From Accent Elimination by Nina Katchadourian at the Strauss Gallery

Thursday Eve in Hanover: Hood, Hop, Strauss


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Susan B. Apel

Thursday night in Hanover NH, and we're knee-deep in the arts. The main event, our reason for braving the parking garage, was the Jones Family Singers at the Hopkins Center. It was bracketed by two art galleries: the Hood Downtown, lit up and open, its evening hours adding to the town's artistic activity, and the Strauss Gallery at the Hop.

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In my preview, I was both wrong and right about the Jones Family Singers. I had quoted someone who said they were gospel singers for atheists. Having seen them, they may not be, and that makes them very happy. They proclaimed from the stage that they have been advised to be more "rock and roll," which I understood to mean more secular. They respectfully decline.  

The Jones Family Singers

What I was right about is that Bishop Fred A. Jones really "can bust out a move." He's the commanding patriarch of four musician sons and five songstress daughters on stage, one of whom takes the lead in singing, engaging the audience, and hawking the merch that is available post-concert. As I was wondering if there could possibly be a member of this family who was not steeped in musical talent, an introduction went out to an absent sister who "has tried, but can't sing." Imagine.

Seats filling before the Jones Family Singers concert at the Hopkins Center

The Jones Family Singers feel authentic, not over-produced. The music was a mix, some old soul-type songs with rewritten lyrics to reflect religious themes, like Stand By Me, and Love Train with a great drum solo. There were some call-and-response type gospel numbers, and a unique instrumental version of Amazing Grace. It was its own kind of beautiful, but I missed hearing the lyrics. And of course there was the audience dancing, a few in the aisles, many at their seats, a handful standing and rigid except for rhythmically nodding heads.

The Strauss Gallery was open for a visit both before and after the concert. Visually it is not much--six rectangular screens, three facing the front, three behind them. It is a conceptual piece called Accent Elimination by Nina Katchadourian, inspired by posters advertising "accent elimination" services in her native Brooklyn. The artist is the daughter of immigrants from two different countries who speak accented English. She filmed them working with a speech coach who tried to "neutralize" her parents' accents, and then tried to teach the accents to her. Everyone struggles at the task.

The piece raises questions about "the tricky maneuvering between the desire to preserve the distinctive marks of one's culture, on the one hand, and to decrease them in order to seem less foreign, on the other." Headphones allow you to listen in on some of the speech coaching sessions. It is oddly compelling. I thought about my lifelong struggle to learn French, which includes "perfecting" pronunciation, and how pleased I was with myself on very, very rare (really rare) occasions in France when I had been mistaken for a native French (accentless) speaker. Now I am rethinking my fear of sounding "too American" when I speak French. Pourquoi/why do/should accents matter?

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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge

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