Rotunda In The News

Young Women Learn About Music and Electronics in Hands-On Workshop (performance at The Rotunda)

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Fishtown nonprofit that teaches girls confidence through musical self-expression held a concert this week.

The “Girls Rock Philly” participants performed Tuesday on instruments they made from scratch during a two-day workshop.

The instruments were simple.  One was a contact microphone soldered to a cable connected to the bottom of a cardboard box.

“Any object that they put inside the box and then played on that surface, the contact mike picks up the vibrations from that object — that’s how you make themusic,” explains Suzanne Thorpe.

Thorpe (conducting, at left, in top photo) is one-half ofTechne, a musician duo that’s holding rock-and-roll summer camps along the east coast. Their goal: to get more girls involved in music technology.

“They’re learning about basic signal flow and basic circuitry, and basically how sound and electricity are related,” Thorpe says. “Their process of exploration and creativity seems to be boundless.”

The girls spent the summer in Girls Rock Philly’s summer music institute, and the workshop — titled “Electronic Music Powered by Girls” — took their learning to the next level.

“Not only are they playing an instrument, but they are learning the process of how to create it and how sound works,” said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly.

The girls put their instruments to work at a concert at the Rotunda performance space, 40th and Walnut Streets.  They performed as part of a new and experimental music festival hosted by the Philadelphia-based experimental music group Bowerbird.

“When you start a new instrument that you don’t know much about, you can do a bunch of random things that sound very good,” says Tracy Gresham, one of the ten young ladies who took part in the workshop.  The 17-year-old plays flute, guitar, piano, and bass, and was one of eight girls who took the stage.

“It was really cool,” she says.  “I put rubber bands on a box and I stretched them out and learned the different pitches.  I really learned the inner workers of guitar.”

“I’ve played guitar, keys, drums, and clarinet,” says Kayla Henry, 13.  But did she think she could make an instrument out of these throwaway material?

“Not at all, but I really enjoyed doing this,” she said.

And from the sounds of all the applause, the audience really enjoyed listening to the end result.

For more information on the “Girls Rock Philly” program, go to

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Girls Rock Philly helps young musicians break sound barriers

By Peter Crimmins

Girls at a summer workshop for rock and roll in Philadelphia are not just learning how to play music, they are learning to make the instruments they will play. 

At the Girls Rock Philly headquarters in Fishtown, a half-dozen girls ranging from 12 to 18 are being introduced to the basics of circuitry, how sound and electricity are related, and the business end of a soldering gun.

"They are learning how to solder, and learning to build something, and learning about sound and the creation of sound," said Diane Foglizzo, director of Girls Rock Philly. "That's something we do a little, but it's exciting to bring folks in who already know how to do that, and tie that into what we're doing."

Foglizzo brought in Suzanne Thorpe and Bonnie Jones, aka TECHNE, two electronic musicians spending the summer touring rock and roll summer camps up and down the East Coast. To teach the science and engineering of music, they come loaded with cables, wire cutters, extra solder, and bags of Pop Rocks candy.

First they teach girls to wire a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations through touch. That's where the solder comes in.

Then they put that mic into a cardboard box and introduce, for example, a thwacking rubber band, a soft-bristle paint brush, a stainless steel scrubber pad, and a paper cup of water crackling with Pop Rocks. The contact mic picks up the vibrations through the carboard box, and sends those vibrations to an amp.

The result is an improvisation of sounds not normally heard in natural acoustic space. The experimental, found-sound music is nothing like guitars or bass.

"The instruments are without gender, in any cultural contexts," said Thorpe, noting that they girls can stake their musical path without taking on male-dominated tropes of rock.

"It's not like men are known for playing boxes with contact mics on them," said Jones.

The teenagers of Girls Rock Philly will be playing their homemade electronic instruments at a public concert at theRotunda at 4014 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia Tuesday evening as part of The Gate series by the experimental music presenter Bowerbird. The free concert begins at 7.

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From Rehearsal to Rotunda

"We refer to the Rotunda as a gathering place for the promotion of arts and culture," said Gina Renzi, executive director of the Rotunda.
Originally a Christian Science church, the Rotunda was purchased in 1996 by the University of Pennsylvania as part of a larger initiative focused on transforming the 40th Street corridor into a cultural destination for the city. But, while permanent plans were debated, it was largely used as a rehearsal space for university groups displaced by the long-running renovation of the Perelman Quad and Houston Hall, their usual home.
That all changed in 1998 when then-student Andrew Zitcer, now Penn's cultural asset manager, enrolled in a course on university/community partnerships. He was assigned a paper investigating the idea of a jazz club in the area.
"At the time," Zitcer said, "this was no-man's land, and I explained to anyone who would listen that you can't just take a space and make it a jazz club, because jazz is really about history. However, I thought, why not for the 21st century think about an all-purpose space that can accommodate all the arts, all the genres and really achieve this goal of integrating communities."
Zitcer's paper on the idea found its way to Penn's Real Estate Department, which jumped on the idea and enlisted Zitcer to run the space, sidelining his plans to move to New York and work in the music industry. Seeking to inaugurate the space with an event that would exemplify the venue's expansive mission, he booked a hip-hop event and a jazz concert over two nights in April 1999.
"The jazz concert was nicely attended, 75 people clapping and behaving and appreciating jazz," he said, "and the hip-hop event was 250 people raising the roof and representing hip-hop. I thought both were greatly successful."
At the beginning, the Rotunda ran only on weekends, but gradually expanded to a seven-day schedule. Renzi came on in 2002, assuming many of Zitcer's former duties as he moved into his current position. With Penn's ownership, the rent-free space is in a unique position to offer all-ages, largely free events and still pay artists for their efforts.
The Rotunda's efforts have also generated enormous goodwill in the community and encouraged the growth of local culture. "We don't believe that someone who's in the audience can't also put on an event or perform on stage," Renzi said. "We've found that as the Rotunda grows, things have gotten better in this organic way, where people are self-selective and decide to make it better. People mold the space, as opposed to the other way around."

- Shaun Brady

In its 10th year, Philly Zine Fest uses "HallowZine" theme


WHAT'S BLACK and white and read all over by Philadelphia's independent media? Philly Zine Fest, now in its 10th year, is an annual gathering of do-it-yourself publishers, artists and writers that showcases small self-published magazines.

Themed "HallowZine," this year's festival, Saturday at West Philly's Rotunda, offers the chance to flip through hundreds of these publications. There will also be costume, trivia and ghost-story contests, plus food, a DJ and live broadcasts on Drexel's WKDU (91.7-FM) radio station.

"Zines can be about anything and can inspire a lot of different feelings," said Sarah Rose, one of the festival's organizers. The most powerful zines make readers laugh and think about big issues at the same time, she said.

Rose is the creator of a zine called Tazewell's Favorite Eccentric, which addresses addiction, abuse and poverty. Her other zines include Worries, about anxiety, and Dangerous Damsels, about feminist fairy tales.

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Rotunda a hub of Penn's civic engagement with Philadelphia

 By Avi Grunfeld

A century-old former church called the Rotunda stands as a symbol of Penn’s civic engagement with West Philadelphia.

The Rotunda — located at 4014 Walnut St. — now houses a community-based arts initiative that started in 1998 with the goal of serving as a bridge to bring together Penn and West Philadelphia.

Program director Gina Renzi hosts between three to six events per week ranging from live music, film, art or after-school programs for local students. It is one of many elements of Penn’s focus on improving its surrounding neighborhood.

But Penn was not always the neighbor it is today.

“If Benjamin Franklin came back to Penn 30 years ago, he would be very upset with Penn’s relationship with the community,” Urban Studies Professor and Associate Vice President and Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships Ira Harkavy said.

Since the 1980s, though, Penn has begun a new chapter of working with the community — a chapter Harkavy believes is on display today at the Rotunda.

A history of civic engagement
In 1985, Harkavy and former Netter Center Senior Fellow Lee Benson, who died last February, started to teach a seminar on urban universities and community relationships. The course was co-taught with former Penn President Sheldon Hackney for the first few years.

From Hackney’s involvement in this seminar to former Penn President Judith Rodin’s campus expansion initiatives to current Penn President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact, civic engagement with West Philadelphia started to get more and more attention.

“Civic engagement is central to what a Penn education and what Penn as a university is all about,” Gutmann said.

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