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Academics Discuss and Perform Music About HIV/AIDS

John Seesholtz, director of vocal pedagogy at the University of Colorado Boulder.
John Seesholtz, director of vocal pedagogy at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Courtesy of Musica Grande Artists

Out of crisis, creativity.

Director of vocal pedagogy at the University of Colorado Boulder John Seesholtz and Houston-based musicologist Matthew J. Jones will present Music and HIV/AIDS — A Look at Then and Now, an interdisciplinary discussion via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, October 12. During the free event, they'll look at the intersection of music and the HIV/AIDS crisis.

"I think that it is very important that we have this discussion about the AIDS epidemic as we face our current COVID pandemic," Seesholtz says. "There are several parallels in the USA, as many in our sphere have become enraged about the idea of wearing masks, as well as a stigma in the religious community as lines have been blurred between politics and religion. The fear and anxiety of those facing HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and early ’90s are not widespread among many communities across the globe. I believe history allows us to learn and to find empathy in loss and struggle."

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The music of The AIDS Quilt Songbook, a musical response to the shame surrounding the outbreak of HIV, speaks to the ostensible sense of loss and fear during any pandemic, he suggests. During this Zoom session, he'll give a presentation on the history of The AIDS Quilt Songbook and The Lost Songs of the AIDS Quilt Songbook, a collection he edited that comes out November 15. Seesholtz will also perform a few new songs from the new publication.

"My first publication with the Journal of Singing, in 2012, on the topic, has spearheaded years of inquiries about the unpublished songs of the original project," he says. "Especially around World AIDS Day, December 1, when many organizations sponsor memorial concerts to remember those lost. I have given performances of the AIDS Quilt music all over the U.S., and I am considered one of the foremost scholars of the AIDS-related song repertoire."

Jones will discuss his forthcoming book, Love Don't Need a Reason: The Life and Music of Michael Callen, which he wrote about the singer, songwriter, author and forgotten hero of the American AIDS activist movement. Jones says his talk considers songs about AIDS from Callen’s solo records and his time with the Flirtations, a queer a cappella group he co-founded in the late 1980s. He'll also discuss some of the theoretical questions that arose during the writing of the book, including hybrid methodologies and conducting research as an “independent” scholar.

Dr. Susan Thomas, CU associate professor of musicology, spearheaded this collaboration between Jones and Seesholtz.

"I am truly grateful for her efforts in connecting us, and honored to be a part of this discussion and lecture," Seesholtz says. 

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