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Music and Life

ONU experience awakens a music student’s passion and shapes her career

For some cultures, music and life are so seamlessly entwined that you can’t have one without the other. This is the message Anna Campbell, BA ’17, wants to tell the world.

A recent graduate in music history and literature, Campbell has chosen the career field of ethnomusicology, the study of the music of different cultures, especially non-Western ones. She has a particular affinity for the music of Africa, a land enriched with music and life melded together into its culture. Now, she is well on her way to making a career out of this passion.

Before attending Ohio Northern University, Campbell had never heard of ethnomusicology, and she certainly didn’t anticipate making it a career. But her decision to attend ONU started her on a guided journey to awaken a passion for ethnic music she didn’t know she had.

Dr. Sarah Waters, associate professor of music, has served as an important mentor to Campbell throughout her time at ONU. Therefore, it’s fitting that Waters was the one who helped her discover ethnomusicology.

One day I took Anna to lunch so we could try to figure out where her music passions might take her,” Waters says. “As a way of trying to analyze her strengths, I mentioned several different career paths, such as music therapy and ethnomusicology. Her eyes lit up when I described what an ethnomusicologist would do, and she hasn’t looked back since. 

Ohio Northern University Department of Music student Anna Campbell dances with Calvin Vonderwell during her senior recital rehearsal in Presser Hall.

Over the 2016 Thanksgiving break, Campbell accompanied Waters and three other students on a trip to Accra, Ghana, to study its culture and music. She was amazed to observe the country’s professional dancers and to see the vibrant music and dance play out before her eyes. It was a life-changing experience for Campbell.

“In Ghana, music is an everyday part of life,” she says. “You can’t have just the dancing, drumming or singing and take them apart. They’re always together.”

It’s one thing to see a video or an imitation of Ghanaian music and dance. Experiencing the real thing is something else entirely. That’s why travel is essential to really understanding ethnic music, and Campbell has admittedly “caught the travel bug.” So far, she has been to Africa, Romania and the Dominican Republic, and she’s still thirsty for more.

“I love traveling,” she says. “That’s what made me love ethnomusicology more because not only do I get to learn about it – I get to go there and learn about it.”

The trip to Ghana gave her the perfect perspective for her senior recital, a performance and analysis of an authentic Ghanaian dance performance. Campbell arranged, choreographed and performed in the dance.

But African music isn’t the only culture she’s interested in. After Waters brought a Chinese musician to campus multiple times, Campbell took a real interest in learning how to play traditional Chinese instruments, including a stringed instrument called the “erhu.” She became quite skilled in the instrument and subsequently performed in a Chinese music concert at Presser Hall in February. Furthermore, she is taking advantage of a graduate music scholarship for playing the erhu in an ensemble.

Campbell’s experience at ONU not only helped her find her career path, but also allowed her to seamlessly integrate the other parts of her multidimensional love for music.

Campbell has played the violin since the fifth grade. It’s a passion she’s always had, and ONU not only fostered her continued practice in the instrument, but also helped connect it to her passion for ethnic music. With the exception of her final semester, she took violin lessons throughout college from Florin Simioanca, an ONU lecturer in music whose Romanian heritage and influence piqued her interest. She traveled with him to Romania as part of a student-and-faculty chamber-music group. The trip taught her even more about another culture and helped bring two young, high-profile violinists from Romania to perform at the Freed Center in May. 

When all is said and done, though, the mantra that resonates most with Campbell is that intimate connection between music and life.

Whether you think about it or not, music is a part of our everyday life,” she says. “Learning the cultural and the background aspects to the music of other cultures is interesting to me, and it’s awesome to just see how music is incorporated into their culture and life each day.

This summer, Campbell heads to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she has been accepted to its graduate program to study ethnomusicology focusing on African music. Thanks to her experience as a Polar Bear, she is pursuing her dreams, and although she may be far away from dear old ONU, she will never forget the place where it all started.