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Jenny Scheinman & H. Lee Waters | Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait

A music/film project featuring a live score by composer/singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman & re-edited footage from the films of H. Lee Waters

The Latest Update


Posted on May 8, 2015 by Duke Performances

Filmmaker Steve Milligan assembled this short film on the ‘Kannapolis’ project and premiere at Duke Performances in March 2015.

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‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’ Premieres at Duke Performances

Posted on April 19, 2015 by Duke Performances

Duke Performances is pleased to report that the organization had a productive and impactful six-day residency with acclaimed composer, singer, and violinist Jenny Scheinman, from Sunday, March 15 through Friday, March 20, 2015. The residency culminated in the sold-out world premiere of Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait on Friday, March 20, commissioned by Duke Performances and featuring Scheinman’s original score of new folks songs and fiddle music accompanying exceptional footage of life in the early 1940s Piedmont by itinerant North Carolina filmmaker H. Lee Waters. Scheinman, along with a musical ensemble featuring multi-instrumentalists Robbie Fulks and Robbie Gjersoe, performed an evening of music set to archival footage from Waters’ Movies of Local People, which was masterfully stitched together for this presentation by film director Finn Taylor (Total attendance: 500).

In addition to rehearsals and the premiere, Scheinman and her collaborators participated in a variety of engagements with the Duke and Durham communities, including: a visit to Margaret Sartor’s “Photography in Context” class (15 students), in which Scheinman discussed her experience creating a new work incorporating archival materials; a brown-bag lunch at the Center for Documentary Studies (15 attendees), in which Scheinman described her process in creating the Kannapolis project; a visit to Robert Zimmerman’s “Songwriter’s Vocabulary” class (15 students), in which Scheinman discussed her work as a composer and songwriter, and offered feedback to students who shared their own songs; and a public conversation with Jenny Scheinman and Finn Taylor, moderated by Tom Rankin (50 attendees), in which Scheinman and Taylor discussed their collaboration on the Kannapolis project, and the experience of working with H. Lee Waters’ films.

Scheinman and Taylor also appeared as guests on WUNC’s The State of Things, and Scheinman participated in an interview for a video by filmmaker Steve Milligan that will be used to promote the Kannapolis project with the hopes of touring it nationally and internationally (the short film will be available mid-May). In addition, in January 2015, the Rubenstein Library launched the complete H. Lee Waters digital film collection, making Waters’ films available to the public for the first time via an easy-to-use online interface. Residency participants totaled 95, for a grand total of 595 individuals engaged through the public performance and residency (excluding individuals who learned about the project online, and via print and radio).

Duke Performances and its partners executed the Jenny Scheinman residency at a high level due to detailed planning and collaboration. Duke Performances hosted Scheinman for a three-day advance visit in October 2014 to discuss the staging of the premiere, test the film in Reynolds Theater, and meet with faculty and staff about prospective residency. This trip set the tone for a very successful residency, allowing time to discuss in person with Scheinman logistics, lingering questions, and opportunities for engagement. Duke Performances Executive Director Aaron Greenwald and Associate Director Eric Oberstein also held a series of planning calls with Scheinman and her agent Liz Penta to build a robust residency schedule.

Duke Performances worked closely with its various partners to plan, publicize, and execute the residency, including Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Center for Documentary Studies, the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts, and the Department of Music. Kirston Johnson, curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library, and her successor Lisa McCarty, along with Naomi Nelson, director of the Rubenstein Library, were invaluable in providing Scheinman and her team with access to the Waters materials over the five-year gestation of the project since Greenwald introduced Scheinman to the collection, and in providing support and guidance through the premiere. Craig Breaden helped to digitize Waters’ films, and Tom Whiteside, who was instrumental in introducing Waters’ films to Duke and provided insights into Waters as a filmmaker and individual, contributed tremendously to the project. Wesley Hogan, Lynn McKnight, and Chris Sims of CDS; Tom Rankin and Ted Mott of the MFA|EDA; and Jane Hawkins of the Music Department were important collaborators as well.Local media were also supportive, with coverage in INDY Week, Duke Chronicle, Duke University Libraries Magazine, and WUNC The State of Things.

The residency resonated deeply on campus and in the community, and it enabled Duke Performances to achieve its residency goals, which included:

  • Provide Scheinman with the opportunity to compose a score and premiere a new work integrating music and film that will have a touring life beyond Duke
  • Engage the Duke and Durham community around the significance of H. Lee Waters’ films and the creative intersection of film and music
  • Initiate conversation about H. Lee Waters’ work across academic disciplines, including Documentary Studies, Experimental and Documentary Arts, Music, and others
  • Highlight the history of North Carolina through a project that engages with archival materials held by Duke University
  • Engage with archival materials as a vehicle for artistic creation and learning
  • Enrich the arts at Duke through meaningful student, staff, and faculty engagement with practicing artists in a residency format that provides an intimate look at Scheinman and her team’s creative process

Kannapolis is the latest installment in Duke Performances’ From the Archives initiative, in which performing artists create works engaging archival materials from Duke’s Rubenstein Library (guitarist William Tyler premiered his Corduroy Roads project engaging with Civil War photographs in November 2014). Duke Performances learned a great deal about collaborating with an artist around a From the Archives project and how to engage the Duke and Durham communities around the artists making them.

Several evaluation methods were used to learn how goals were met. On the quantitative end, ticket sales and attendance were used to measure performance — the residency served a total 595 people. Qualitatively, the various community partners held daily de-briefings as well as post-residency evaluations. It was apparent that the residency goals were met, and the project partners felt the collaborative experience was successful and that the residency had a high degree of engagement, artistic merit, community relevance, cultural significance, and inclusiveness. It was apparent that the residency and performances generated a great deal of discussion about H. Lee Waters and his work. Scheinman also appreciated the opportunity to engage with students and community members across disciplines around the work. Finally, the team learned a great deal about the show and how to tour it.


INDY Week (preview)" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/1yZdQBX">

Duke Chronicle (preview)" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/1CuPtg7">

WUNC The State of Things (preview)" target="_blank">http://bit.ly/1NfZXLD">

http://bit.ly/1FnQBcg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Duke University Libraries Magazine (preview)

Duke Performances is grateful to New Music USA for its invaluable and generous support of the Jenny Scheinman residency, and its guidance throughout the process.

Tickets to Kannapolis Premeire here!

Posted on March 6, 2015 by Jenny Scheinman

Get your tickets to the Kannapolis premiere here.

EPK for ‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’

Posted on October 2, 2014 by Duke Performances

Jenny Scheinman and Finn Taylor preview ‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’ in this new EPK.

‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’ is available for touring in 2015/16, represented by Hans Wendl. For more info: http://hanswendl.com/specialprojects.html

Jenny Scheinman & Finn Taylor complete film for ‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’

Posted on August 31, 2014 by Duke Performances

During summer 2014, Jenny Scheinman and film director Finn Taylor worked with editor Rick LeCompte to complete a film that includes re-edited footage of H. Lee Waters’ films. Scheinman, with her trio consisting of Robbie Fulks and Robbie Gjersoe, will perform a live score composed for the film by Scheinman, at the project’s premiere at Duke’s Reynolds Theater in Durham, NC, on Friday, March 20, 2015.

In early October 2014, Scheinman will make an advance visit to Duke to meet with Duke Performances staff and Duke faculty to discuss the project and premiere, plan class visits and residency activities, visit Reynolds Theater where the piece will be performed, and visit the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, at which H. Lee Waters’ films are housed. The Waters archive is on schedule to be made available to the public via an online interface by the time of the project’s premiere in March 2015.

Duke Performances is pleased to have received a Visiting Artist Grant from Duke’s Council for the Arts, sponsored by the Office of the Provost at Duke University, to support the project and residency, as well as a gift from Neil D. Karbank.

Tickets and full details for ‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’ are available via Duke Performances here.

“Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” trailer

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Duke Performances

Trailer for Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, featuring video footage by H. Lee Waters and music by Jenny Scheinman.


Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait is a music/film project conceived by the award-winning composer, singer, and violinist Jenny Scheinman. It consists of a live score and sound design with re-edited footage from the films of H. Lee Waters (1902-1997), who documented over 118 towns in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Tennessee in the latter half of the Great Depression.

Kannapolis is the first project of Duke Performances’ From the Archives initiative, in which performing artists create works engaging archival materials from Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Waters’ archive is hosted at the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke. Duke Performances has previously commissioned and/or presented works engaging archival material, including pianist/composer Jason Moran’s IN MY MIND (Jazz Loft Project photos and audio), composer/guitarist Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer (Mike Disfarmer’s photos, a project on which Jenny Scheinman performed), and choreographer Ron K. Brown’s One Shot (Charles “Teenie” Harris’ photos).

Duke Performances aims to co-commission the project with two to three other presenters to be determined and plans to premiere Kannapolis at Duke’s Reynolds Theater Friday, March 20, 2015. The presentation will be the culmination of a five-day residency initiating conversation about the significance of H. Lee Waters’ films and the creative intersection of film and music. The residency will engage the Duke and Durham communities through class visits and public conversations, and partners will include Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and the departments of Music and History. The Waters’ archive will be available to the public for the first time via an easy-to-use online interface.

Herbert Lee Waters’ spectacularly beautiful but largely unknown films consist of hundreds of shots of people of all ages and races on the streets, at school, in factories, and in almost every non-domestic part of their lives. He edited these shots together and showed his films at towns’ local theaters. In this re-edited treatment of Kannapolis, shots are slowed down and the audience is able to meditate on faces, revisit sequences, and contrast images.

Scheinman’s score draws from folk music sources, specifically the cyclical musical structures prevalent in the fiddle music of regions visited by Waters. It also integrates a series of narrative songs that imagine the lives of several chosen protagonists. Scheinman also integrates a sound design score consisting of field sounds that add modern dimension to the piece, creating a sonic bridge between silent footage and live music.

Kannapolis is the name of one of the last films that Waters made, in the town of Kannapolis, NC, home to the Canon textile factory. The film was shot in 1941, just months before the US entered the Second World War, when the town was in a state of precarious optimism and Waters was at the height of his powers as a filmmaker.  The Kannapolis films are part of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

Scheinman’s musical collaborators are guitarist, banjo player, and NC native Robbie Fulks, and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Gjersoe. The visual team is led by filmmaker/director Finn Taylor, editor Rick Lecompte, and sound designer Trevor Jolly.

Project Media

Esme by Jenny Scheinman
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Features: Jenny Scheinman

“Esme,” a fiddle tune written and recorded by Jenny Scheinman in 2012 for “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait.”

Brother by Jenny Scheinman

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Features: Jenny Scheinman

“Brother,” written and performed by Jenny Scheinman, from her forthcoming 2014 Sony Masterworks album, “The Littlest Prisoner.”

Start and End Dates



Durham, North Carolina

6 updates
Last update on May 8, 2015

Project Created By

Durham, North Carolina
Duke Performances, the professional performing arts presenting organization at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is committed to presenting willfully eclectic, forward-thinking performing arts of the highest quality. Through superb performances, outstanding visiting artist residencies, and the development and commissioning of exciting new work, Duke Performances is forging a culture that vigorously supports performance and…

In Collaboration With

Petrolia, California
Film Director
Berkeley, California
Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois


2 responses to “Jenny Scheinman & H. Lee Waters | Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait”

  1. Beautiful work. Thanks for bringing out the natural joy we have in our country.

  2. Nice fiddle tune. You captured the cool, spare feeling of Appalachian music. At first I was hoping it was really about Kanopolis Reservoir in Kansas, but then I saw that Kannapolis is a ‘burg in North Carolina. Ah well. Still powerful music, and a great project. Thanks for sharing.

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