5 Resources to Supplement & Support Asian Studies in the Pioneer Valley this Winter

Asian Studies Supplemented in the Pioneer Valley
Exhibit, Educator Workshop, Guided Tours, Performance Art & Free Family Day

Image credit: Yue Minjun. Chinese, born 1962. The Grassland Series Woodcut 1 (Diving Figure), 2008 Woodcut on medium weight lightly textured cream wove paper. Gift of Pace Editions Incorporated and Ethan Cohen Fine Arts courtesy of Ann and Richard Solomon (Ann Weinbaum, class of 1959) and Ethan Cohen Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

Educational opportunities are numerous over the next few months for those interested in teaching and learning about Asian art!  The Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA will be opening a new exhibit on Asian art beginning February 1st through May 26th, 2013.  Titled, Collecting Art of Asia, the exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the museum’s first acquisition of Asian art and includes work from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as promised gifts to the museum.  Work included in the two-floor exhibit comes from China, Japan, Korea, and much of south and southeastern Asia, and highlights significant movements and people in the history of Asian art, as well as significant and historic gifts to the museum’s collection.

Educators can attend a workshop hosted by the museum that will share suggestions for teaching about the interdisciplinary connections found between Asian and Western art objects.  Open to K-12 teachers, the workshop will also include an overview of “Collecting Art of Asia,” and resources for teaching shared by Five College Center for East Asian Studies director Anne Prescott.  The workshop takes place on February 6th from 10am-3pm ($).  Registration required – call 413-585-2781 or e-mail museduc@smith.edu to sign up.

The Smith College Museum of Art welcomes groups of students to visit, and offers guided tours of the museum.  Classes, homeschool groups, and other groups of learners from PreK-12th grade can visit the museum to supplement their studies of Asian art, culture, and history.  Tours can be designed to fit specific needs, or groups can participate in the general tour designed to accompany the exhibit.  Educators can use a visit to the museum to supplement explorations into the history of Asian art, as well as studies of Asian culture and history.

On Saturday, March 2nd from 10am-3pm, Smith College Museum of Art will host a free family day. Billed as “Art of Asia,” families can participate in hands-on projects that were inspired by fishermen, flowers and fireworks, all on view in the Collecting Art of Asia exhibition.  Projects are perfect for families with PreK-12th youth and their guardians.

Finally, at the UMass Fine Arts Center in Amherst will host Chinese Theater Works performing Toy Theater Peony Pavilion as part of the Global Arts: Performances for Schools series.  The performance, open to grades 3-8, will take place at 10am on March 7th, 2013.  The show combines the 16th century Chinese Kun Opera with modern Western styles of puppetry to create a unique and beautiful story, following a young maiden through her dreams.

Studies of Asian art and performance can provide a window through which to examine Asian history and culture, and can help provide students with a critical understanding of the evolution of Asian cultures.  A look at Asian traditions can also help older students put relations between the United States and east Asian countries such as China and Japan into cultural context.  For more information on either the exhibit or the performance, contact the Smith College museum of Arts at 413-585-2781 or the UMass FAC at 413-545-2511.

13 Years in the Life of Sonya Kitchell

The Years of Becoming
An Interview with Sonya Kitchell

Hilltown-native singer/songwriter Sonya Kitchell has been singing since she was in elementary school, knowing in 2nd grade that she wanted to be a singer. Thirteen years later at the age of twenty-one, Sonya has traveled the world and performed with an impressive list of accomplished musicians, including jazz legend Herbie Hancock.  She has released three recordings.  Her latest release, Convict of Conviction, is a six-song EP of gorgeously rendered chamber pop, including the song, “Lighthouse”.  Recently featured at the Ashfield FilmFest, the music video to “Lighthouse” was awarded the music video prize:

We caught up with Sonya recently asking her about her experiences as a talented, young person: What was it like growing up in the rural hills of Western MA;  Where did she find support that both recognized and nurtured her talent; How would she recommend parents support the creative muse in their children?


Hilltown Families: On October 10th, 2010 you have a show at Memorial Hall in Shelbunre Falls, MA with the Brooklyn String Quartet. You played there for the first time when you were just 9 years old. What do you remember about that show?

Sonya Kitchell: I remember that it was very exciting to be on such a large stage. I remember singing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” My grandmother played piano and accompanied me. I remember that I loved it and couldn’t wait to do it again…

Hilltown Families: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a singer?

Sonya Kitchell: I was seven years old.

Hilltown Families: Were your parents supportive?

Sonya Kitchell: Extremely.

Hilltown Families: The Hilltowns can be a wonderful place to grown up, but it can also have its limitations. Because of the rural enviroment, friends aren’t always close by, there’s limited access to TV and radio, the nearest cultural center can be half an hour away … how did the rural environemnt of Ashfield have an influence on your development?

Sonya Kitchell: It was simply frustrating because my parents had to drive me, if I wanted to go anywhere, and of course, sometimes they didn’t feel like it. Aside from that, I loved it, and I wouldn’t trade where I grew up for anything in the world. My heart and soul is in that land, and I believe it’s a huge part of why I am who I am. I had a lot of time to be alone in the woods and let my imagination run wild. I was a free child…. and I got my license as soon as I legally could, remedying the only detriment.

Hilltown Families: You’re a graduate of the Hilltown Charter Cooperative Public School (HCCPS) in Haydenville, MA and attended the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), in Hadley, MA for a portion of High School. During these years, in addition to having a very supportive family, did you have any local mentors or teachers that were a big influence on you as a singer and a songwriter?  Read the rest of this entry »

Dragonfly Races: An interview with Ellis Paul.

The Dragonfly Races: An Interview with Ellis Paul
by Sienna Wildfield

Dragonfly Races (CD cover)

There’s a lot of great music and there are many musicians that my daughter and I have become very fond of since we started our musical exploration together. Living out in the rural hilltowns of Western Mass, we do a lot of driving around – giving music we’ve received for review our undivided attention as we travel from Chesterfield to Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and back. When we come across a song my daughter especially likes, she (being my focus group of one) clues me in with a simple request from the backseat of the car, “Mommy, can you put that on repeat?” That’s the indication from the peanut gallery that we’ve got a winner, adding it to our song list of “must play” for an upcoming episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show.

But the real litmus test of quality family music comes when we’re traveling as a family. The day we drove to Springfield and back we played The Dragonfly Races by Ellis Paul, and not once did my husband turn it down. He even made faces of agreement and pleasure while listening. But the moment of truth came when HE put on the repeat button. Ladies and gentlemen … we have a WINNER!

Ellis Paul’s newest CD, and first family album, The Dragonfly Races is an album of discoveries and adventures that lead the listener through fantasy and fun, masked in allegories with threads of social commentary. So while we listen as a family, our 5 year old is enjoying the fable of a fair maiden and a misunderstood monster in “Abioloa” while we’re reflecting on the underlying social commentary the story is revealing. As my daughter listens to the songs more and more, questions slowly arise as she searches for more of an understanding.

With The Dragonfly Races, Ellis Paul, the father of two girls, wanted to craft an album that was representative of the morals he wanted to impart to his children. Songs that might inspire getting involved and taking action while bringing about peace. To follow is an interview with Ellis that takes a look at the challengs of being a father of two young girls, including how his music becomes that vehicle that imparts the morals he looks to share with his children.


SW: Your newest album, The Dragonfly Races has become a favorite with my family. Everyone enjoys listening, and appreciates your songs on different levels. What inspired you to put together a family album and how does this differ from albums you’ve previously produced?

Ellis: I wanted a recording for my kids to grow up with that represented the kinds of things I wanted them to hear in songs. I also want them to know the difference between a trite, silly song and a thoughtful one.

SW: As they’ve been described, your songs offer a “unique sensibility about life and the possibilities of childhood.” What do you think it was about your childhood and life experience that makes your sensibility unique?

Ellis: Well, I come from a small town in Maine, and I think small towns give birth to big dreamers, and big optimism. I was around a lot of farmland and nature, and I think that’s why so much of it seeps into the songs.

SW: I understand that you have a pretty extensive performance schedule with nearly 150 shows a year in North America and Europe. How do you manage your family life while on the road?

Ellis: It’s difficult, and I am always looking for ways to do it more gracefully. Adding kids shows should help a lot, because the matinees are added without adding days away from home. Then maybe I can take some weekends completely off! The challenge is keeping everyone happy. My wife does the vast majority of the care taking. I am in lifelong debt to her for that.

(c) Ellis Paul

SW: Throughout The Dragonfly Races you joyfully take the listener on several journeys and adventures, sometimes with a destination, other times not. In “Because Its There” you sing of historic adventures: of traveling to the moon, the bottom of the sea, and mountain tops, just because they’re there. In “Pinwheel” a young boy is lifted off the ground to drift magically through the sky as he explores the world below. And in “Road Trip” you and your buddy Flynn sing about all the wonderful destinations in America that make a road trip through the U.S. so unique. What is it about the “journey” we experience in life that inspires you to celebrate it through your songs in this album?

Ellis: Exploration is how we learn. From the moment we are crawling on the floor in a bedroom looking at all the nooks and crannies a room has to offer. Exploration leads to the discovery of cool things and interesting places, but mostly, by exploring, we discover something about ourselves and our relationship to our world.

SW: Hands down, my 5-year old daughter’s favorite song on The Dragonfly Races is “Abiola.” She often asks me to explain the story following the song, which opens a dialogue between us about how she can be brave and kind to others, while exploring her own personal truth and following it through. I think you’ve down a lovely service to young girls by crafting a song of fantasy underscored with social commentary. Can you share how you developed this story and how you hope your own daughters may be influenced by its underlying message?

Ellis I wrote the song with Antje Duvekot, who brought the genesis of the idea to me. We were looking for a female heroine for the album, and the story unfolded and gave me a beautiful one. I want each of my girls to be an Abiola, to question authority, to come to their own conclusions, and then to act and participate in positive change. Read the rest of this entry »

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