Perry’s ‘New Harmonies’ exhibit celebrates American music

PERRY -- Most people may know what an accordion is, but they may not know that it’s a key instrument for five distinct forms of American music -- Cajun, zydeco, Tejano, polka and klezmer.

“The New Harmonies Smithsonian Exhibition” at the Perry Arts Center is there not only to trace the roots of varied forms of American music, but also to allow Middle Georgians to celebrate music in general.

After an opening night performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” by noted violinist Robert McDuffie and the McDuffie Center String Ensemble on Saturday, patrons packed into the arts center Sunday to view the exhibit as well as hear musical performances by the Jubilate! Woodwind Trio, pianist Margaret Watson and jazz pianist Mark Mitchell.

“It’s great to hear Margaret,” said John Hulbert of Perry, who attended the show with his wife and three daughters. “She’s a good piano player. It’s pretty impressive (the exhibit) made it to Perry. I hope people come out, because it’s worth it to see it.”

Hulbert said he wanted to expose his children to not just music itself, but the history of how it evolved in America.

“I just want to expose them to different times and different kinds of new music,” he said. “It’s great (the exhibit) is making it to smaller communities. It’s an opportunity to expose children to a kind of history.”

The local organizers of the exhibition, which came to Perry through a grant by the Georgia Humanities Council, made certain to broaden what the Smithsonian put together with contributions from all over Middle Georgia, said Ellie Loudermilk, president of the Perry Area Historical Society.

With the Smithsonian Exhibition in the middle of the arts center, contributions from museums such as The Big House and The Tubman African American Museum as well those from private individuals are lined up along the walls. Charles “Mickey” Amberg and Bill Cox, local guitar builders, have an exhibition in another room showing how an acoustic guitar is put together.

“We’re having 65-plus events over the next six weeks,” Loudermilk said. “Everything relates to the music styles of this area.”

Loudermilk said Perry is the fourth city to host the exhibit, which runs until Oct. 20. After being shown in Calhoun, Madison and Marion, the exhibit will travel to Moultrie after it finishes in Perry.

The exhibit is made up of eight individual stands, which outline the history of American music as it originated from English, African and American Indian root. For example, one exhibit shows how African music led to spirituals, and later, to gospel. Each exhibit highlights legendary performers, such as Mahalia Jackson and Thomas Dorsey in the gospel genre.

Other styles of music include bluegrass, country, folk, Tejano and many others.

There also are listening stations, where patrons can hear samplings many of the artists shown on the exhibit panels. Among the 24 samples are Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Most of the events associated with the exhibition are free, although Friday’s program about the Byron Pop Festival of 1970 will cost $5 and be limited to the first 200 people to show up. That show will include live music, film footage and stories from people who were at the event.

Of all of the people who attended Sunday, the exhibition may have been a little more special for Donald Black, of Savannah, who learned about it online.

Black’s father, the late David Black, was the bassist for the rock/country band The Creations, which was made up of workers from Robins Air Force Base.

Black said he was able to look at photos of his father and the band that he hadn’t seen since he was a child.

“I just wanted to check it out,” he said. “I think this is all pretty neat. There’s a lot of history, man.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.