UMKC Music Composition and English Professors Win Fulbright Honors

Blanton and Haber to spend research year abroad
portraits of Virginia Blanton and Yotam Haber

Two UMKC faculty members have been selected to work abroad as Fulbright Scholars for the 2023-24 academic year.

Virginia Blanton, Ph.D., Curators' Distinguished Professor, will go to the Ruusbroec Institute in Antwerp, Belgium, to research English nuns who sought refuge in Catholic Flanders during the Reformation.

Yotam Haber, D.M.A., associate professor of music composition in the UMKC Conservatory, will go to the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in Israel to further develop the cross-fertilization of his creative work with traditional Jewish liturgical cantillation practices.

The Fulbright Program, the flagship international academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, has fostered mutual understanding between the United States and other countries since 1946. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends American scholars, artists, faculty and professionals abroad to lecture and/or conduct research for up to a year.

Blanton has had a long-term research focus on medieval women and their relationship with books. In Antwerp, she will focus on the Birgittines of Syon, a wealthy and influential community near London, who refused Henry VIII’s directive to close their community and went to Flanders.

“They cultivated and circulated devotional reading material, and yet no one has investigated Belgian repositories for their lost books or for evidence of their time in Antwerp and the surrounding region,” Blanton said. “I will be working in various archives and libraries across Flanders to identify books and other materials, as well as organizing a series of workshops that will bring together researchers who focus on Birgittines in Sweden, England, Belgium, Italy, Spain and beyond.”

“One of my career goals was to secure a Fulbright to a multilingual country, and Belgium – where there are speakers of Dutch, French, German as well as multiple other immigrant languages – is ideal,” she said. “I was a French major in college and my daughter attends a French-immersion school, so it was important that I seek out an opportunity where we could be immersed in a culture that is not primarily Anglophone.

“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and I look forward to representing UMKC in my time abroad.”

Haber was born in the Netherlands but grew up in Israel until the age of 5, when his family relocated to Africa.

“Most of my family is in Israel, and I have visited many times for short periods since my childhood, but have never stayed for an extended period,” Haber said. “For the last decade or so, I have been focused on writing music that intermingles Italian Jewish liturgical practices with my own contemporary musical voice. This fascination with Italian Jewish traditions, rather than ‘straight from the source,’ is born from my own nomadic existence. The Fulbright allows me to finally spend time in Israel, learning about how those liturgical cantillation practices originated. In addition, I am excited to immerse myself in the new music community of Israel.”

“I am honored to receive this award,” he said. “I’m very curious to engage with composition students in Israel and learn about the cultural, political, religious and other factors that drive and inspire them.”

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