The late Robert H. Brunell witnessed firsthand the devastation and loss that emerge from war as a U.S. Army soldier and interpreter who participated in the D-Day invasion, he saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and served on a reconstruction team in Paris. Following his military service during World War II, Brunell turned his life path toward education, earning a bachelor’s from Colby College and a master’s from Middlebury College, and conducting postgraduate studies at Syracuse University. He then went on to become one of the longest-serving teachers, not only at Cayuga Community College but also within the New York State University system, devoting 57 years to teaching before dying unexpectedly in 2004.
But his legacy of bridging communication gaps continues today through Cayuga’s Brunell Visiting Scholar in the Humanities program, established through an estate gift from the professor. This year’s Brunell Visiting Scholar — the world-renowned musician, humanitarian, and photographer Samite Mulondo — shares several experiences and traits of Brunell himself.
“Robert Brunell and Samite are from different generations and different continents, but they share something fundamental: the love of music,” English Professor Howard Nelson, who serves on the Brunell Visiting Scholar Selection Committee, said. “Besides being a teacher, Bob Brunell was also a musician — a keyboard player, as a church organist and in other venues in this community. I think he would be happy to see the Brunell Chair filled by a musician. Having known Bob as a long-time colleague, and having heard Samite in concert, I would add that they share a love of performance, and that their performances have a memorable impact on their audiences.”
Samite was born and raised in Uganda, where he learned the traditional flute and grew to love the powerful effects music has on the soul. He is a former refugee who witnessed genocide and human rights violations, losing family under the dictatorship of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. After immigrating to the United States in 1987, he turned to music to bring his message of peace and hope to others.
“We are encouraged to feed and house those who have been affected by war and disease,” Samite, who now lives with his wife Sandra in Ithaca, said. “But we often neglect healing the soul. While performing, I see that people are able to forget their differences and join as one in the moment; my hope is for that moment to last. If we can make that moment last, the world will be a better place.”
Samite will spend much of the spring semester at Cayuga Community College, holding master classes, sharing his experiences, delivering lectures, hosting faculty enrichment programs and performing for the campus and broader community.
Samite is the subject of the documentary, “Song of the Refugee,” distributed by PBS in 1998. During the filming, Samite began his humanitarian work in Liberia, Cote D’Lvoire, Rwanda and Uganda. In 2001, he founded the non-profit organization, Musicians for World Harmony.
Samite has released eight CDs internationally, and in 2009, the film “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” which features his original score, debuted nationally on PBS. Samite released “My Music World,” in 2010, which he has described as capturing more of who he is than any of his previous albums. Most recently, Samite composed the soundtrack for the film “Addiction Incorporated” and his tenth CD, “Trust,” is scheduled to be released this year. His first live CD, “Samite Live: A Collection,” was recently released in a digital format.
His musical performances incorporate his voice, kalimba (an African thumb piano), marimba (percussion instrument), litungu (traditional Lyre) and various flutes.
Other upcoming public events with Samite this semester include:
· War Dance — film and discussion, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 14; T229, Auburn Campus
· Concert — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, Fulton Campus, 806 W. Broadway, Fulton
· Joint Concert with Cayuga CC student chorus and jazz band — 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 9, Auburn
The Brunell Visiting Scholar program is administered by the College Foundation.