mtvU Fellowship Promotes Music and Multiculturalism
The power of music to forge connections across the globe is the focus of a unique fellowship program developed by the Fulbright Program and mtvU. Applications, due March 1st, are currently underway for the 2008 Fulbright-mtvU Fellowships, which would give students the chance to travel abroad and study the way music and media can change the global community for the better.
According to Jason Rzepka, Director of Communications for mtvU, the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship came about through mtvU’s focus on “providing unique opportunities for college students to launch their careers.” According to Rzepka mtvU’s connections with college culture made the fellowship a perfect fit. “We approached the Fulbright program with this idea in the hopes that they would want to work with us and they were very receptive to the idea,” he said, adding “I think both sides are really thrilled with the way it’s developed.”
In 2007, the first year for the program, over 100 people with research projects appied. The pool was eventually narrowed down to four Fellows. Those selected are provided with round-trip transportation costs, a stipend and media resources such as cameras and recording equipment. For the 2008 fellowships, mtvU and the Fulbright Program are again offering four prizes.
Rzepka views the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship as a unique opportunity for students interested in music as a force of positive change around the globe. “I don’t know of another program like this where you’ve got a focus on something like the power of music as a global force for mutual understanding. Music has an inherent power to bring people together — to be able to bridge gaps — and we feel that this is a very unique program with a specific focus,” said Rzepka.
The four 2007 Fulbright-mtvU Fellows are currently in the middle of their year-long projects and are working in a variety of media in order to help showcase the broad range of research they’ve developed.
Rzepka noted ingenuity of the research as a crucial part of the program’s success: “I think that if you just look at the fellowships that were granted last year and what those students set off to do, they’re amazing, innovative, merit worthy programs that we could have never envisioned or come up with ourselves. Whenever we kind of pose the question to our audience or give them a blank slate we’re constantly blown away by what they come up with.”
Phally Chroy, an MFA student at Temple University, is currently studying the reemergence of Cambodian musical forms in the post-Khmer Rouge era. Chory’s work includes shooting a documentary on how youth in Cambodia use traditional music to rediscover their historical roots. James Collins, a 2007 graduate of Harvard University, is also making a film of his project, which studies the impact of marching band music in the lives of lower-class South African youth.
Another 2007 fellowship recipient, Larnies Bowen, is creating a DVD-based audio-visual history of Spanish reggae music in Panama. On her blog Bowen describes the DVD: “Featuring audio clips, short videos, songs, and photos obtained from my fieldwork, [it] will provide a platform for Afro-Panamanians to explain the development and significance of Spanish Reggae music for their culture, community, and nation in their own words and riddims.”
The final 2007 fellowship winner, Aaron Shneyer, a Georgetown University graduate, is developing a year-long music program in Israel. The goal of the program is to bring Israeli and Palestinian high school students together to compose and perform music in their community. Shneyer is also developing a website that showcases videos, photographs and songs of the students.
Naturally, mtvU recruits a group of prominent musicians to serve as judges for the fellowship proposals. The panel of judges for this year’s proposals includes Wyclef Jean, Serj Tankian from System of a Down, Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio and former Oberlin student Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. According to Rzepka, the selection of a top-notch group of judges that college students relate to was a priority for mtvU.
Rzepka also notes that the diverse panel works hand-in-hand with the wide range of research ideas presented by students. “I think if you look at each of these artists and their catalog and their music and their philosophy, you see a lot of connection points where this is something they’d be interested in contributing to. I know we had outstanding feedback from the judges last year that helped pick the final four, and these artists in their eclecticism definitely bring a unique vantage point,” said Rzepka.
Overall, Rzepka views the Fulbright-mtvU Fellowships as a learning experience for the fellows, the communities they work in, mtvU and its audience. According to Rzepka, “There’s no denying that music has the power to bring people together, to bridge gaps. Any way that we can make even some small contribution to that through the efforts of these students we feel that that definitely has merit on its base. That’s a great way to contribute.”