Oct. 4, 2005 — Edney Freeman stood behind two rickety tables on his front porch Saturday morning with a hammer, nails and what would become a central component of his exhibit.
"I don't have that much more to do," he said, as he placed a photograph under a sheet of plastic.
Monday, Oct. 10, the Quelbe Traveling Exhibit and Colloquim 2005 will open on St. John with historic photographs, wire sculptures, a panel discussion and a live band. Freeman said the exhibit will be used as an educational tool to increase local interest in quelbe music.
"We want to create an interest in the music, and the way to do that is through education," Freeman said. "At the end of the day, this exhibit will be used as a learning tool." The traveling exhibit will be able to move from school to school after it has shown on all three islands.
Even though the lead instrument is a string instrument, quelbe is a very "percussive" music, said Robert Nicholls, who is moderating the panel discussion and contributed historic photos. "The words are also very provocative," he said.
The project started in April, when Freeman was given a commission from Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone to create a quelbe band to honor a few quelbe musicians. Freeman, a practicing professional artist and head of the art department at Charlotte-Amalie High School for 28 years, gladly accepted the project. Malone was the prime mover in seeing quelbe become the official music of the V.I.
When he returned to Malone with the finished product, Malone told Freeman "You can't have a quelbe band without an ass pipe player!"
"A what?!" Freeman thought.
The pipe player in a quelbe band plays the base line with an instrument based on the tailpipe (informally called the ass pipe) of a car. To play it, the player blows across the top of the pipe in a way similar to blowing across an open bottle.
When Freeman discovered he didn't know what a pipe player was, he thought many other people may not know, either.
"That's how I got started in this craziness," Freeman joked.
Nicholls said part of the importance of the exhibit is "passing the torch from one generation to another."
"I've seen that a lot of the older tradition-bearers are getting older, and I'm sorry to say some have passed on," Nicholls said.
In December 2004, the V.I. Senate passed a bill naming quelbe the official traditional music of the Virgin Islands. Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Lorraine Berry and Emmett Hansen II sponsored the bill with five other co-sponsors. (See "It's Official: Quelbe is V.I. Traditional Music".)
"I think it's a fascinating topic of local, historical interest," Nicholls said.
The Quelbe Traveling Exhibit and Colloquim 2005 will include wire quelbe band figures Freeman made, photos from the St. Croix Landmarks Society, private collections and public libraries, live music and a discussion panel.
The panelists are quelbe musicians Dimitri Copemann and Stanley Jacobs, storyteller and folklorist Lois Habtes, radio broadcaster Leo Moron and quelbe musician Glenn 'Kwabena' Davis.
The St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce, Bellows International and the V.I. Humanities Council are sponsoring the show. Also, the Association of Virgin Islands Visual Art Education, of which Freeman is president, is providing sponsorship as well. The project helps fulfill one of the goals of AVIVAE, for its members to continue professional development and presentation.
The target audience, Freeman said, is anyone "interested in preserving Virgin Islands culture."
The exhibit is open from 1 – 4 p.m. Oct. 10 at the St. John School of the Arts. St. John's own Koko and The Sunshine Band will play.
The exhibit will be in St. Croix from 3 – 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at the St. Croix Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, and in St. Thomas from 1 – 4 p.m. Nov. 26 at St. Thomas Bethania Parish Hall. Music for the St. Croix and St. Thomas exhibits is still being arranged.
Wednesday, Oct. 5, Freeman plans to appear on the show "Face to Face" with some of the exhibit's panelists to promote the show. The show airs on WTJX.
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