Making sure the beat goes on: Alumna and Fulbright scholar Hannah Standiford preserves traditional Indonesian music

Standiford speaking to a classroom of students while in Indonesia.

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Hannah Standiford (B.M.’11/A) picked up her first guitar at 13. Music has played an integral role in her life ever since.

She studied classical guitar at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a bachelor’s in music in 2011. Since then, she has performed as the frontwoman for a number of bands and has taught guitar and voice lessons with several music schools in the Richmond, Virginia, area.

“Through [teaching], I’m able to help other people access something that’s enriched my life so much,” Standiford says. “It gives me an incredibly fulfilling feeling.”

Shortly after graduating from VCU, she attended a performance by the University of Richmond’s Gamelan Raga Kusuma Balinese ensemble, which performs traditional Indonesian music using percussion instruments. This was her first exposure to the concept of community music, a form of music making that emphasizes collaboration among individuals who play, create, improvise and perform music together.

Standiford was hooked and wanted to explore community music further, so in 2014 she applied for and received a Darmasiswa scholarship, which supports foreign students wanting to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia. She traveled to Solo, Java, where she began studying gamelan and the traditional string music style called keroncong.

When she returned to the States the following year, she started her own keroncong group, Rumput, which combines both Indonesian and American folk styles.

Wanting to continue to study keroncong at its source, she applied for a Fulbright scholarship through VCU’s National Scholarship Office. The Fulbright program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government that fosters international goodwill through the exchange of students and scholars in countries around the globe.

“It took me all summer to write the two-page proposal, but it was worth it,” she says. “I’m really grateful for the [National Scholarship Office] at VCU. Having somebody to help me through the steps and take me through a mock Fulbright panel was a huge help.”

Meredith Sisson, NSO assistant director, alongside NSO Director Jeff Wing, assisted Standiford through the application process.

“[We] work to help applicants make connections with alumni, faculty or other field experts that we think can help them think through their ideas,” Sisson says. “Hannah’s project builds on her previous experiences in Indonesia and on her studies of Appalachian folk music. If anyone can do this, it’s certainly her.”

Standiford was named a Fulbright Scholar and returned to Indonesia in early 2017. With her scholarship, she’s researching keroncong’s two unique styles, langgam jawa keroncong and stambul fajar, in different locations across the country.

“[Keroncong] is known as a music of nostalgia, past its halcyon days but still popular among music veterans,” she says. “Though it’s not widely practiced anymore, there are still communities where [keroncong] is evolving alongside the younger generation who want to keep the style alive.”

She’s currently living on the island of Medanau in Belitong, Indonesia, documenting the stambul fajar through recordings, writing and interviews with the island’s only veteran of the music, Achmadi, and another local, Jabing, who recently received funding from the local government to preserve the music as well.

“[Stambul fajar] music is extremely endangered,” Standiford says. “What we’re hoping to do is preserve a facet of human expression that is specific to the people on this island and nowhere else in the world.”

Once she completes her studies in Indonesia, Standiford plans to publish a paper on keroncong and its recent revival, with the hopes of making the music accessible to a wider audience by combining aspects of it with American folk music. She’s already planned a tour, starting in July, with Rumput to perform in both Indonesia and the U.S.

“[Rumput] relies on the idea of community music making just like keroncong,” Standiford says. “We’re all indispensable, and there’s no lead player. We just want to create the best musical experience possible.”


Scholarship assistance for alumni

More than 50 VCU students and alumni have earned Fulbright awards since the VCU National Scholarship Office was created in 2005. The office offers a range of services to VCU alumni interested in applying for competitive national and international scholarships and fellowships, including the Fulbright scholarship. Learn more.

Want to learn about the Fulbright application process? Register for one of the NSO’s informational webinars on March 6 or March 7.

 

 

VCU Libraries, ICA to present ‘The Life and Work of Richard Carlyon’

 

Richard Carlyon was ‘one of the irrepressible icons of VCU and the School of Arts,’ according to Joseph H. Seipel, interim director of the Institute for Contemporary Art and dean emeritus for the School of the Arts.

VCU Libraries and the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art will look back at the influential artist and VCU School of the Arts faculty emeritus Richard Carlyon (1930-2006) with a one-night program and art showing of several of his video installations.

 

The event — held in conjunction with a new retrospective exhibition of Carlyon’s work, “A Network of Possibilities,” at the Reynolds Gallery — marks the recent addition of video works to the Richard Carlyon papers held by Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries. It also will mark the launch of a campaign to raise a $1 million endowment for Special Collections and Archives at VCU Libraries.

The event, “The Life and Work of Richard Carlyon,” will be held Feb. 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the third-floor lecture hall of James Branch Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave. Attendance is free and open to the public, though registration is requested.

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A covert operation: How alumna Eva Dillon learned a Cold War secret

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Eva DillonAs a child, Eva Dillon (B.M.’82/A) moved all around the world. She and her six siblings would fall in love with a country, and a few years later, her father’s job would take the family somewhere new.

“I was born in Berlin, Germany, four years before the [Berlin] Wall went up,” she says. “I remember being frightened by the guards, the barbed wire and German shepherds, but our parents felt it was important that we see it.”

The family also lived in Mexico City and Rome before returning to the States shortly after the conclusion of the Cuban missile crisis. When Dillon was 17, the family moved to New Delhi. It was 1975, the year a bombshell, tell-all book called “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” was published. The book listed the names of 250 CIA officers, and her father, Paul Dillon, was on that list.

“We always thought he worked for the State Department, but when we saw a news article identifying him, we learned the truth,” Dillon says.

The book was written by former CIA officer Philip Agee who worked for her father when the family lived in Mexico City seven years earlier. In it, Agee revealed that Dillon’s father was an operations officer in the Agency’s Soviet division.  Eventually Dillon learned that he handled the CIA’s highest-ranking double agent, Gen. Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov.

Going her own way

A year later, Dillon returned to the U.S. to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, graduating with a music degree focused on composition and theory. Though music was her passion (she still sings to this day), Dillon realized that she wanted to go in a different direction.

“Five of my siblings attended VCU. We all lived in the Fan,” she says. “Just about all of us worked at Strawberry Street Café. It was how we worked our way through college. We had an amazing experience!”

After graduation, Dillon worked as a roving assistant at National Geographic, where she eventually landed in the advertising department. She loved the publishing industry and decided to pursue a career in business operations. She moved to New York City and got a job at a trade magazine in advertising sales, marketing and circulation. From there, she worked at TV Guide, Glamour, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications, later becoming president of Reader’s Digest.

Putting pen to paper

With 25 years of experience in the publishing world, Dillon was ready to write her own book, one that told the story of her father and Polyakov. After learning that the general’s son, Alexander Polyakov, had emigrated to the U.S., she sought him out, and he was willing to share his stories with her.

She began to collect material written about Polyakov from newspapers, magazines and various books, and with his son’s help, she also gained access to information from Russia that she had translated. Combining that information with interviews she had from her father’s former colleagues and friends, she filled in the details of the story.

The resulting book, “Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War,” paints a broad picture of the Cold War, the issues and the political environment and tells various stories about government operatives and assets. The book also delves into further detail about what life was like for both the Dillon and Polyakov families unknowingly growing up in the family of spies.

“With [Alexander’s] help, I was now able to tell the story from two sides,” Dillon says. “General Polyakov worked on behalf of our country for 18 years. I felt it was important people know what he did for us.”

Dillon returns to VCU on Dec. 6 for a talk at James Branch Cabell Library to discuss the book and reveal additional insights into Cold War politics. The talk will be followed by a Q&A, book-signing and a reception.

In new book, VCU alumnus reveals 190-year history of Richmond’s notorious, iconic Virginia State Penitentiary

Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was incarcerated at the Virginia State Penitentiary for five years in 1954 on grand larceny charges.

A new book by Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dale Brumfield (B.F.A.’82/A; M.F.A.’15/H&S) reveals the history of the Virginia State Penitentiary, the Richmond prison that was built in 1800 and that the ACLU at one time called the “most shameful prison in America.”

Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” is the latest book by Brumfield, who earned a B.F.A. in painting from VCU’s School of the Arts in 1981 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from VCU’s Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2015.

Brumfield is the field director for Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, as well as a digital archaeologist and the author of eight books, including two histories of the underground press — “Richmond Independent Press” and “Independent Press in D.C. and Virginia: An Underground History.”

He will give a reading and sign copies of “Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” on Sunday, Oct. 29, from 4–6 p.m. at Babe’s of Carytown’s back room, 3166 W. Cary St. in Richmond.

Brumfield recently discussed his new book, and explained what made the Virginia State Penitentiary so notorious.

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‘Richmond Potluck’ benefits Puerto Rico hurricane victims

Steven Casanova’s exhibit, “The Richmond Cookbook,” at the Anderson.

A Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts alumnus has quickly turned his existing exhibition at the Anderson into a benefit for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

VCUarts will host Steven Casanova’s (B.F.A.’15/A) “Richmond Potluck” on Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Anderson, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St. Casanova is one of six recent alumni featured in the “Reach Out and Touch” exhibition, on view at the Anderson through Oct. 8.

Casanova’s work, “The Richmond Cookbook,” is a submission-based citywide cookbook showing the diversity in culture and background through Richmond, while contrasting living situations and food access throughout the city.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts launches Arts Research Institute

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts announced today the launch of its Arts Research Institute, which will serve faculty in their creative research and interdisciplinary practices across the university. Through supporting faculty projects, catalyzing interdisciplinary collaborations, and facilitating public dialogue about the role of artists in society, the Arts Research Institute will be one of the few arts research offices to employ a spectrum of artistic practices as rigorous research methods on par with science, directed at responding to current issues of our time and a complex future.

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Alumna transitions from blackhawks to block planes

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Alicia Dietz (M.F.A.’16/A), a former Army pilot, is a woodworker, craftsman and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. If she’s not at her Richmond studio creating functional and concept art, she’s traveling up and down the East Coast doing art projects with military veterans. Follow along with her next week as she takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account.

What was your time as a pilot like?

I have wanted to fly since I was 6 years old and watched medevac helicopters land on the roof of the hospital that my mom worked at. When I got to high school, I talked to as many pilots as I could and asked them how they learned to fly. The overwhelming majority said they learned in the military so that’s why I joined the Army. I earned my undergrad in advertising and journalism at Ohio University, going through the Army ROTC program while I was there. I graduated in 2001 and was just entering flight school when 9/11 happened. I was in flight school for just over a year before getting assigned to a unit stationed out of Germany that was already deployed to Iraq.

I was in the Army for just over 10 years, flew as a maintenance test pilot and commanded two different companies, one in Alaska and one in Egypt. I took aircraft on flights after repairs to test their airworthiness before releasing them back onto the flight schedule. That feeling when the wheels just lift off the ground is one that never got old for me.

How did you get into woodworking?

My father and grandfather had always done woodworking in their spare time. My dad had a little workshop in our basement and over the course of a decade, built our entertainment stand and coffee and end tables. Then, while in the Army, they had Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers where you could learn how to frame things, throw a pot or build a table. I would go in during my downtime and play in the shop. It was a great way to de-stress and learn something new.  I got addicted!

After I got out of the Army, I used my GI Bill to go to a very traditional woodworking school in Vermont for two years, learning dovetails, mortise and tenon and traditional wood construction. I had the amazing opportunity to go to San Diego and do an internship with Wendy Maruyama, who studied at VCU for a bit and who was a real inspiration to me and introduced me to concept in my work. She was the one who encouraged me to go to grad school.

Why did you choose VCU, and what’s your favorite memory of being on campus?

Wendy had many positive things to say about VCU, and even though I was in Vermont, my partner was living and working just south of Richmond. I knew that when school in Vermont was over I was moving back to Richmond. It was extremely convenient that one of the best art schools in the nation was right in my backyard!

My favorite memories would have to both being a TA and now teaching [woodworking at VCU]. To see the spark ignite when a student falls in love with woodworking is truly magical.

VCU School of the Arts, ICA, Department of African American Studies announce racial equity initiative

In fall 2017, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, one of the nation’s leading arts schools; the new Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, opening in spring 2018; and the VCU Department of African American Studies will launch the Racial Equity, Arts and Culture Transdisciplinary Core, an initiative founded through the VCU Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation, known as iCubed.

Artists Meghan K. Abadoo and Paul Rucker, and scholar Onaje X.O. Woodbine will join the group as it explores efforts to redress social disparities and inequities within VCU and the broader Richmond community while drawing on the transformative potential of arts and culture.

“VCU is committed to recruiting faculty of exceptional quality who can help to reshape our educational landscape through their teaching, scholarship and service,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., director of iCubed. “Meghan, Paul and Onaje will contribute to a pedagogy that promises to advance student learning in meaningful and productive ways, and encourages the community to become engaged as part of the process, leading to new findings relevant to our city and beyond.”

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Humility, hunger pave alumnus’ way to new Netflix series

VCU graduate Jason Butler Harner in “Ozark.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
Ozark

More than three decades later, Jason Butler Harner (B.F.A.’92/A) still remembers a few things he learned in Mrs. Rubin’s fourth-grade class at Lemon Road Elementary School.

He learned how to play mahjong, which he still plays on airplane flights to this day.

He learned a lot about Christmas pageants, and appreciates the irony considering his teacher was Jewish.

And he learned that he loves performing.

“We had to do book reports in her class where we dressed like the character and then reported on the book,” Harner recalled. “And I was, and I still am, a huge procrastinator — a lot of creative people are. And I had only half-read the book. So I dressed up as the guy from the book and got really nervous presenting in front of the class.

“And then discovered that I kind of liked it.”

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Painting the Town Fashion

Sometimes the best way to tell a story is with a picture.

Students in the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising have painted a mural on the side of the former Urban Farmhouse building, on the corner of Broad and Gilmer streets. The mural shows three women dressed in stylish denim outfits. This is the second mural painted in Richmond under the guidance of Patricia Brown, chair of the fashion department. Brown’s concept for the murals is to “Paint the Town Fashion.”

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