Campus: CSU Fullerton -- August 31, 2005

Cal State Fullerton Faculty Member to Teach in Poland as Fulbright Scholar

Whether it's spirituals, gospel, ragtime or hip-hop, Stan Breckenridge is interested.

A lecturer in Afro-ethnic studies at Cal State Fullerton, Breckenridge has studied African American musicology since his college days, sharing his interest and enthusiasm with Southland students for years.

Beginning in September, he will share his expertise with students at Marie Curie Sklodowska University during a semester as a Fulbright Scholar in southeast Poland.

Among the courses he will teach are "History of Rock," "African American Music Appreciation" and "African Americans in the Performing Arts."

Breckenridge was drawn to Poland following a trip there in 2004. A colleague, Michael Steiner, professor of American studies, was teaching in Poland on a Fulbright, and Breckenridge visited one of his classes.

"The Polish students were quire interested in African American music," he recalled. "It was quite amazing. I found some of the Polish students were more attuned to African American music than their American counterparts.

"That may be because Poles, like Africans, have a history of discrimination and persecution.

"I find that Poles and Irish citizens understand what it is like to be offered jobs that nobody else wants," said Breckenridge. "In World War II, the Poles were persecuted, and I think this allows them a certain affinity for the situations where African Americans also find discrimination.

"In fact, hip-hop is huge in Poland, and they embrace the black culture," he added. "For me, it's a wonderful affirmation to be recognized by another culture."

How does Breckenridge define black music?

"I think of it as a vehicle for communicating," he said. "It was, and is, used as a way to express emotions and divert attention from hardship.

"You have gospel, spirituals, ragtime - listen to the melody and texture and harmony - then look at its influence on other musical styles. In some ways, music is like food; if you understand it, it provides great insight into another culture."

Breckenridge comes by his love of music from an early age. In 1969, he was selected as a "Super Pepsi Battle of the Bands" winner. At the time, this designation was similar to today's "American Idol" television show, says the musicologist, who made appearances with such luminaries as Bill Cosby, Rowan and Martin, and Nancy Sinatra during the 1970s.

"Our group, the Sematics, was heavily influenced by Motown," he said. " We modeled ourselves after the Temptations. After we won the Battle of the Bands, we performed in numerous venues, including the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The group landed a recording contract and a car.

"The '70s were an interesting time in history," Breckenridge said. "There were significant changes in how people dealt with those of different genders, ethnicities and cultures. I feel like I had a front-row seat as these changes were taking place."

While Breckenridge grew up in a household filled with music, he remembers everyone in his family walking around signing hymns. The exposure to many new people and groups, as well as new forms of music, prompted him to change from an emphasis in choral conducting to musicology and ethnomusicology. He earned his bachelor's degree at Cal State Fullerton and his master's and doctorate from Claremont Graduate University.

"Being a part of a singing group made me realize I could do anything," he said. "It inspired me to learn more about music and devote more study to it."

In addition to his teaching, Breckenridge directs the university's Afro-Ethnic Studies Community Music Ensemble. He has published two editions of "African American Music for Everyone" and is working on a new book, "Popular Music in America," scheduled for fall release.

Now, in his role as teacher, both here and abroad, Breckenridge hopes to use music as a vehicle to communicate about different cultures.

"Music is lyrical poetry," he explained. "I look at the music and ask, 'How does the sound support what is stated?'"

With his Fulbright, Breckenridge wants to introduce a new group of students to the African American culture and to continue to challenge assumptions that people often make.

"I am really looking forward to this opportunity," he said. "I hope to learn as much from my students and the Polish people as they learn from me."

Media Contacts:
Stan Breckenridge, (714) 278-7003 or sbreckenridge@fullerton.edu
Valerie Orleans, Public Affairs, (714) 278-4540 or vorleans@fullerton.edu


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