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Concert explores social justice through music

Although many might think so, protest songs didn’t just spring to life during the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. Bob Dylan, Odetta and Joan Baez weren’t the first to use music as a way to demand social justice.

There were protest songs during the Civil War, in the Labor Movement of the early 1900s, during the Depression and racial lynchings of the 1930s, through McCarthyism and nuclear weapon proliferation of the 1950s.

And they’re still be written and performed today.

On Friday, the UTC Women’s Chorale and Men’s Chorus are offering a concert of music around the theme of Social Justice. Set for 7:30 p.m. in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall, the performance is free and will include:

  • Songs by Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel, Andre Thomas, Irving Berlin and others.
  • A musical setting of the 1896 poem “We Wear the Mask” by the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It has been arranged for women’s voices, cello and piano and the music was composed by Jonathan McNair, UC Foundation professor in the department of Music.
  • A traditional Iraqi song for peace, accompanied by percussion.
  • Combined women’s and men’s voices in works by Mendelssohn and others.

Musical direction is by Professors Alison Allerton and Perry Ward from the Department of Performing Arts. Pianists include Jenny Parker, adjunct instructor of Performing Arts and Music, and students Lindsay Betts and Autumn Skiles.

Sharon Reed will be featured on cello, along with Professor Monte Coulter from the Department of Performing Arts and student Matt Gardner on percussion.


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Airing it out: Surreal and musical, Squonk Opera brings “Pneumatica” to UTC

Squonk musical performance featuring 2 guitarists on stage and a giant robot shaped art piece in the middle of the stage

If you go

Earth, Wind and Solar Festival

3:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Engel Stadium, 1130 Third St.


To watch videos of “Pneumatica” performances, go to

Don’t go to Squonk Opera’s “Pneumatica” and expect to understand it.

There’s not too much to actually understand.

“There is no plotline,” says Steve O’Hearn, artistic director and co-founder of Squonk Opera. “We believe pretty strongly that it’s good for audience to make up some part of the story. We don’t want to spoonfeed them or preach to them.”

Still, while the plot is missing, there is a point to “Pneumatica.” Almost all the instruments and props are powered by air, a good detail since the performance is part of the Earth, Wind and Solar Festival, a collaboration between the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the City of Chattanooga that celebrates all forms of sustainable energy.

Sponsored by EPB and Tennessee Solar Solutions, the event will feature three concerts as well as several workshops on energy, wind power and other sustainable sources.

The festival’s overarching theme lands right in Squonk’s wheelhouse, O’Hearn says. The group has been green — both in its performances and in many of the individual performers’ lives — since it was created almost 20 years ago.

“We’re thrilled to be performing at a festival like this,” he says.

Born and built and bred in Pittsburgh, Pa., Squonk (not named after the Genesis song, by the way) has carried its surreal zeitgeist to more than 30 states and three continents. Over the years, it has created 11 different productions, including Astro-Rama (close encounters with aliens), Squonk’s Opera Inferno (a take on Dante’s “A Divine Comedy”) and “The Night of the Living Dead: The Opera,” a less-than-highbrow version at the 1968 movie.

These days, Squonk’s only touring shows are “Pneumatica” and “Cycle Sonic” — bikes pedaling along while carrying musicians on stages above them and another green-energy gig.

For its performances, “Pneumatica” uses blowers and fans to pump up 25 different effects, including various tubes that flip and flop onstage and “attack the audience like a fast squid,” O’Hearn says. Picture horizontal versions of those skinny, air-filled man-creatures that shake and shimmy at used-car lots.

Then there’s Lady Pneumatica herself, a 40-foot-tall Amazon whose lungs are a huge accordion and whose arms and six-foot head move. Think of her as a cousin to the wooden figures that were the centerpieces of “the great, old, harvest festivals that were celebrations of the seasons,” O’Hearn says.

Except she isn’t set on fire at the end, which usually concluded harvest festivals.

There are five musicians onstage and four technicians running effects for “Pneumatica,” but all nine are in full view of the audience, O’Hearn says.

“Everybody’s a performer,” he says. “Part of the fun, I think, is that you see people doing their job. It’s just wacky, silly stuff.”

Since the beginning, O’Hearn has created the designs and theatricality of the Squonk Opera shows while his partner, Jackie Dempsey, who has a degree in composition, pens the music.

“She comes from a classical background and I have a love of world music and ethnic music, and the players come from rock and jazz backgrounds. So the music is simply what these five people play when they get together.”

As for the physical part of the performances, “none of us are actors or acrobats or dancers,” he admits, but that’s part of the show.

“There’s an inherent humor and rawness and probably a lack of grace. It’s who we are. What we do well is emphasized and, hopefully, what we don’t do well isn’t noticed as much.”

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Decoda Cello presents community engagement through music


The Decoda Cello Quartet is a part of the Decoda Ensemble, based in New York City.  The members of The Decoda Cello Quartet are highly accomplished professional musicians who perform in a variety of groups, tour, and participate in community enrichment and educational projects. They presented a workshop on community engagement through music and arts on Friday, January 20 in Cadek Recital Hall.

The video shows The Decoda Cello Quartet performing for UTC students and the public. Claire Bryant, a cellist in the Decoda, talks about her experience while performing and how music can make an impact on the community.

UTC senior Jonathan Bartholomew found the experience eye opening, saying, “This actually really opened my mind to a lot of more ideas about composing, as well as what I can do with music both socially and privately and just how I can open to the world with music and get everybody united.”

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Decoda Cello Quartet presents workshop on community engagement through music

The Decoda Cello Quartet will present a workshop on community engagement through music and the arts on Friday, January 20, at 4:30 p.m. in Cadek Recital Hall on the UTC campus. Admission is free and open to the campus and the public. The group will perform and will hold an open conversation about making a positive impact in communities through music. There will be time for questions from the audience as well.

The Decoda Cello Quartet is a part of the Decoda Ensemble, based in New York City. Its members are highly accomplished young professional musicians who perform in a variety of groups, tour, and participate in community enrichment and educational projects. They have also performed with numerous world-renowned soloists. The Cello Quartet members include Hamilton Berry, Claire Bryant, Yves Dharamraj, and Caitlin Sullivan.

This workshop is sponsored by the Holmberg Professor of American Music and the Department of Performing Arts. This group is in Chattanooga to be part of the String Theory concert series at the Hunter Museum of Art. More information on the members can be found here.


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Music’s first African American student looks back at a lifetime of musical achievement

johnny-malone-trumpet-sliderJohnny Malone ‘74, professional musician and songwriter, was seventeen when he started his educational career at UTC, then still the University of Chattanooga, as the first African American student in the Music Department.

“It was a challenge for us then. In 1967, there weren’t many black students in the school. But, I was used to being in situations like that. I played in youth orchestras in high school, and I was usually the only black student.”

For Malone, the biggest challenge he faced in coming to the University was the same challenge that students face today.


Johnny Malone in 1967

Johnny Malone in 1967

“It was a shock, coming from high school. College was more demanding, but there’s more freedom too. You have the freedom to succeed, but you’re also free to fall by the wayside. No one holds your hand and forces you to succeed.”

Malone had his heart set on getting away from his hometown to attend an out of state school.

“Me, being my rebellious self at that age, I tried to flunk out, thinking my dad would send me somewhere else. Well, he sent me somewhere alright – he sent me to work!”

Malone spent time working at Miller’s department store, before he came back to UTC at 19, ready to get down to business.

“It wasn’t a bad job. I didn’t want to follow money, though, I wanted to follow my passion, and that was music.”

Before Malone was a master of the keyboard, he used to practice in Cadek Hall when he thought it would be empty. “I didn’t want anyone to overhear me.”

On one such occasion, Malone overheard a phenomenal piano player. He followed the sound of the music to its source. “I looked through the window in the door and there was this skinny little red headed kid playing amazingly, just tearing it up. I tapped on the door and he nodded me in. I said, ‘Hey, man, that was great. Do you think you can help me work out some music I’ve got in my head?’”

Together, the pair collaborated to bring the tunes Malone had thought up to life on the piano.


The Marching Mocs on Chamberlain field in 1973

“Afterwards, he told me, ‘Hey, you’re a great songwriter!’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not a songwriter.’ Because at that time, I wasn’t good at writing out the notes on the page; I got a D in Sight Reading. He said to me, ‘You thought it up, didn’t you? Then you wrote it. And if you can write something like this, you could write music for a band.’”

Malone may have gotten a D in Sight Reading, but despite that, he ended up making a lifelong career out of music. When Malone’s band cut their first demo, it drew the attention of Elektra Records.

“This guy comes up to me at a bar in this fancy suit, telling me he’s from Elektra Records and they want to talk about hiring me. I told him, ‘No, you’re not. Get out of my face, I’m having a drink. Bye.’ He went back to his table with some other fancy looking men, they laughed a bit, and he comes back with a business card, and I’m like, ‘Wait, you are for real!’”

It turned out, however, that they were interested in hiring Malone for his songwriting – and only Malone.

“They wanted me as a writer, not my band, so I turned them down. Which was stupid!” laughed Malone. “It sounds morally great, but it was just me being young and dumb. If I’d gotten that job at the record company, I could have just hired them as a recording band and we could have stayed together that way!”

Johnny Malone's senior picture

Johnny Malone’s senior picture

Eventually, Malone moved to Los Angeles to pursue musical opportunities.

“I got to work with artists that I’d only ever dreamed about – that I’d listened to, but never thought I’d meet.”

After being in Los Angeles for only a year, Malone auditioned with Stevie Wonder.

“Stevie’s office called me! They heard about me through my acquaintance, whose sister was dating Stevie’s cousin. This was before the days of being discovered on Youtube, but you have to get lucky either way. I got a lot of breaks most people never get.”

Malone auditioned with Stevie Wonder while he was working on his Hotter than July album. It was 1 AM before Malone got to meet the famous musician, which gave him plenty of time to get cold feet.

“I was thinking, oh my god, this is Stevie Wonder’s studio! And I was saying, ‘Thank you, you’ve all been so nice, but I don’t think I should be here, I’m going to go.’ Then Stevie came in, and I heard his voice and I recognized him before I ever saw him, and he said, ‘Come on, Johnny!’ He liked my playing, but I wasn’t what he was looking for. I wasn’t good enough, yet.”

Malone was included in several videos featuring artists like Ray Charles, Manhattan Transfer and F-MOB. He also had a brief stint in an artist development program at Motown as a songwriter. He also had one of his songs recorded and produced by the then hottest producer of the eighties for R&B, Leon Sylvers. Malone recently recorded a contemporary jazz song co-written with Sheldon Reynolds, former member of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Johnny Malone playing the French horn in 2015

Johnny Malone playing the French horn in 2015

Eventually, Malone’s music career came full circle when he began teaching, which had been his goal when he started his music degree at UTC. He started off substitute teaching, and then became a high school band director in 2002.

“I had planned to be a band director when I started college in 1967, but those aren’t the opportunities that presented themselves to me. I am where I am because of UTC. The seed was planted at Riverside High School, watered at UTC, and bloomed when I moved to L.A. I’ve been so lucky to have a successful professional career doing what I love.”

When he’s in Chattanooga, Malone still makes a point of visiting the UTC band. He likes to chat with current students and sit in with the jazz band.

“It was a big deal to me when I saw myself on the wall of fame in the Music Department. One of the kids asked me, did you go here? And I said, yeah, this is me right here in this picture! He said, ‘That was you?!’ and he ran down the hall to grab the other kids to show them. They were so excited, and that meant a lot to me.”

Malone semi-retired in 2007, though he still stays active in music.

“I’ve been playing for forty years now, but I’m still always trying to improve. I like to say I’m a blue collar musician – a working musician. The music was always more important to me than fame. You know, I’ve worked in music my whole life, and I’ve worked with a lot of famous people. I’m not famous, but I’ve got a lifetime of musical achievement, and that’s more valuable to me.”

UPDATED 12/24/16

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