To his students at Tufts University, he’s Professor Pennington, musicologist. To his subscribers on the livestreaming site Twitch, he’s TrooperSJP, a prolific streamer of story-heavy video games and tabletop role-playing games. His two worlds usually don’t mix. But on Thursday evening, Dr. Stephan Pennington replaced a weekly video-game stream with a music history lecture on Black music and the civil rights movement, raising funds for bail assistance nonprofit The Bail Project.
His streams usually draw around 30 viewers, and he didn’t think everyone would be interested in musicology, so a goal of $500 felt reasonable, he said. But by the time he logged off around 2:30 a.m., the stream had raised upwards of $10,000, with more donations coming in afterwards.
Reached over the phone at home the next day, Pennington was feeling tired but fulfilled — he’d been so full of adrenaline that he hadn’t slept till 5 a.m, he said. The stream had been attended by former students, fellow musicologists, regular watchers of his game streams, and more; even in the wee hours, around 200 people were tuned in. “People kept sharing the link, saying such kind things… I don’t know what to say,” he said with delight.
During the four-hour lecture, which he delivered wearing a stylish vest and seated in front of a floor-length bookshelf, Pennington covered critical musical moments of the ongoing struggle for racial justice, from Marian Anderson’s benchmark 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial up to Beyonce’s 2018 “Homecoming” set at Coachella. The audience posted comments, questions, and observations in the fast-flying chat box.
“For me, one of the most powerful things about a class is getting people to practice articulating what they’re hearing in music and what it means,” he said. "There’s so much power and history in music if you get to know it, and I hope that I can help get people to know music in that way.”
The lecture is archived at https://www.twitch.tv/troopersjp.
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.