Tell Your Story: A Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra Project

Can sound inform place? Time? Emotion? And can those elements inform sound? These are the questions three Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra fellows seek to answer in artistic collaboration with three members of the Charleston community. This project—spearheaded by collaborative pianist and music therapist Renate Rohlfing, bassist and Spoleto Orchestra Manger Edward Kass, and Festival Director of Orchestral Activities John Kennedy—pairs emerging composers with mothers, entrepreneurs, artists, and activists, to engage in creative placemaking.

Over several weeks this spring, the Charlestonians shared their personal histories, memories, and reflections as the musicians listened and recorded the conversations. The pairs then worked together to transform those recordings into sonic collages—amalgams of sounds and voices of the partners’ Sea Island homes and historic downtown neighborhoods, as well as short instrumental pieces created by the Orchestra fellows.

You can read more about the project in a Post and Courier article published May 21, 2022.

Explore a map of Charleston and the Sea Island communities


I’ve Got a Story to Tell

Antwoine Geddis, Voice
Aurora Mendez, Violin & Sound Design

Artist Statement

“I’ve got a story to tell” highlights the many sides of Antwoine Curtis Geddis and his rich family history that he has single handedly traced back seven generations through personal research and oral accounts passed on to him by family members. This piece is centered on several musical motifs that are based on Geddis’ initials, “A C G,” and his musical identity as “DJ Sporty.” Throughout the piece, you will hear repetitive loops that represent the importance of telling our stories, as well as sounds from his “DJ Sporty’s Sugar Shack” stand on Johns Island.

About the Artists

For more than two decades, Antwoine Curtis Geddis has been the owner of Dj Sporty Entertainment of Johns Island as well as Dj Sporty Mobile Sugar Shack with Snacks and Boiled Peanuts. He is the former drummer of Cedar Spring Baptist Church and, as a family and community historian, has been recognized for researching seven generations of his family history. A father of four  children, Geddis also serves as a line technician for the Charleston Executive Airport.

Violinist and New York City native, Aurora Mendez is a multifaceted musician, educator, and Web3 builder. Aurora is a former Orchestra of the Americas Global Leader Fellow and currently holds teaching positions with SOPAC, Music Mentors Collaborative, and the NJ Symphony Orchestra Youth Program. In Web3, she serves as an advisor and consultant for leading blockchain music projects and is the founder of “Crypto Cleff Media,” an online initiative that aims to bridge the gap between classical musicians and Web3. Currently, Aurora is a member of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Apex Ensemble, and the Latin Orchestra of Europe.


You Got To Move

Christina Hunter McNeil, Voice
Sound design by Viola Chan, feat. Immanuel Wilkins

Artist Statement

My work dives into the life of Ms. Christina Hunter McNeil, a Johns Island native and descendant of the Gullah people. In this soundscape, which heavily features Ms. McNeil’s telling of her life story, both the noises of Charlestonian nature and traditional spirituals are interwoven in its texture. I rely on Christina’s structure of storytelling and utilize the musicality of her speech; my own additions to the work are only meant to enhance her narrative.

About the Artists

Christina Hunter McNeil was born and raised on Johns Island. At seven-years-old, she began traveling with her mother, Janie Hunter, as a storyteller and singer—work she continues to do as an adult. Janie Hunter can be heard at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, and McNeil describes it as a joy and gift to carry on her mother’s legacy. A lover of sewing, baking, and cooking, McNeil most relishes going to church and spending time with her daughter, leAndrea.

Flutist Viola Chan is a multifaceted artist and musician based in New York City. She has made notable appearances at Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center, and she has participated in numerous festivals nationwide. She holds degrees from The Juilliard School and is dedicated to portrait photography and the craft of hand music engraving.


letting go and be

Jacqueline Grimball Jefferson, Voice
Sounds by Joy Guidry and Khari Lucas

Artist Statement

This work combines words by Jacueline Grimball Jefferson and an ambient soundscape designed by Joy Guidry and Khari Lucas. Jacqueline reflects on her life and Charleston’s history through her perspective as a Gullah woman. 

About the Artists

A proud Gullah woman of the Sea Islands, both Wadmalaw and Johns islands, Jacqueline Grimball Jefferson is in love with nature, music, and life itself. She believes the way to a peace-filled world is to better understand others and to be understood oneself.

Radical self-love, compassion, laughter, and the drive to amplify Black artmakers comprise the core of New York City-based bassoonist and composer Joy Guidry’s work. A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory and Mannes School of Music, Guidry has performed with numerous prestigious ensembles and Festivals. They also spearheaded Sounds of the African Diaspora, a competition and commissioning platform for composers from the African diaspora, offering the resources necessary to foster new and innovative music.

 


In preparation for collaboration with the Charleston community members, the Festival Orchestra fellows were engaged for training to build foundational skills in social engagement, technical field recording, and documentation. Led by creative arts therapist Jasmine Edwards and composer Shawn Jaeger, the fellows explored various topics related to community engagement, identity, and ethical documentation practices.

Special thanks to Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach for the facilitation of this project and help in identifying the community partners.