Thomas J. Watson Foundation

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Bridging Cultural Gaps: Senior Sam Genualdi will travel the globe in search of musical collaborations as Watson Fellow

Music has always been a part of Sam Genualdi’s DNA.

A Head shot of Lawrence University student Sam Genualdi
Sam Genualdi ’17

He grew up as a serial instrumentalist, working his way through a litany of recommendations from his parents — violin, piano, percussion, double bass — but it wasn’t until he taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 15 that he found his sweet spot.

“When I picked up the guitar, it felt like something on my terms,” said Genualdi, a senior at Lawrence University from Evanston, Ill. “I felt like I was rebelling against my parents through the electric guitar.”

As his musical interests evolved, he discovered collaborating with other musicians was vital to his creative process. Later this year, Genualdi will embark on a year-long musical “binge” to feed his creative hunger that will take him around the world to engage in collaborations with musicians he’s never met.

Genualdi, a student-designed contemporary improvisation major at Lawrence, has been named one of 40 national recipients of a $30,000 Watson Fellowship for a wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Beginning in August, Genualdi will spend 12 months visiting Scotland, Peru, Indonesia, India and Japan.

“I plan to spend my Watson year in five countries steeped in unfamiliar musical traditions,” said Genualdi, Lawrence’s 72nd Watson Fellow since the program’s inception in 1969. “Music can be a powerful tool to bridge cultural gaps. I hope to co-create music that makes this evident. I want to engage in musical collaborations that push against the boundaries of existing genres.

“I have always thrived on collaboration,” added Genualdi, who has had plenty of opportunities as a member of numerous groups and ensembles at Lawrence, including the small jazz combos, the improvisation group IGLU, Gamelan Cahaya Asri and the Sambistas Brazilian drumming group, among others. “While I’ve done a fair amount of solitary work as a musician, the experiences that most excite me are those that involve interacting with other people.”

At each of his global destinations, Genualdi plans to meet musicians he hopes to work with by attending concerts and jam sessions. He will approach local musicians as a student to develop relationships and more effectively absorb the culture.

Sam is infinitely curious about sonic possibilities and how improvisation and collaboration can create
musical worlds yet unimagined.”

— Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music

“Taking lessons will give me the opportunity to interact with these musicians on a personal level, accumulate skills and expand my musical vocabulary,” said Genuldi. “I may learn a new instrument to gain perspective, but mainly I intend to communicate musically through my primary voice, the guitar.”

In Scotland, Genualdi will focus on the country’s rich history of stringed instruments, including guitar. In Peru, he will work with within Afro-Peruvian music traditions which combine African, European and native influences.

“Afro-Peruvian music along with the salsa and flamenco traditions prevalent in Lima involve unique forms of improvisation,” said Genualdi. “My background in jazz will help me find common repertoire to play with locals because of the relatively recent surge in the fusion of jazz and local traditions.”

January will find Genualdi in Bali where he looks to expand his experience with Indonesian music, which has been limited to his work with Gamelan Cahaya Asr. The following three months will take him to India, where traditions of improvisation in Hindustani music run deep. Much of his time there will focus on working with several highly regarded sitarists.

The final three months of his travels will be spent in Tokyo’s vibrant musical community with its improvised and experimental music scene. Genualdi calls the enthusiasm in Japan for fringe musical projects “inspiring.”

A photo of Lawrence University student Sam Genualdi playing his guitar.
When it comes to instruments, the guitar serves as Sam Genualdi’s “voice” of choice.

Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory of music and Lawrence’s campus liaison to the Watson Foundation, calls Genualdi “an explorer of sound.”

“Sam is infinitely curious about sonic possibilities and how improvisation and collaboration can create musical worlds yet unimagined,” said Pertl, himself a Watson Fellow in 1986 as a Lawrence senior. “He has been pushing the boundaries of improvisation during his time at Lawrence and now will have an opportunity to explore his passion across the globe. I can’t wait to see what new musical concoctions will emerge from his grand adventure.”

Genualdi says the Watson experience will deepen his relationship to music and profoundly affect every aspect of his life moving forward.

“The musical experiences I’ll have in each country is sure to be different, but each will help   bring into focus a larger picture of the human experience. Music is an important part of lives across the globe and I am intensely inspired by discovering these connections.”

Genualdi was selected for the Watson Fellowship from among 149 finalists nominated by 40 leading liberal arts colleges. This year’s 49th class of Watson Fellows hail from 21 states and six countries and will collectively visit 67 countries.

More than 2,700 students have been awarded Watson Fellowships, providing opportunities to test their aspirations, abilities and perseverance through a personal project that is cultivated on an international scale. Watson Fellows have gone on to become international leaders in their fields including CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, MacArthur grant recipients, Pulitzer Prize winners, diplomats, artists, lawyers, doctors, faculty, journalists, and many renowned researchers and innovators.

The fellowship was established by the children of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Two Lawrence University Seniors Named Recipients of $22,000 Fellowships for Year-Long Study Abroad Projects

Cross-cultural interactions — one musical, the other migratory — lie at the heart of two year-long study abroad adventures a pair of Lawrence University seniors will embark upon later this year as the college’s latest Watson Fellows.

Benjamin Klein, a music performance (tuba) and theory/composition major from Sheboygan, and Kelly Scheer, a biology major from Lisbon, Iowa, were among two of the 50 recipients of a $22,000 fellowship announced Tuesday (3/15) by the Providence, R.I.-based Thomas J. Watson Foundation. The fellowship supports a “wanderjahr,” a year of independent travel and exploration outside the United States on a topic of the student’s choosing.

Klein and Scheer were selected for the fellowship from 184 nominees representing 50 of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and universities. They are the 63rd and 64th Lawrence students awarded a Watson Fellowship since the program’s inception in 1969.

Denied a request as a fifth-grader to take up the drums on the parental logic that they were “too loud,” Klein instead turned his musical interests to the tuba. Two years later as a seventh-grader, he secretly purchased a manuscript book and began composing music.

Today, as equal parts performer and composer, Klein wants to expand his non-traditional perception of what music is, a view that emphasizes interaction in any environment between the artists themselves or the artists and their audience. To that end, beginning in July, he will use his fellowship for trips to Amsterdam, Sydney and Hong Kong to explore innovating music by crossing cultural boundaries.

“These three cities are alight with new ideas,” said Klein. “Since the 1960s, Amsterdam has become a center for new music. The importance of music in the cultural life of Syndey is recognized throughout the world in the sail-like shells of its famous opera house, but it is little known that popular musicians are producing new and creative works for an innovative music theatre scene. And in Hong Kong, there is the collision of Western and non-Western, democratic and communist cultures, a dichotomy that has exploded into one of the world’s biggest and most dynamic metropolises.”

Klein plans to stir music’s melting pot by contacting numerous acclaimed tuba players and composers in the three locales as well as by establishing relationships with young and emerging musicians and artists through important international music festivals held in or near each city.

“I may meet a percussionist who specializes in Indonesian drumming and is looking for other musicians to start a new ensemble or a choreographer who needs music for a dance portraying the construction of a Chinese skyscraper or a sculptor who wants a sound installation made up of clinking metal to accompany a new exhibition of mobiles,” Klein said, explaining how he hopes to incorporate the element of “artistic interaction” to create musical innovations.

As a tuba player, Klein has performed with the Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra, jazz and wind ensembles and the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University. His work as a composer has been recognized with the Pi Kappa Lambda Composition Award and the James Ming Scholarship in Composition.

“Through my composition and my tuba performance, I have tried to realize music’s freedom,” says Klein. “I want to celebrate and share that freedom. As a restless musician, the orchestra or institution can not contain the interactions that I deem so important.

“My fellowship will enable me to discover the full import that contemporary music can have in the specific places where this music is having the most dynamic impact,” Klein added. “Working with emerging musicians with unique cultural perspectives will stretch my own creative boundaries.”

As a child, Scheer enjoyed learning about long and arduous journeys, whether it was American settlers working their way west on the Oregon Trail or the arrival of robins and redwing blackbirds each spring from some far-away place. She never lost that fascination with long-distance travels, especially for birds, and admits she still remains in awe of their migratory trips.

Scheer’s Watson fellowship will take her to the Far East for a year, where she will turn her interest with bird migration into scientific study of one of the world’s longest and most important migratory bird routes, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Covering 20 countries and stretching from Russia’s Siberia to New Zealand’s south island, the flyway annually provides navigational guideposts for more than 50 species and an estimated five million individual migratory shorebirds.

During her year abroad, Sheer, like her study subjects, will travel the length of the 15,000-mile flyway herself. Along the way, she will visit the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in the Phillipines, Moreton Bay near Brisbane in Australia, the sanctuaries of Firth of Thames and Firewell Spit along the coasts of New Zealand’s north and south islands, respectively, and the western coast of South Korea along the Yellow Sea. She will end her journey with a three-month stay at the Moroshechnoye Estuary on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. At each stop, Scheer will study not just the shorebirds themselves, but the habitat conservation efforts made in those countries as well.

“In each of these countries, I want to design field work and observational studies to investigate the various shorebird species and their migratory behavior,” said Scheer, who is spending the winter and spring terms in Costa Rica on an off-campus study program through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. “These studies may include a census of shorebird species to gather data on their diversity or the number of species in the community and their relative abundance. I also would like to execute surveys of the shoreline regions in order to examine the status of the existing habitat for these birds.”

One of the central aspects of Scheer’s project will be gaining an understanding through interviews with local scientists as well as local citizens as to the types of interactions the public and the birds have and the “sense of place” the shorebirds hold in each culture.

“I want to find out what conservation actions are in place to protect the birds and their habitat,” said Scheer, who undertook an independent summer research study of bat activity in Door County last summer. “I want to try to determine how the public responds to these conservation attempts and what role the birds play in the local culture. Do they have any religious or historical significance? Do the long-distance flights of these birds evoke a sense of awe and wonder in these people as they do me? ”
While age, experience and education have answered many of the questions Scheer playfully entertained as a child about birds, she says she is still “utterly enthralled” by birds’ self-propelled passages around the globe.

“Migratory birds are so incredibly in tune with their environment in ways that humans can not comprehend,” said Scheer. “They are truly global citizens, ignoring the artificial borders governments have delineated. I have always wondered what it must be like for a migratory bird and my fellowship project will provide me the closest glimpse possible.

“I am ready for the challenges, both mental and physical, this project will afford me,” Scheer added. “I’m eager to spread my own wings and soar.”

The Watson Fellowship Program was established by the children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM Corporation, and his wife, Jeannette, to honor their parents’ long-standing interest in education and world affairs. Watson Fellows are selected on the basis of the nominee’s character, academic record, leadership potential, willingness to delve into another culture and the personal significance of the project proposal.