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College Celebrates 165th Commencement May 26

Fulbright Scholarship to Take Jennifer W. Kyker '02 to Zimbabwe

Boram Lee '04 Wins International Public Policy Fellowship

Suchi Saria '04 Wins Full- Tuition Scholarship from Microsoft

Sure to Be a Virtuoso Performance: Sara Curtin '02 Speaks for the Class of 2002

Red Pegasus Class Takes Wing

DAAD Scholarship Music to the Ears of Katherine Kaiser '02

2002–2003 Budget Meets Financial Goals of Plan for 2003

Storm Ends Everest Bid Just Short of Summit

Students Teach Each Other about Bioethics by "Cloning" National Council

Mount Holyoke Actors Take to the Italian Stage

Three Faculty Members Retire as Emeriti

Mary Renda: Teaching Students to Think Historically

Theresa Grof: Fulfilling a Dream at MHC

Weissman Center Honors Students

On Broadway with Suzan-Lori Parks '85

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 24, 2002

Fulbright Scholarship to Take Jennifer W. Kyker '02 to Zimbabwe


Jennifer W. Kyker '02

"MBusare zvakanaka," says Jennifer W. Kyker '02. "In the Shona language of Zimbabwe, that means ‘be left behind well,' or stay well." When the last mortarboard is thrown into the air above MHC's amphitheater on Sunday, such parting words will take on new meaning as Kyker bids farewell to South Hadley and turns to a new adventure. The senior, who will graduate summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship for a year of independent study and research in Zimbabwe. She will be affiliated with the Zimbabwe College of Music in the capital city of Harare.

"I am part of a tradition of MHC students going to study in Africa," says Kyker. "[Assistant professor of history] Holly Hanson has put forth a successful Fulbright candidate for Africa every year for the past four years. She was instrumental in encouraging me to apply for the Fulbright and in assisting me with my application." Hanson, a Fulbright Research Fellow in Uganda herself in 1994, credits this success to the high caliber of Mount Holyoke's students, noting that the acceptance rate for Fulbrights to Africa is only 15 percent (compared to 50 percent or higher to other parts of the world).

Kyker began learning Shona as a fifteen-year-old when she took six months off from South Eugene International High School to study traditional music in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. By then, she was already an experienced marimba player, but she wanted to learn the mbira, or thumb piano. "At that time," says Kyker, "there wasn't really anyone who could teach mbira in Oregon where I grew up."

Though mbira players were in short supply when Kyker was hankering to learn the instrument, Eugene was nevertheless a hotbed of Zimbabwean music. Kyker explains, "In the late 70s to early 80s, there was a professor from Zimbabwe, Dumi Maraire, who was getting his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle. Maraire got a bunch of marimba bands started up and down the West Coast." When Kyker was nine years old, one of those marimba bands performed at her elementary school. Says Kyker, "A good friend of mine who I'd lost contact with suddenly reappeared on the stage of my elementary school playing this music. I was so impressed that kids were playing as well as adults. And I was really attracted by the sound. It's so resonant." The following year, the marimba band played again, and the fifth grader's resolve was set. "I started taking lessons and I've been doing it ever since," says Kyker. By the age of twelve, she was playing professionally in one of Eugene's many marimba ensembles.

After high school, Kyker deferred her admission to Mount Holyoke for a year to continue her mbira studies in Zimbabwe. During the summer between her sophomore and junior years at MHC, she was in Zimbabwe yet again, this time on a three-month Joanne V. Creighton Summer Research Fellowship to conduct research for her senior thesis. "That time I wasn't just studying music. I was trying to find out how people perceive music. What do they think about the songs? What are the meanings? It opened up a whole new area of interest for me."

Kyker's Fulbright research will build on the foundation she laid with her thesis, focussing on a trio of religious rituals that follow death: the funeral, the memorial service, and the kurova guva, a ceremony that takes place a year after the funeral to reincorporate the deceased person's spirit into the family. "I will be looking specifically at how music is structured at the ceremony," says Kyker, "and what musical and cultural values are expressed in that structure. Unfortunately, it's going to be an easy ceremony to focus on because there's a high percentage of HIV infection in Zimbabwe. People have to hold these ceremonies more and more."

Hanson, Kyker's thesis adviser, calls the senior "exceptionally talented." In addition to being an mbira and marimba recording artist, Kyker has played the viola since she was eight years old. A fluent speaker of French, Kyker spent her junior year in Montpellier, France, studying at the Université Paul Valéry through Mount Holyoke's program there. Kyker graduates with a double major in economics and French, and she has been awarded the Five College African Studies Certificate, a concentration of study devoted to Africa that is offered through the Five College Consortium.

"Jennifer looks at things from so many different angles," says Hanson. "She's thinking about music and religious ritual in Zimbabwe as a musician, and yet as an Africa historian, she can ask, What is the social consequence of this thing we're doing as musicians?" Hanson notes that Kyker also brings to her research the perspective of someone who has studied world economic relations.

With the recent reelection of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the United States Department of State warns of the likelihood of "political violence and intimidation" throughout Zimbabwe. However, both Hanson and Kyker are optimistic. "Despite the political situation in Zimbabwe, I am tremendously confident about this project because of Jennifer's ability to cross boundaries," says Hanson. "Jennifer's work is already creating links and understanding among people in the world, which is the goal of the Fulbright program. Her senior thesis is headed for publication because ethnomusicologists want to know what she has to say, and she hopes to publish her work in Shona so that Zimbabweans can learn what she's discovered about the complexity and meanings of music in Shona ritual. At the same time, she's brought Zimbabwean music to American audiences through her CDs, her performances, and activities like arranging a Shona song for Mount Holyoke's Chamber Singers."

Kyker also seems to take the possibility of danger in stride. "I've been in Zimbabwe for most of the political low points in the last four or five years, including the general strike of 1998. I was caught in a bus, which was teargassed by the police and then had to walk home from the bus depot since the main bus terminal was a disaster area. On my way home, there was a group of thugs overturning cars and beating people. My neighbors had to verify my status as an honorary Highfield [a suburb of Harare] resident to ensure my safe passage. When I got home tear gas was also wafting into our house from confrontations with the police at a nearby marketplace and shopping center." After witnessing so much turmoil, Kyker says, "Those kinds of things don't really faze me anymore."

A summer of music will precede Kyker's departure for Zimbabwe. Shortly after graduation she will travel to New Mexico to join the staff of Camp Tumbuka, where the music and dance of the Shona people is celebrated and taught. Kyker will play and teach music there for a week, before returning to Eugene for more teaching and performances. Then she heads for the Zimbabwe Music Festival, which takes place this year in Seattle, Washington, July 10–12.

After her Fulbright year, Kyker may opt for graduate school, perhaps Wesleyan University to study ethnomusicology. She is also considering working for the U.S. Department of State and plans to take the Foreign Service examination this September. Kyker's latest CD is Tsunga: Mbira Music of Zimbabwe, which she recorded with mbira player Musekiwa Chingodza.

The United States Congress created the Fulbright Program in 1946 to promote mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges. Each year the program allows Americans to study or conduct research in more than 120 nations. Between 1991 (the first year for which the commission has records) and 2001, eighteen MHC seniors (and a number of alumnae) have been awarded grants for research in a variety of subject areas and countries.

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