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Cynthia Dretel
2009-2010 Honors Student

Cynthia DretelName: Cynthia Dretel
Honors in: Music
Hometown: Somers Point, NJ
Major(s): Music--Percussion Performance, Sacred Music

Title of project: Christmas Behind Barbed Wire: Polish Szopki Written in Two Holocaust Concentration Camps.

Abstract or brief description: Polish Catholic inmates in the camps of Ravensbrück and Dachau kept their heritage alive by creating and performing szopki; musical nativity puppet plays. My project focused on two plays that were found in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I edited the script and music to create modern performance editions. Traditionally, Szopki writers include parts of Polish life in the songs and dialogue. The writers in the camps also included aspects of camp life into the plays. I explored the symbolic in music, text, and historical context to provide a deeper meaning for these plays. Both plays feature a charming cast characters and very colorful music, and written and arranged in a folk style, that expresses a wide range of emotions.

How did you get interested in your topic? I was lucky enough to come across the two manuscripts while researching another project on religious music in the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The archivist there told me that the plays were based on the nativity story, but they are actually more complex. I could find very little information on this topic and decided to explore the possibilities and edit the manuscripts.

Do you intend to research your topic further, if so, how? Absolutely. There are many directions I can take this project, and my Honors Project is only my first step. I plan on researching the musical symbolism in the music this summer. I want to learn more about Polish music, culture, and Polish puppetry so that these plays can be staged and performed. I hope to get a grant to study in Poland in the near future.

How did you benefit academically by conducting research/participating in honors? This experience has given me more confidence as a researcher. Undergraduates tend to rely on the research of previous scholars, but I am the first person study szopki in a concentration camp setting. The original research that I conducted for this project enabled me to start trusting my own intuition.

How has the department in which you studied prepared you for the future? I have more confidence to apply to graduate school for Musicology now that I have completed this project. My professors encouraged me to apply to NCUR at the University of Montana this year, where my paper on my honors topic was accepted.

What advice do you have for other students interested in honors? You must have a sincere interest in your topic, as it will be something you work on everyday for several months. Also, be flexible, as new findings will shape your project in ways that you will not expect and possibly have not prepared for. For example, I had to study Polish mythology a few months before my project was due because the nativity story was only one of the many stories in the play from Dachau. I also had to learn Polish so that I could identify how the music reflects the lyrics in my analysis.