“Sounds of Camden” Exhibition Brings City’s History to Life


From historic RCA Victor recordings to the soundtracks of daily life, the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts will showcase the rich, audible heritage of its host city as it presents the exhibition “Sounds of Camden.”

The display will run from Oct. 6 to Dec. 18 in the Stedman Gallery on the Rutgers University–Camden campus. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursdays until 8 p.m.

old time record player“Visitors will be reminded of the incredible impact that Camden has had on the world in the past century,” says Cyril Reade, director of the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts. “While staying at an inn on the Maine coast, I found a working Victrola and RCA Victor recordings that had belonged to the original owner of the house. As I wound up the device to play a jazz record, I realized just how significant and far-reaching Camden’s influence had been.”

Guests to the Stedman Gallery will be taken on an audio – and visual – journey, beginning with the Victor Talking Machine Company/RCA Victor, a leading manufacturer of phonographs and producer of vinyl recordings in Camden in the early 1900s. The display will include a variety of memorabilia and artifacts, such as gramophones, Victrolas, and advertisements, as well as recordings from RCA Victor’s vast catalogue.

The exhibit also will feature four interactive listening stations for visitors to sample classical and popular recordings produced at RCA Victor, voices of Camden, and recordings of and by Walt Whitman, a longtime Camden resident. The stations were developed by Stefan Arnärson, technical coordinator for the Walter K. Gordon Theater at Rutgers–Camden.

Musician Mark Zaki, an associate professor of music at Rutgers University–Camden, has composed a contemporary electroacoustic musical piece, titled “Camden Rounds,” integrating ambient sounds of Camden, such as the Riverline and PATCO, which will play continuously in the Stedman Gallery.

walt-whitmanTyler Hoffman, a Rutgers–Camden professor of English, has curated the poetry of Camden poet Nick Virgilio, an internationally recognized master of the haiku, as well as recorded performances of poetry and prose, including the works of Whitman. The Whitman recordings will also be accompanied by a collection of Whitman memorabilia, provided by Robert Emmons, associate director of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers University–Camden.

Hoffman notes that, in the words of Whitman himself, he got a new angle on his poems, seeing “things I could not see in any other way” when they were read aloud. “The same is true each time we hear ‘Song of Myself’ read aloud,” says Hoffman. “Not only can visitors to the ‘Sounds of Camden’ exhibition hear what is believed to be a recording of Whitman reading part of one of his own poems, but they can also listen to famous elocutionists and actors of the 20th century interpreting Whitman’s poetry through their vocalization of it. These various recordings have the power to change the way we experience a passage or a whole poem of Whitman’s, bringing out qualities that are sometimes latent on the printed page.”

The exhibition will also be accompanied by a series of live performances highlighting a Camden connection. The Rutgers–Camden theater program will present “Hand Me Down the Silver Trumpet: A Red-Hot New Musical,” featuring a review of classic blues, jazz, and gospel recordings made by African-American artists at RCA Victor in the 1920s and ’30s. The musical, written and directed by Kenneth Elliott, an associate professor of theater and chair of the Department of Fine Arts, stars Rutgers–Camden alumna Dionne Fields and a truly swinging band.

Evening performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 18, in the Gordon Theater. There will also be a special high school matinee performance at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, and a matinee performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19.

The annual Mallery Concert Series, offering free lunchtime performances on campus, will also pay homage to Camden’s musical heritage.

old gramophone“Almost all of the performances in the series this fall will feature works that were recorded in Camden by the Victor Talking Machine Company,” says Joe Schiavo, associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and artistic director of the Mallery Concert Series, both at Rutgers University–Camden.

Symphony in C has programmed Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances No. 5 & 6,” originally recorded by the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra in RCA Studios, for its November concert in the Gordon Theater. The public is invited to attend a free rehearsal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29, in the theater. Music director Rossen Milanov will speak briefly with guests, sharing his thoughts on the importance of recorded music in the City of Camden.

Hoffman and Noreen Scott-Garrity, the associate director and curator of education for the RCCA, are organizing a reading of Whitman’s 52-part poem “Song of Myself” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13 in the Stedman Gallery. For further information or to participate, contact Scott-Garrity at (856) 225-6306.

The Stedman Gallery and Gordon Theater are located in the Fine Arts Complex on Third Street, between Cooper Street and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, on the Rutgers–Camden campus. For directions to Rutgers–Camden, visit camden.rutgers.edu/resources/getting-to-campus.

For further information regarding the exhibition or affiliated events, contact Nancy Maguire at (856) 225-6245.

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