RICHARD ROBESON -- THE LONGER BIO
NC, ELSEWHERE, ELSEWISE
In over three decades as a professional artist, NC native Richard Robeson has written and performed music and texts for the dance, theater and concert stages, in settings ranging from Trinity Repertory Theater, Providence, RI, to a concert tour of Morocco by special invitation of the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture, to being a dance accompanist and music director for dance faculty at Duke University’s Institute of the Arts. Although nourished during his formative period on American musical idioms, a lifelong interest in the art of improvisation led him inevitably to the study of classical traditions that encompass improvisational imperatives. His teachers have included — in addition to composer and supreme guitar master Ralph Towner — Hindustani classical musicians Ustad Hamid Hussein, Pandit Partha Chatterjee, Pandit K. Sridhar, and American world-music percussionist extraordinaire Glen Velez. Indirect teachers are too numerous to list, but such a list would start with Miles, Mingus, Monk, Hendrix, McLaughlin, Paco and Anwar Brahem, Rabih Abou-Khalil.
Robeson was a composer for and founding member of Micro-East Collective, a large structured-improv ensemble whose project history included three Umbrella Recordings releases — 062099 (1999), Out of My Face (2000), Fabric (2001) — headliner performances at top progressive music venues (including Tonic NYC), and critical acclaim. The above-mentioned Trinity Repertory project was a soundtrack for the Theater’s production of August Wilson’s Fences. Co-created with divinely gifted harmonicist and composer Chris Turner, it was the first production of Fences anywhere to use music composed specifically for the play. Audience demand also made it the first commercial release of music for any play ever mounted at Trinity.
moonlight over the maghrib, the first recording under his own name since the 1980s, was released in 2011. A “jazz-inflected homage to the Spanish and Middle Eastern roots of the guitar,” the album of originals for one, two and four guitars features classical guitarist Billy Stewart, Guitar Faculty in the UNC Chapel Hill Dept. of Music, as Guest Artist on two of the ten compositions. With the November 2016 release of Meet Me In Tangier, the Middle Eastern references are even stronger, not only in the compositions but also in the personnel. Three of the nine compositions feature the brilliant musicianship of Iranian-Canadians Shahriyar Jamshidi – Kamanche (Spike Fiddle) and Sina Khosravi — Tonbak (Goblet Drum). Both bring a background in Persian classical music (and the associated “monster chops”) which like many of the world’s classical traditions requires mastery of the art of improvisation. But Middle Eastern music is just one of a number of traditions to be found on Meet Me In Tangier. Influences also include the music of India, Turkey, North Africa, Spain (of course), as well as jazz and blues (also, of course).
A multidisciplinary teaching artist, Robeson has since the 1990s been Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine; and a fitness professional specializing in injury prevention for musicians. In 2010 he joined the faculty of the Wake Forest University Center for Bioethics, Health and Society as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Bioethics, and in 2012 the Wake Forest University Dept. of Communication as Adjunct Professor of Practice — Bioethics.
His private teaching studio, FitMusicStudio (Durham, NC) — while devoted to guitar musicianship in general and improvisation (jazz, world, progressive, free) in particular — incorporates fitness and injury prevention into all aspects of musicianship, from practice habits to proper lifting technique when moving equipment to posture-related neuromuscular issues, and beyond. During a teaching practice of over 30 years, he has seen his students accepted into some of the nation’s most highly-regarded jazz programs, including Berklee College of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU, and the University of Miami.
CHANNELING PLATO, ET AL
In the academy, Robeson’s work has the distinction of applying Platonist pedagogical methods to the examination of bioethics issues in a sub-specialty he calls “dramatic arts casuistry.” He first came to the attention of UNC’s Department of Social Medicine in 1984, by virtue of his “Analgesia,” an original multi-media (text, live dance, projected images and music) theater piece that examined the psychological and emotional detritus of substance abuse. Staged in collaboration with Chapel Hill dancer/choreographer Marian Turner, “Analgesia” played at NC Central University’s Dept. of Dramtic Art to standing-room-only audiences and high critical praise throughout its run. After working initially as Consultant on a multi-year public bioethics project headquartered in Social Medicine, he was invited to join the faculty in 1989-90, first as Visiting Scholar and shortly thereafter he became Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Medicine. His Second-Year Seminar, “Medicine and Theater” to-date stands alone in the development of original, multidisciplinary contributions to Lit-Med pedagogy, including being invited to give Grand Rounds in UNC’s Department of Family Medicine — a rare if not unique honor for an undergraduate medical school class.
Research interests are focused on the interaction of narrative and counter-narrative, especially those that are hidden or largely unexplored. As a former high school football and track athlete, and a lifelong sports fan, he believes that there is much about sports, its ethics, narratives and counter-narratives that fit this characterization. His 2007 paper, “Athlete or Guinea Pig — Sports and Enhancement Research,” co-authored with Wake Forest University bioethics scholar Nancy MP King, has been called a radically different line of inquiry into the sports-ethics intersection.
A concomitant interest is the promulgation of the medical humanities, and dramatic arts casuistry in particular, as a means of examining bioethics issues that is not otherwise available. Guest Faculty invitations have included Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research & Healthcare (NCBRH) (2001) and Wake Forest University School of Law (2008). And his work in this regard was the centerpiece of an environmental ethics/policy/research project at the UNC School of Public Health (2002-07).
Robeson holds degrees in History (1974) and Literary Criticism (1975) from North Carolina State University, with special concentrations in Philosophy and Religion, Creative Writing and African American Studies. In addition to his lifelong interest in sports he has an equally enthusiastic devotion to music, as an expression of belief and narrative, for its potential to facilitate healing, and as arena in which its practitioners can benefit from the kind of body-awareness that is typical of athletes but almost unheard-of in musicians. This inspired him to become a fitness professional. He completed his training in 1999 at Baylor Sports Medicine Institute (BSMI), for which he later served as Examiner in the BSMI Certification Services Practicum. Other consultancies include the NC Humanities Council, the NCBRH, and several terms as Grants Panelist for the NC Arts Council in Literature (Poetry and Fiction) and Music (General Support, New Works, and Composer Fellowships).
His own work has been supported by the Durham (NC) Arts Council, the NC Humanities and Arts Councils, The Duke Endowment, The AJ Fletcher Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Wake Forest University Center for Bioethics, Health and Society.
AY 2008-09 marked a residency in the UNC-Chapel Hill Dept. of Music, during which he taught Guitar and was Interim Director of the UNC Guitar Ensemble. He is the first person in UNC’s history to hold simultaneous appointments in its medical school and its music department.
From 2013-2019 he was Executive Director of the International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM), an organization based in Ann Arbor, MI, but with members on five continents and in nearly two dozen countries.