Super Marimba Concert & Workshop Oct. 28th & 29th 

A big thank you to everyone who came out last month to celebrate International Peace Day with the Stone Sound Collective! It was a beautiful event. 

I'm happy to share that at the end of this month I will be presenting a concert and workshop with Super Marimba in Pontiac, MI. The group is led by Payton MacDonald, who has throughout his remarkable career pushed the boundaries of marimba music in many exciting directions. Payton is, in my opinion, one of the most lyrical marimba artists you will ever hear. He is joined in Super Marimba by virtuoso percussionists Shawn Mativetsky (tabla) and Damon Grant (Latin percussion). I am thrilled to be playing as part of this project on the array mbira. 

Please join us on Friday, October 28th at 7:30pm for a free concert at the newly reopened Pontiac Little Art Theatre and for a free community drum workshop on Saturday, October 29th at 11am at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center. 

I would like to also take a moment to remember two giants of our world music community whose spirits recently departed this earthly plane. Kevin Locke was an internationally renowned Lakota indigenous flute performer and hoop dancer. Ruben Alvarez was an acclaimed Latin percussionist. I became friends with Kevin and Ruben late in their storied careers and was blessed to collaborate with both of them recently. They were each not only passionate artists but also incredible humanitarians. The words of wisdom that Kevin and Ruben shared with me during our long talks has helped sustain me during these challenging times and has taught me what it truly means to be an artist-educator. 


Peace Day Concert with Stone Sound Collective 

Stone Sound Collective - International Peace Day Concert

Oakland University, Varner Recital Hall

Saturday, September 21, 2018 at 8 p.m.

Established by a United Nations resolution in 1981, the International Day of Peace  provides a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” Celebrate Peace Day at Oakland University with the Stone Sound Collective. Led by composer Mark Stone, the group unites diverse musicians and dancers to create a new global soundscape. Stone Sound Collective performs original compositions and choreography rooted in traditional art forms, creating music and dance that celebrates the oneness of humanity by uplifting hearts, expanding minds and connecting souls.

Free admission 

Abigail Alwin - cello

Ambyr Amen-Ra – choreographer and dancer

Chinelo Amen-Ra - djembe, congas, stone box, and percussion

Matt Dufresne - tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, nadaswaram, and flute

Sam Jeyasingham – mridangam, thavil, tablas, kanjira, and morsing

Kerro Knox 3 - lighting and staging

Lalitha Ramamoorthy - choreographer and dancer

Mark Stone – composer, array mbira, karimba, and gyil



World Music Concert with James Isabirye and Regina Carter 

For the past two years I've had the great honor of hosting Dr. James Isabirye while he pursued a Ph.D. in Music Education at Oakland University. James has completed his program, writing a brilliant dissertation on his work in Uganda revitalizing indigenous music education practices. He heads back to home in 10 days. But before he goes, James will be sharing his music (including some of the traditions from Busoga and Buganda that he has helped revive) as the featured artist in our annual fall semester world music concert at Oakland University.

This concert will also feature students in the OU World Percussion Ensemble (Ngoma), OU African Drum and Xylophone Ensemble (Akwaaba), and our wonderful OU Artist-in-Residence, Regina Carter. My students have done great work this semester. Please come out to support them and to celebrate the music of Uganda! The concert also doubles as a farewell party for James :-)

I hope to see you there!


Stone Sound Collective in Pontiac/ International Peace Day 


Saturday, 8/25 – Stone Sound Collective @ Pontiac’s Little Art Theatre – 8pm

Friday, 9/21 – Mark Stone, International Peace Day Concert @ Oakland University’s Varner Recital Hall – 8pm

I just returned from beautiful Quito, Ecuador where I took part in Estudio de Percusión’s XII Festival Internacional de Percusión. At the festival I had a blast teaching and performing with some of the greatest (and craziest!) percussionists on the planet. The faculty included Anders Åstrand from Sweden, Evaristo Aguilar from Mexico, Jholman Caceres from Colombia, Cesar Gonzalez Cisnero from Venezuela, and Carlos Alban from Ecuador. All of the Ecuadorian students worked really hard and we presented several exciting performances together.

I’m bringing the wonderful vibe of this Ecuador festival back to Michigan tonight, August 25th - 8pm, with two sets of original music featuring Stone Sound Collective at Pontiac’s Little Art Theatre. Please check out this great article about the show in the Oakland Press. Tickets for the performance can be purchased here.

Looking ahead, I will be kicking off the new school year with a special concert celebratingInternational Peace Day on Friday, September 21st. Established by a United Nations resolution in 1981, the International Day of Peace provides a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all differences and to contribute to building a culture of peace.” This solo program will feature a range of globally-inspired percussion pieces featuring the newly-invented Array mbira, an American-made 120 key lamellaphone, as well as several traditional melodic African instruments, including the Ghanaian gyil, Ugandan akogo and South African kalimba.

I hope to see you tonight in Pontiac!

Mark Stone, Guba

Bernard Woma Memorial/ Stone Sound Collective Performances 


Wednesday 7/18 – Stone Sound Collective @ Nardin Park Music Series, Farmington Hills – 8pm

Saturday, 7/21 – Stone Sound Collective “Sow the Seeds of Community” @ Rochester Municipal Park, Kiwanis Pavilion –1pm

Sunday, 7/22 – Bernard Woma Michigan Memorial @ Oakland University Varner Recital Hall - 3pm 

Saturday, 8/25 – Stone Sound Collective @ Pontiac’s Little Art Theatre – 8pm

The memorial for Bernard Woma in NYC last month was a beautiful celebration of Bernard’s life and music. His funeral in Ghana will take place this weekend and we will also be celebrating his life with another memorial in Michigan this Sunday at Oakland University’s Varner Hall. We will begin at 3pm with a potluck meal and music making outside Varner Recital Hall (or in room 110 if it rains) and at 6pm there will be a memorial in the recital hall. If you would like to celebrate Bernard’s life with us, please attend, bring a dish to share, and join us in the music!

I’m really excited to have several upcoming opportunities to share the music of my new ensemble, Stone Sound Collective. We will be performing tomorrow at Nardin Park United Methodist Church (8pmand again on Saturday at Rochester Municipal Park’s Kiwanis Pavilion (1pm). Both of these events are free. The Nardin Park performance is part of their long-running summer concert series and the Rochester Park performance is the kick-off event for a new community coalition, formed to start a conversation about diversity and inclusion in the Rochester area.

Looking ahead to August, Stone Sound Collective will be performing two sets of original music at the historic Pontiac Little Art Theatre on August 25th at 8pm. This grand venue (built in 1868) has been lovingly restored into a beautiful performing arts space. Tickets can be purchased in advance here.

To learn more about the collective creativity of this new project and to receive regular updates on our performances and recordings, please like our Facebook fan page here. I’ve also created a short video montage of our music that can be viewed here.

Mark Stone, Guba

Bernard Woma Memorials / Stone Sound Collective Performances 


Saturday, 6/16 – Stone Sound Collective @ Music Hall’s Detroit Music Weekend – 5pm, Lear Stage

Sunday, 6/24 – Bernard Woma NYC Memorial @ ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn – 5pm

Wednesday 7/18 – Stone Sound Collective @ Nardin Park Music Series, Farmington Hills – 8pm

Sunday, 7/22 – Bernard Woma Michigan Memorial @ Oakland University Varner Recital Hall - 3pm 

This has been a difficult spring for me. Within a span of just over a month, I lost three incredibly important people in my life. On April 6, my dear mentor Vincent Khapoya departed this world after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Vince was a beloved international studies and political science professor from Kenya who took me under his wing when I first joined the faculty at Oakland University. Any success I have had at OU I owe entirely to his comprehensive and caring mentorship. Then on April 27, my long-time musical partner and gyil guru, Bernard Woma, joined the ancestors after an extended battle with cancer. I played the gyil with Bernard all around the world and cherish the musical journey we shared together. Whatever knowledge I have of African music has been built on the foundation that Bernard generously shared with me over a period of 25 years. Finally, on May 13 my grandpa Charles Ballard passed into new life, 94 years young. My grandpa was the rock of our extended family and instilled in all of his children and grandchildren both a joy of life and a tremendous work ethic. Any ability I have to stay focused on my goals while enjoying life’s bumpy road comes from him. While the passing of these three giants has left a void in my heart, I know that I will carry their spirits with me as I continue to teach, play music, and work as hard as I possibly can to make this world a better place.

The funerals celebrating the lives of Vincent Khapoya and my grandpa were special events full of both sorrow and joy. I am extremely grateful to the Khapoya family for the opportunity to share music throughout Vince’s funeral. As I write this newsletter, Bernard’s body is headed to Ghana, where the final Dagara funeral rites will be carried out. A funeral in Accra will take place on July 13 & 14 before traveling to the North for final funeral services there on July 20 & 21At the same time, we will be holding two special memorials in the US for our Jumbie brother. The first memorial will be held in two weeks in Brooklyn at ShapeShifters Lab, one of many New York venues where Bernard shared his amazing musicianship. The second memorial will take place on July 22nd at Oakland University, just one of many American universities where Bernard shared his passion for African music as a guest artist and teacher.

Stone Sound Collective

This time of grieving has also been a time of new beginnings. I recently debuted a new music ensemble, the Stone Sound Collective. The concert was a great success and we have many more performances coming up this summer including a performance at Music Hall’s Detroit Music Weekend this Saturday and a performance as part of the Nardin Park Music Series on July 18th (both free events). To learn more about the collective creativity of this new project and to receive regular updates on our performances and recordings, please like our Facebook fan page here.

I hope that you are able to join me at one of my upcoming Stone Sound Collective performances and/or one of the memorial celebrations for Bernard. Please also enjoy the following recordings, dedicated to Vincent Khapoya, Bernard Woma, and my Grandpa Ballard.

Mark Stone, Guba

I wrote this composition, Mwalimu (teacher), for Vincent Khapoya in celebration of his retirement from the Oakland University.

This video was my final performance with Bernard. We performed Binne together in Ghana at Filmua’s Kukur-Bagr festival just before my completion of the Gyil Goba initiation in nearby Hinneteng.

I wrote this composition, Ballards’ Joy, for my grandparents. It is inspired by my grandpa’s love of big band music and his even greater love of dance.

OU World Music Concerts featuring Sam Jeyasingham, Robert Chappell, Jagrithi, Stone Sound Collective 


Thursday, 4/5 - OU Percussion Ensembles with Sam Jeyasingham @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 8pm

Friday, 4/13 - OU World Music Ensembles with Robert Chappell @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 10am & 8pm 

Sunday, 4/15  जगृथि (Jagrithi - Awakening) @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 4pm     

Sunday, 4/29 - World Dance Day Celebration with Maitrii and Stone Sound Collective @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 4pm  

I just returned from the incredible Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, an event now in its 41styear that features over 120 of the top musicians from southern India as well as 100’s of talented and dedicated North American born/based Indian artists. At the festival, we successfully launched the new जगृथि (Jagrithi - Awakening) group in front of an overflowing audience at Cleveland State University’s Drinko Hall. जगृथि is a collaborative ensemble of musicians from India and and America, rooted in a wide range of musical and cultural traditions. The group creates new music steeped in these traditions, with a focus on music’s potential to foster a spiritual reawakening of mankind. You can hear this exciting new project in Michigan next week on April 15th at 4pm in OU’s Varner Recital Hall, sponsored by the Great Lakes Aradhana Committee.

At Oakland University, we are wrapping up another successful semester tomorrow and next weekend with three terrific programs featuring Sam Jeyasingham and Robert Chappell.Tomorrow’s 8pm percussion ensemble concert will feature Prof. Jeyasingham together with the OU percussion ensemble and world percussion ensemble, presenting a program of percussion music from Asia. The concert will include music from India and Japan, as well as works by American composers inspired by Asian music traditions. Originally from Sri Lanka, OU Carnatic percussion instructor Sam Jeyasingam is a virtuoso performer and master teacher of several Indian percussive art forms.

Then next week distinguished professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University, Robert Chappell, will be in residence with our world music ensembles. On Friday, 4/13 Prof. Chappell will conclude his residency with a morning children’s concert at 10am and a full evening concert at 8pm. Both of these programs will feature OU’s Steel Band, African Ensemble, and World Percussion Ensemble performing traditional African and Caribbean music as well as Chappell’s original compositions, noted for integrating seemingly unrelated genres into a musical totality.

Finally, on Sunday April 29th at 4pm, I will present the debut of my newest group, the Stone Sound Collective, at Oakland University. We will be taking part in a special performance to celebrate World Dance Day together with the Indian classical dance group, Maitrii.

Please spread the word about these events and I hope to see you there!



Soul Food: Inspirational Music and Words to Nurture the Soul and Elevate the Spirit 


 Saturday, 1/27 - Soul Food @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 7pm 

While honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Similarly, in the Baha’i tradition we are taught by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”

As someone dedicated to a world embracing vision of humanity, it is heartbreaking to hear the vitriol in our public discourse that routinely describes people of a country, culture, or religion as somehow inferior. And as an artist-educator, I refuse to be silent on this issue! However, in following the teachings of Dr. King and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I wish to do something positive in response to the current state of our society. So, my community partner, Dwayne Anthony, and I are presenting our third “Soul Food” event this coming Saturday, Jan. 27th at Oakland University – 7pm, Varner Recital Hall - FREE admission.

This special program has been created to bring our community together andcelebrate the oneness of humanity. At this Saturday’s “Soul Food” we will all be nourished by healing music and words of wisdom from Native-American, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Baha’i spiritual traditions. The program will feature the artistry of Spirits Rising, Elizabeth Rowen and I-Chen Yeh, Fortino and Rolando Ybarra, the School of World Music and Dance, the Jazz Quintet for the Nightingale, and the Pontiac Citywide Choir Union. We will also be joined by OU President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, Mayor Deidre Waterman, and Professor Alan Epstein. Following the program, there will be a reception and post-concert discussion led by OU religious studies faculty.

Please help me spread the word far and wide about “Soul Food!” It is the most important event I will produce this year.


OU World Music Concerts featuring Chinelo Amen-Ra 


Friday, 12/8 - Oakland University World Music Concert                                     @ OU Varner Recital Hall - 8pm

Saturday, 12/9 - Community Drum Workshop and Concert                        @ Pontiac Creative Arts Center - 2pm & 4pm 

It was a blast catching up with so many friends at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis last month. Thanks to Neeraj Mehta for inviting me to be part of the World Percussion Panel Presentation and to Rick Kurasz for inviting me to perform with the PAS Mass Steel Band. Both events were stellar. The steel band was extra special as I was reunited with several fellow WVU pan players after 20 years and we were joined by PAS Hall of Fame inductee Andy Narell. Check out video footage of our full performance here!

At Oakland University, we are wrapping up another successful semester this weekend with two terrific programs featuring my drum brother, Chinelo Amen-Ra. Chi and I first met many years ago when we were both students of the late, great Modibo Kieta, one of the finest drummers to ever come from Michigan. Modibo introduced me to African music and laid the foundation for all of my future studies of the continent’s extraordinary percussion traditions. Chinelo has truly followed in the footsteps of our master teacher and has become a master djembe and conga drummer in his own right. It is a great pleasure to welcome him to Oakland University as our guest artist! A full description of this Friday’s program can be found here.

Then on Saturday, we have a special event in Pontiac as part of the OU/Pontiac Initiative. At 2pm, Chinelo and I will present a free workshop for all ages at the Pontiac Creative Arts Center followed by a 4pmperformance with the OU African Ensemble and World Percussion Ensemble. Event details here.

Please spread the word about these events and I hope to see you there!



Ancient Beauty - Bicentenary Celebration at the Strand 

Boom! Just like that summer is long gone and we are in the middle of October. I had a blast this past summer (winter in South Africa) performing and adjudicating at the International Marimba and Steelpan Festival in Johannesburg, together with Haruna Walusimbi. The festival, run by Joan Lithgow and Education Africa, uses the magic of marimba and steel pan music to foster social cohesion in South Africa. You can read about my trip and check out photos/videos here.

I helped organize and will be performing in a very special event this weekend. On Sunday, we will be celebrating the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, at the newly restored Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac. The program, entitled “Ancient Beauty”, is a celebration of the oneness of humanity through the performing arts. Featured performers will include Sounding Light (chamber choir), the School of World Music & Dance (classical Indian music and dance), Spirits Rising (contemporary Native-American music), Jazz Quintet for the Nightingale (Jazz), and The Voices of Oneness featuring Lady Peachena (Gospel). Each of these groups have been commissioned to write a new work for the celebration. As a result, the program will feature a total of seven world premieres!

 “Ancient Beauty” celebrates the transformative impact of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the lives of individuals, families, and communities around the country and the world. Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of the oneness of humanity is seen by Bahá’ís as an antidote to the racial prejudice and materialism that are corroding American society. This momentous event will take place on Sunday, October 22nd, at 3pm. It is open to everyone and admission is free. The Strand Theatre is located at 12 N Saginaw St. in Pontiac.

I hope you can join our celebration!


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