Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya Bobby McFerrin confers with Emily Curran during his residency at Georgetown, which began yesterday.

Bobby McFerrin has won 10 Grammy awards, written one of the most recognizable songs of the late twentieth century and earned accolades all around the world for his musical versatility.

But when he steps into Georgetown’s New North Studio A to face the school’s pep band, the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” singer-songwriter half-jokes to Jose Bowen, Caestecker Chair and director of music program, Jose Bowen, “I’ve never really done this before.”

As the band finishes a warm-up piece, several heads in the group turn to stare at the man in dreadlocks, jeans and a black T-shirt who has conducted symphonies with the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic and is now about to work with them.

It is McFerrin’s first day at Georgetown, where he is conducting intense workshops with several campus performing arts groups until Wednesday, as the Rev. Royden B. Davis, S.J. Visiting Professor for fall 2003. His next stop will be in November.

For now, McFerrin steps to the front of the class, introduces himself, and then holds up his hands as students begin to clap. “No – no applause!” he says. He seats himself in the front of the band and watches quietly as Aaron Broadus, professional lecturer in the program in performing arts, readies the students for a rousing rendition of “The Hey Song.”

As the brasses blare and the drums thunder, McFerrin turns his head slowly from one side of the band to the other, watching the instrumentalists with wide eyes, nodding his head periodically to the beat.

The song finishes with a flourish and Broadus starts to discuss the next song. But McFerrin raises one hand and calls in his soft-spoken voice, “Wait – wait just a minute.”

Broadus stops. In his easy, intimate manner, McFerrin gets up and moves toward the music stand. “So, do you guys know enough harmony to, like, add a part?”

The band members look at each other with quizzical grins; some of them start giggling. McFerrin thinks out loud excitedly: What if some of them hold down a line, and some play the original . can they do that? Say, half the band harmonizes, say half plays the other part . Even if they’re not sure of themselves, they should try it.

“Well, what’s that note gonna be? I don’t know!” McFerrin jokes with an apprehensive-looking trumpet player.

The band starts the same pep song again. But now, as the song builds, an undercurrent of harmony swells to support the main tune, and “The Hey Song” acquires the sweeping drama of a music score.

At the end of the song, Broadus is nodding his head. “That’s not bad,” he acknowledges. “I may have you guys [practice like that] in the future. Good harmonies.”

Previously today, McFerrin brought his inimitable brand of imaginative suggestions, eloquent musings and even the unexpected impromptu vocal improvisation to a faculty/student collaborative theater group and a class on the music of George Gershwin. Later tonight, he will work with three campus dance groups and then visit with various other groups on Tuesday – attending everything from a jazz improvisation class to a poetry slam prep to a choir rehearsal.

“I like the stimulus of inquiring minds . the environment of discovering new things about people,” McFerrin explains. “You just never know what is going to come up.”

Like the question, for instance, in the Gershwin: Perspectives on American Music class taught by Patrick Warfield, lecturer of music history.

One female student asks McFerrin what he thought about artists performing music not traditionally associated with their race or ethnicity, giving an example of George Gershwin, who is Jewish, borrowing from music traditionally written and performed by black artists to write his operetta “Porgy and Bess.” Or someone like, well, Bobby McFerrin – who has worked with jazz, classical, a cappella and folk music styles, among others, over the course of his career.

McFerrin explains that it is something the media often asks him about, but “It’s such an old, tedious, going-nowhere argument,” he says. “The most important thing for me as far as being a musician is transcendence. Music transcends your culture, your background, your environment . Something gets in your heart, and you’re never the same. It’s not about the color of your skin . the color of your heart changes, from cold to hot, and that’s what’s important.”

Then Warfield asks a question: Can McFerrin get the class to sing for two minutes?

McFerrin laughs, surprised. Then he gets serious. He sounds out a note – “eeeh” – pauses, and then after a minute the voices of the students rise and follow his. He tries another note, then another, then a series of notes. After each one, the students imitate him, creating the reedy, other-worldly sounds of wind chimes.

Then abruptly, McFerrin starts a jumping hip-hop beat with his mouth. The students, initially startled, soon follow suit, and now with a chorus of freestylers in the background, McFerrin improvises a rap version of Gershwin’s classic “Summertime.”

“Fish – fish – fish are jumping, cotton is high . oh, your daddy’s rich, and your ma is good-looking . so hush!”

The beat background stops dead. McFerrin stares intently at the students, and they stare back. And then he leans back and breaks into a smile. The day’s class is over.

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