Senior records album inspired by travels
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 01:02
Senior Shane Palkovitz has shaggy, dirty-blonde hair, brown eyes and a light-hearted pitch to his voice. He says things like, "music is everywhere and everywhere is music" as he muses about his past. Behind the labels or first impressions one may have of Palkovitz—such as "surfer dude" according to Palkovitz's friend and recent graduate, Michael Natrin—is a senior student that has dedicated his studies and musical talents to sharing profound stories.
Over winter session, Shane traveled to South Africa to do research on his senior thesis—a report on Zimbabwean refugees living, some illegally, in South Africa after fleeing from the unpopular dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president.
There, Palkovitz found his music and his research starting to overlap.
"For the thesis, I was just tracking down people in South Africa who are from Zimbabwe, who'd been forced out—just interviewing them, seeing how the experience has been," Palkovitz says. "And actually, among a lot of them, music is a way they connect with their home. And so I always take a guitar with me on interviews and such, and we ended up jamming a lot."
Palkovitz found his guitar to be a disarming tool when speaking with illegal Zimbabwean immigrants residing in South Africa. His experiences talking to people inspired him to write his third album, "Songs of Pretoria," while on his first visit abroad. He recorded the album in 2011.
Along with his six-string, Palkovitz plays bass, piano, drums, the banjo and the ukulele. He performed all the instrumentals featured in "Songs from Pretoria."
Palkovitz first traveled to Pretoria, South Africa in 2010 where he studied at Pretoria University for three months then around other parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe for two months. While in Pretoria, Palkovitz learned about the waves of immigrants—first the white landowners, then the oppressed black citizens—who had steadily fled to the border since Mugabe took office in 1980.
During his visit to Zimbabwe in 2010, a man tried to rob Palkovitz at gunpoint with a machine gun. He says the incident, far from what he prefers to remember about Zimbabwe, does not trigger the same trauma it might for most. Instead, Palkovitz felt sympathy for the obviously desperate man.
"I'm looking down the barrel at their eye on the other side, and thinking like, ‘What has happened to them to get them to that point where they have to point a gun at another human being so that they can live?'" Palkovitz says. "It really takes you for a trip, thinking ‘What must their life be?' and ‘What is my life like?' and ‘Why am I so fortunate?'"
Human development and family studies professor Norma Gaines-Hanks, one of Palkovitz's professors, says his music mirrors his character.
"It's very relaxing," Gaines-Hanks says. "It reflects a lot about who he is. Again, it shows the level at which he thinks. He thinks at sort of a deeper level. Even when he's [singing] about relationships, it's more than just the superficial kind of things."
Gaines-Hanks led a study abroad trip to South Africa over this past winter session. Palkovitz traveled with the group, but also steered away from the group occasionally to conduct his own research. During this second visit, Palkovitz also played concerts at schools and nursing homes in South Africa.
"Every time we would stop for gas on our bus, he would get off the bus and go talk to the people who were at the gas station because he wanted to know more about the people," Gaines-Hanks says.
Palkovitz captures the impact of his travel and daily life in Pretoria in the instrumental piece, "For Senya"—a compilation of recorded sound clips with an acoustic melody. The sound clips range from people cheering to birds chirping.
Growing up in rural Landenberg, Pa., Palkovitz learned to appreciate nature. He believes human ties to the environment played an integral role in the development of his thesis, and in explaining an African problem to Americans.
"I'm talking about how they're disconnected from the home and from the landscape that was theirs, which is very detrimental to them," Palkovitz says. "And at the same, I think Americans who might read this piece don't have the same connection to place. So I think it may be a way to examine what's happened to them, and say, ‘Am I really attached? What does this say about me?'"
Palkovitz grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel, but says he now tunes in to local bands such as Hundred Acre Woods and Battleshy Youths. He plays frequently at Mojo Main on Main Street, and friend Michael Natrin, class of 2011, sometimes jams with him.
Natrin fondly recalls his first impression of Palkovitz's music as both a friend and fellow musician.
"It was unlike anything I'd ever heard before in a local setting—it was very impressive," Natrin says. "His voice goes well with the chords he writes for his guitar parts."
Palkovitz's future is open-ended. He wants to travel abroad after he graduates then return home to Landenberg. He might go to live with family in California after graduation or venture elsewhere. However, feeling that his friends in South Africa are now family, Palkovitz may return to Pretoria in the next few years.
Palkovitz says in his music and while interacting with people he met abroad, he pays close attention to the meaning of his words.
"I've seen a lot of times when words just come out of people and the destruction it can cause," he says. "I try to be thoughtful—I'm not always, but I try to live consciously."