall Not Be Moved” originated in a Philadelphia classroom in 2012. Opera Philadelphia invited him to join their organization as a teaching artist to assist Philadelphia-area public schools, which launched a partnership between Roumain, Opera Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary, a non-profit Philadelphia organization.

“Because those classroom visits were so successful, and because I had started writing some arias and some other things for the visits, it became apparent to them and to myself that we should have a larger collaboration,” Roumain said. “I was asked to put a creative team together and was commissioned to compose an opera for them.”  

He said his librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph came up with the idea of an opera based on an incident that happened at a Philadelphia row house in 1985 involving local law enforcement and the Philadelphia-based multi-cultural liberation organization known as MOVE.  An altercation resulted in a standoff between MOVE and the police. The house was fired upon and bombed, which resulted in a fire and the destruction of dozens of homes. Five children died in the fire, a tragedy that still haunts the city of Philadelphia. Roumain said he and Joseph used the Philadelphia incident as a catalyst for telling a completely original story involving five runaway children who decided to continue their learning in the abandoned house presumed to be the home of the MOVE organization — and from the ghosts of those five children who died there.

Roumain said the genre of music in the air in the 1970s and 1980s — Philadelphia-based funk, soul — had some degree of influence on his work. 

“Like any city, we have diverse people and music that follows them — that actually represents them,” Roumain said. “As a composer, what I was trying to do was to really set the tone and respond to Marc’s brilliant libretto.”

The opera has been called “not just the future of opera, but … the past, present and future of African-American cultural expression, too” by Kamilah Forbes, the Apollo Theatre’s executive producer.

New York Times chief musical critic, Anthony Tommasini, said, “Mr. Roumain skillfully folds gospel, funk, jazz and contemporary classical idioms into the score. In a post-performance conversation with the audience, he said he hopes the piece ‘changes the notion’ of what an opera can be. It does.”

Roumain believes the opera is something that can be translated back into an ASU classroom and the Herberger Online experience to positively impact and influence students’ lives.

Roumain said that in his current classes, “Leadership in the Creative Industries” and “The Communicating Artist,” his students have been discussing the opera and the events surrounding the work. He has also produced videos and other content about the creation of the opera and the collaborative effort.

“For me the ASU educational experience is always evolving and alive, and I want to create an array of both classroom and online offerings for our ASU faculty, students and community — I’m simply creating work in different places that always ends up back within the ASU family,” he said. 

Roumain said when he thinks about his work, education in its entirety, and the world of educators in articulating what a 21st-century education should be, he asks himself: “What are the tools and what skill-sets are required? How should ASU students be thinking about their work here that launches them into a different non-academic arena if that is their choosing? Where do their careers already exist? Where do their futures lie?”

Roumain said he really has no clear idea of the context of his own work, but as a black Haitian-American composer, it was instilled in him by his mother and father to be responsible as a human being, partner, husband and parent to two young sons.

“Whether or not you have children, you most likely live somewhere where there are children around you and they are your children,” Roumain said. “I’m the type of artist that thinks not about what I could do next, but what I should do next — that attitude, that sense of responsibility and that need to affect change for a common good. These are ideals that I think emanate from ASU’s President Michael Crow, are upheld by Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Dean Steven J. Tepper, and are exemplified and personified by the School of Music Director Heather Landes.”     

Roumain hopes to bring “We Shall Not Be Moved” home to ASU. He said he thinks the work has solicited change and has given hope and promise to not only the work of composers within the operatic field, but to the work of artists in other areas.

“In as much as 'We Shall Not Be Moved' has its controversies, what I hope it truly ignites is a conversation that is not confrontational and that provides an opportunity for us to share, exchange and grow,” Roumain said.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


Global leaders learn how ASU embraces emerging challenges at South Korea forum

November 27, 2017

Leaders seeking to understand a world transformed by technology learned how Arizona State University — ranked number one for innovation for three consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report — is reshaping higher education when ASU Enterprise Partners Chief Executive Officer R. F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. shared the university's vision at South Korea’s Global Leaders Forum, the country’s premier international assembly for addressing pressing societal issues.

Drawing on his decade-long experience shaping university strategy as part of ASU’s executive team, Shangraw focused on how higher education will evolve over the next ten years and how leaders can address emerging challenges and opportunities. man speaking at forum R. F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. shared ASU's vision for evolving higher education in an era of rapid technological change at the Global Leaders Forum in South Korea. This year’s forum focused on “technological singularity,” the idea that rapidly developing artificial intelligence will outpace our capacity to manage it and trigger unforeseen changes to human civilization. Download Full Image

He was part of a panel that included Ju-Ho Lee, former South Korean minister of education, science, and technology; Jae Sung Lee, vice president of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology; Hye Ri Baek, cofounder of SEED CO-OP; John Schwartz, head of enterprise business development at edX; and Sohail Inayatullah, UNESCO chair for future studies.

Shangraw shared that:

• Colleges and universities are being forced to rethink what and how they teach — known as “instructional design” — because some students arrive on campus highly proficient in technology and demand digitally immersive learning environments; yet others are underprepared and need remedial courses and counseling.

• Life-long learners of all ages will seek to engage with colleges and universities to learn about a wide variety of subjects. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found 73 percent of Americans view themselves as life-long learners. 

• Faculty will become increasingly interdisciplinary, often holding degrees in multiple subjects. They’ll be globally connected through sophisticated communication networks.

• The nature of research will change as faculty have ubiquitous access to datasets and methods.

• The nature of teaching will change as faculty interact with hundreds of students through digital learning platforms. More part-time, non-tenured instructors will teach these courses, creating a divide between faculty who both teach and conduct research and faculty who exclusively teach or conduct research.

• Technology is spurring advances in learning analytics, virtual reality as a learning tool, voice-activated learning technologies, and the creation of lifetime digital knowledge portfolios.

• Technology is transforming infrastructure and administration. For example, ASU’s newest residence hall is equipped with Amazon Echo devices programmed to ASU-specific information, including course content. 

• Financial models for higher education are shifting. Universities are diversifying revenue streams as government support shrinks and students struggle with tuition costs. Public-private partnerships, common for parking, residence halls, food service, will grow to include sophisticated models for student, career and enrollment services.

three people posing for photo

R. F. “Rick” Shangraw, CEO of ASU Enterprise Partners; Ju-Ho Lee, former South Korean minister of education, science, and technology; and John Schwartz, head of enterprise business development at edX shared with members of the Global Leaders Forum how to embrace changes that will transform higher education.

ASU’s strategy to manage change has focused on strengthening its “knowledge core” — the heart of all major research universities. Comprised of basic research, applied and translational research, inventions, libraries, living-learning facilities, and research facilities, the knowledge core allows the ASU community to create, store, synthesize, analyze, and share knowledge.

It is vital to ASU’s long-term success and must never be compromised, Shangraw said.

Around that core is the evolving campus learning environment. Over the next decade, ASU will advance next-generation digital learning spaces to augment traditional physical classrooms; develop artificial intelligence-based advising and tutoring platforms, and personalize learning at scale.

“We’re not far from the time when everything you studied or learned inside and outside of the classroom will be stored in a personalized digital portfolio for easy reference,” said Shangraw, who, from his current position as CEO of the private, non-profit Enterprise Partners, oversees efforts to raise, create and invest resources for ASU.

Next, ASU will continue to develop digital support for online learning. ASU has one of the largest platforms for a public university with more than 30,000 online students.

ASU will also embrace lifelong learners eager to expand their knowledge and gain new skills. It seeks innovations in content delivery and learning pathways unimpeded by organizational constraints.

Finally, ASU is working on creating fully personalized learning platforms. Learners will be able to take knowledge and skill gained in one adaptive course and transfer it to the next. To advance this model, ASU seeks innovations in virtual reality learning, advanced group learning, and tools to integrate individual learning across life stages.

The most successful colleges and universities will embrace these four realms, Shangraw said.

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