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Little Rock Nine to be set to music

Posted: April 24, 2014 - 11:45am

Nine black children step onto Little Rock’s Central High School to receive equal education and to break the mold of generations past. The Little Rock Nine is a story of inspiration and hope for all, not only in Arkansas, but throughout the country.

This story is the inspiration for a new opera at UCA. The UCA College of Fine Arts and Communication received the National Endowment Art Works (NEA) grant totaling $15,000. This grant will be used to commission the creation of “The Little Rock Nine.” The opera will commemorate the 60th anniversary of this memorable event.

The opera will not only be enjoyable, but also educational. This is the aim of the NEA grant.

“These NEA-supported projects will not only have a positive impact on local economies but will also provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in the arts, help our communities to become more vibrant and support our nation’s artists as they contribute to our cultural landscape,” said acting chairman Joan Shigekawa.

The College of Fine Arts and Communication “is collaborating with Cuban-born composer and conductor Tania León and American literary critic and scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who will write the libretto. León is known for her contemporary music, including ballets, string quartets and the opera “Scourge of Hyacinths,” based on a play by Wole Soyinka. Gates, American literary critic and scholar, is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and one of the world’s most prominent scholars on African-American history,” according to a news release.

Dr. Gayle Seymour, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, explained that this grant would meet the mission of “presenting programming that educates, deepens and diversifies audiences.”

The story of the Little Rock Nine inspires movement for change. “It would be one of the honors of our lives to tell this story as it has never been told — as a modern opera as searing and inspiring as any of the dramas of the ancient world, but with more immediacy,” said Gates.

Alongside the NEA grant, UCA College of Fine Arts and Communication has also received a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Bernthal Toulmin Foundation and a $25,000 grant from the Darragh Foundation to fund the project.

For more information about The Little Rock Nine, contact Gayle Seymour at 501-450-3295 or gayles@uca.edu

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