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Dust in the Bottomland – March 21, 2016

dust-in-the-bottomlandComposer Nate May and bass vocalist Andrew Robert Munn combined contemporary opera and passions for environmental and economic justice in Appalachia in a live performance of Dust in the Bottomland by Nate May at P Buckley Moss Blacksburg Gallery, 223 Gilbert Street, Blacksburg, VA on Monday, March 21, 2016.  There was a reception at 6 PM with the performance at 7 PM.  They were also featured at a roundtable discussion from 12-1 on Tuesday March 22, 2016 at the Alexander Black House, 204 Draper Road, across from the Kent Square parking garage. Their residency was sponsored by Department of Religion & Culture (Appalachian Studies), the Grad School, The School of Performing Arts, and the English Department (CRC) and Institute for Policy and Governance.

Dust in the Bottomland grapples with issues of prescription drug addiction, mountaintop removal mining, and the changing fabric of rural Appalachian communities in a forty-five minute chamber opera written for bass (Munn), piano, and electronic soundscapes. May, a native West Virginian, composed the work for Munn in 2013. They toured the work throughout the Appalachian region, including a performance at the 2014 Appalachian Studies Association Conference, and gave a New York, NY performance presented by Tenth Intervention. The complete recording of the piece was broadcast on Appalshop’s WMMT radio and featured on West Virginia Public Radio. Nate and Andrew presented at the 2014 Ecomusics and Ecomusicologies Conference and are co-authors of “Music and Coal Activism: Perspectives from the Field,” an essay for the upcoming issue of Ecomusicology Review. The duo met while undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 2007.

May maintains a close connection with Appalachia as he pursues his master’s degree at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. His work-in-progress, State, for singer Kate Wakefield and Cincinnati’s Women’s choir, MUSE, is based on oral histories of Appalachians in Cincinnati and supported by a 2015 Appalachian Sound Fellowship from Berea College. His collaborations include the world-touring work Spiral by choreographer/dancer Wanjiru Kamuyu and Kalahari Waits, the debut album of indigenous poetry and music trio Khoi Khonnexion, produced during a year in South Africa funded by a Reece Miller Scholarship from the Telluride Association.

From 2009 to 2014 Munn worked as a community organizer for environmental and economic justice in the coalfields of West Virginia. During this time, he worked with communities to oppose mountaintop removal coal mining and to place local environmental issues in the context of climate change and globalized capitalism. His work on land reform, economic transition in coal-dependent areas, and civil disobedience was published and analyzed in The Journal of Appalachian Studies and Applied Anthropology; books published by Punctum, AK, and Atlantic Monthly Presses; and was featured in documentaries The Last Mountain and Battle for Blair Mountain on CNN. Andrew returned to the stage in the 2014-2015 season and maintains an active performing schedule as he pursues his master’s degree in the Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program under the direction of soprano and MacArthur Fellow Dawn Upshaw.