On 21 May 2012, OSU hosted a second video-concert/conference with the French blues group, Moussu T e lei Jovents (Provençal for Mr. T and the Youngsters) from La Ciotat/Marseille. Sponsored by an LT eLearning Professional Development Grant, with matching funds from the Department of French and Italian and the Foreign Language Center, this event allowed students in French 631 (“Bringing Down the House”) to sing along and engage in dialogue with the two leading musicians of the group. During the quarter, students examined the music and identity politics of musical groups from Marseille and Toulouse and how these “ex-centric” cities shed new light on “Frenchness.”
Thanks to the expertise of Sujan Manandhar, Instructional Aids Associate of the Foreign Language Center and Philippe Martinasso, Audiovisual and Multi-media technician at the University of Marseille, the two-hour session went flawlessly. Students commented on the excellent quality of the video-audio experience as well as the superb facilities of the Kermit Hall videoconference room at Hagerty Hall.
About 35 people attended. After a brief introduction by Danielle Marx-Scouras, Professor of French, Joseph White, an undergraduate French major, introduced the music and identity politics of the group. On the other side of the Atlantic, Professor Gilles Suzanne (Performance Arts and the Cultural Mediation of Art) of the University of Provence in Marseille continued the introduction, alongside Emmanuelle (Manue) Tirmarche, the manager of Moussu T. Initially reserved—for the majority of the students present this was their very first videoconference—they were soon smiling and clapping as they sang along and laughing when I suggested they get up and dance as they sang. After all, as I reminded them, this was a concert and not a class! Zebda, a rock group from Toulouse repeatedly states, “qui pense, danse” (s/he who thinks, dances).
Students enjoyed the combination of an intimate concert along with face-to-face discussion with the artists, which most French people never experience. Students were surprised that these internationally-renown musicians answered their questions “thoroughly,” “with insight and enthusiasm,” and “graciously and generously.” Monique Malone noted that “the quality of the discussion over identity, nationalism, and politics with French nationals who are extremely politically involved was invaluable to the course.” According to Sarah Smith, “Speaking directly with members of the band helped me to get a first person perspective of the importance of Occitan and Marseille and the acceptance of cultural diversity.” Ellen Stothard stated “I can’t believe that we were given the opportunity to speak so candidly with such an excellent group of musicians. I especially enjoyed hearing their live performance. They were so animated and engaged in the performances and discussions. It was so cool to see that they were real people.” Samantha Collier remarked that “being able to talk to someone in France while sitting in Ohio was something I never could have dreamed of!” Another student noted that “It felt so cool to be a French major after doing this.” Brett Samsen said the video concert “was the highlight of the year.” Undergraduate Jennifer Hoffman notes that the videoconference “was one of the most enriching, empowering and overall most intellectual collegiate experiences I have had here at the Ohio State University. This dialogue really raised the bar in our classroom and put a real voice to all of the topics we’ve been studying inside the classroom. In addition to interacting with a different culture through music, we were able to connect intellectually.”
Clearly teaching a course that focuses on multi-cultural and trans-national issues requires both an interdisciplinary and multi-media approach. Students clearly recognized how invaluable technology was in providing this type of framework. One student noted that “videoconferences allow for direct communication with a distinct audience; far from a disconnected, abstract discussion of music/ideas, these conferences permit a direct discourse with authority and authorship. Also music breaks down boundaries that aren’t often easily seen.” Another student concluded that “This deviation from classic French studies has been great, but to do this type of learning effectively, one requires access to and understanding of audio and visual technology […] a videoconference with the musicians that our class is studying represents the pinnacle of learning that we could achieve in a class such as ours. Without access to and understanding of technology, it would be impossible.”
Professor Marx-Scouras was the first French professor in the US to begin hosting these video concerts in 2010.