Try saying "ethnomusicology research." Then, try singing it. Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, who will perform at Pickard Theater Friday night at 8:00 p.m., do that with their combination of slave songs, spirituals, work songs, and field hollers.

Tillery clarifies the mishmash of music under the umbrella of "survival music," which "has kept black people alive through slavery, night riders' raids, and segregation. This is the music that has been used as a support for just about every political movement in this country. People take spirituals, reword them, and march together in the name of freedom and justice." The group, composed of Rhonda Benin, Elouise Burrell, Melanie DeMore, and Lamont Van Hook, also includes sermons, folk tales, polyrhythmic percussion, and dance in its show.

Tillery created the Cultural Heritage Choir in 1992, when she was singing for the play Letters from a New England Negro. During that time, she came upon field recordings of African-American traditional music. After hearing the music, Tillery was instantly hooked. The Cultural Heritage Choir began only months later.

Though the group is now based in the Bay Area, all its members have varied backgrounds, coming from Alaska, Texas, Los Angeles and San Francisco itself. Tillery began her career at age 19, singing in a group called the Loading Zone, and then moved on to other groups, most notably Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra, a "vocal orchestra." She has also appeared on recordings by Boz Skaggs and Kenny Loggins.

In addition to her music, Tillery has transferred her musical knowledge to other mediums. She appeared in a radio tribute to poet Audre Lourde, whose poetry documented her struggle with cancer and also what it means to be African-American and lesbian. Tillery also worked with filmmakers and videographers to bring her ethnomusicology research to a larger audience.

The other members of the Cultural Heritage Choir have performed with such acts as Carlos Santana, the Neville Brothers, Etta James, Pete Seeger, Ani DiFranco, Rod Stewart, Sting, Phil Collins, and Diana Ross, showcasing their diverse and immense talent. Hot off a tour in Glasgow, Scotland, the group makes a stop in Brunswick to bring its world music to Maine. "She brings a powerful voice with an even more powerful message," said Toby Crawford '07, co-chair of the Campus Activities Board committee that helped bring Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir to Bowdoin. Stop by Pickard at 8:00 p.m. for a rousing lesson in ethnomusicology. It is probably much easier to listen to Linda Tillery belt it out than it is to define it.