I recently bought a new interface to record with, I tested it Sunday night and I thought I was all set to record Monday morning. Then the software didn't work the morning of. Darn technology! So we did more of experimenting and playing with the microphone and the keyboard. People seemed to be a little more outgoing this week which was nice. One Women, Deb is especially enthusiastic. Since we couldn't record I decided to get some lyrics down to prepare for some recording next week. For the first piece Deb dictated the lyrics and I wrote them down. The second piece was written as a group collaboration.
Song # 1 - Deb
I don’t smoke.
I don’t drink.
I don’t cuss.
I don’t yell or hit.
None of that stuff.
Baptized and the holy ghost.
I feel good inside.
Song # 2 - Hip-Hop
I like going for a walk.
I like trees.
Birds sound pretty.
Dogs, puppies, cats, a little baby kitten.
They’re nice, they purr.
I feel the sunshine.
The sun shine is bright on your face.
I like it when it rains because it makes the flowers grow and the grass grow.
The farmers need water for the grass.
I got my technology issues worked out Monday evening so we could hit the ground running with the Eagan and Apple Valley Groups. The participants from the Eagan group recorded an instrumental backing track, then put three different sets of lyrics on top of it. Jerriel talked about Soulja Boy. My favorite lyric of his being "Soulja Boys a good friend!" Love it! Troy talked about country music. When he was done recording he exclaimed "Nailed it!" He said this in such an enthusiastic and gleeful voice that we all immediately decided he had to record that too! I think that's my favorite part of the track. Chad is really into robots so he said "robots" a bunch of times. I'll post this tack next week after I edit it some.
The Apple Valley group was cruising through the recording process. We recorded two tracks together this week! But first we listened to "No Halloween" From last week. Everyone got a good laugh from the track and I think listening to it made everyone excited to get back into the recording process. Making this kind of music, it can be tough to decide when I'm doing a job. One indicator I use for success is wether or not it makes people smile or if it prompts laughter of joy or admiration. When this happens I know I'm heading in the right direction. In the first piece I shared last week I ignored rhythm, but in this piece I focused on rhythm to help hold it together. After a participant recorded an instrument I used a function in the recording software called quantizing. Quantizing moves the notes that were played to lock them into a rhythmic grid. Side note, Some folks see this as cheating, but industry professionals making digital music do it all the time, so there is no reason we can't do it at MSS. Critics of quantizing have some legitimate points. If everything is locked in perfectily it can take away a human element to music. And it takes away from the art of creating a groove or a pocket, where one instrument may be on top of the beat, while another instrument plays behind the beat. I find this really digs a groove into your body so it's something that should be strived to achieve. Still I think if technology can help people to create music who may not have made music without that technology, then in the end it's a good thing. There will always be an infinite amount of things for musicians to learn in music regardless of abitliy level.
In Oakdale we also started our day listening to the track we recored last week, "Deep Fried Pickles" Dan the staff member had workshopped the lyrics with the group while I was gone. Everyone in the group got a good laugh and everyone seemed excited to make another track. I loved this track because the group approached the music honestly and didn't feel the need to make a grand statement. They had fun and really exuded a sense play while while they were creating, and I think that comes across in the music.
After working on two new tracks folks started to get a little tired of recording which was understandable, so we spent the rest of our time doing some sing alongs. I played the piano and the group sang. We did "Lean on Me", "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay", and "Halleluiah".
With the Shoreview group we did a lot of recording as well! Each person took a turn laying down some atmospheric sounds. I'm going to take some time to do some editing on that track this weekend so that I can share it next week! This piece sparked an idea for me for a live performance as well. I'll delve into that a bit next week.
We've got a bunch of vocalists in our Brooklyn park group! Some of them are the ones with the soft voices I mentioned last week. Rosy sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "Amazing Grace", both were really pretty. Forester was adamant about not singing today, I was happy to have him exercise that choice. It makes it a bit more meaningful to me when he does sing. Then later in the session he couldn't help himself and chimed in on "Country Roads" without prompting. Carloline has been pretty hesitant on the microphone. So I started by asking her to tell me about what she ate for breakfast. Then I had her tell me some about her weekend. I was just warming her up, eventually she wanted to sing "Twinkle Twinkle". I'm hoping to get some more stories out of her next week. On to Joan. I had made a list of some covers I needed to learn for Joan, but I misplaced it. So I made sure to get that list down in a place where I won't lose it. I've got some work to do for her for next week, I've got a New Kids on the Block tune and learn, and one from REO Speedwagon. So she sang some without accompaniment, then I had her improvise a song which I did accompany her on. I talked to her about writing down some lyrics, she said she would write down the lyrics to the one she just improvised. Her staff member is going help her out with that. I have a feeling the one she improvised may be someone else's song that i'm not familiar with. We'll see!
I went back to Oakdale Friday morning because I missed Joe on Wednesday. He had been training for a possible employment opportunity. Joe sang through his piece twice, he is starting to get more comfortable with it. I talked to him about possibly performing the piece on the concert, and also possibly writing some more songs, he said he would think about it. He also said he wanted to record his song again next week, I'm looking forward to that!
Who gets to make music?
Last week I talked about Liz Lermans love of questions, and how using questioning as a practice can lead to wondrous possibilities. One of the questions she poses is "Who gets to dance?". For Liz Lerman brining up this question opened up possibilities to collaborate with a variety of communities outside of the dance world. I redirect this and say "Who Gets to make music?". To me the obvious answer is everyone! At least everyone who wants to. I'm bringing this idea to life In the case of this residency by making music with the participants at MSS. To me the music is interesting in its own right, but by including people in music making process who aren't typically afford the right, we can make a statement about what it means to be an inclusive community and what it means to value all members of a community. This question can lead to other questions: Who gets to be stage? Who gets to attend a concert? Who gets to learn music?
The second week of my residency has come to a close and I couldn't be more excited! Workshopping with the participants at MSS I'm making progress toward our concert. I'm also focusing some of my time to help MSS find ways keep making music after I leave.
Last week I was still driving on Monday so I didn't get to visit their St. Paul location, so this is my second week in Minnesota, but my first week with the St. Paul group. In their St. Paul building there is a huge warehouse. MSS has different projects going on in the warehouse, but they also are also offering the space to members of the community to be used for coworking. I met a guy who was using the space as a writer. He was taking advantage desk space they have as a place to focus, and was using the printer and other convenient office equipment they have on hand. I thought this was a cool concept MSS had implemented, I could see that growing into a great community resource.
It's a lively crew over at St. Paul with lots of different personalities! I introduced them to the keyboard I brought. We went around the room taking turns playing the keyboard, It's always great seeing the joyful reactions people have they find out the have the power to create awesome sounds on the keyboard. I also had them take turns on the microphone. I love how the microphone can spark creativity in people! One guy, Matt, got on the mic and started pretending to be a radio announcer, it was great! It reminded me of the opening to Parliaments album, "The Mothership Connection". This gave me the idea to frame the concert as "MSS Radio" and having Matt be the announcer. Matt sounded into it, we'll be working on that some over the next couple of weeks. Another person that stood out at St. Paul was Joe. Joe said he wanted he wanted to sing on the mic. He had a song in mind that he wanted to sing, "When He Reached Down His Hand For Me." I looked up the chords, and Joe sang the melody right on pitch so it made it easy for me to follow him on the keyboard. Looking forward to having Joe sing some more next week. The last person I want to talk about at St. Paul is V. V came in only for a short bit, he seemed to like staying on the move. V came in and wanted to freestyle on the microphone. I cued up a beat on the keyboard and V was off! He rapped about being a good person, and being a good rapper. Everyone in the room enjoyed the performance. I'm hoping V will join us again next week so that we can try to develop his ideas. I'm going to talk to him about the sort of music he wants going on behind his rap. Hopefully I can come up with something that he'll like.
Back at the Eagan location on Tuesday I brought a new toy for folks to play with, a Mini Korg I picked up off of craigslist a few months ago. I liked the idea of using the Mini Korg because the arpeggiater function creates a steady rhythm with only playing a single note. Plus it has a vocoder on it! For those unfamiliar with a vocoder, a vocoder has mic that you talk or sing into. You using the mic you play a note on the keyboard and it spits out your voice with that note. Casey Benjamin and Daft Punk come to mind for me when thinking about the vocoder. Like on Butterfly or Harder Better Faster Stronger. At the end of the session with Eagan I started working on some lyrics with Jerriel. He dictated some lines to me and I wrote them down. This seemed like a new concept to him so I'm hoping he'll start to understand the possibilities of this sort of process. I'm thinking for the performance someone will read the lyrics into his ear and he'll perform them on the microphone.
From Apple Valley, Kristen is really into the keyboard. Especially when the sound has a rhythmic element to it. Paired with Matt on vocals it sounds pretty good on it's own, It'll sound even better adding a band to accompany them. I worked with Matt on his performance some. He went into his "No No No No No" lyrics again, which is fun! But I wanted to see if we could develop the idea, so I asked what he was saying no to. First he said "No Christmas!" which was a nice joke. Turns out he likes Christmas. But he changed to "No Halloween!". I asked him why. He said, "No Gremlins! No Witches!" I asked him why again. "Because they are stinky and smelly!" So he started performing "No Halloween! No Gremlins! No Witches! They're stinky and smelly!" It was fun!
The Oakdale group is really taking off! I had suggested to the staff member Dan that they work on some lyrics through the week and he took the suggestion to heart. The Oakdale group had prepared some lyrics to be recorded in their new song. The lyrics talked about Deep Fried Pickels, Deep Fried Oreos and Dancing. They were great! We made some backing tracks together and had some folks record different vocal parts. I’ll be posting that piece next week. We did the bandcamp page up and running so I’m able to share the song we recorded last week: What Makes You Beautiful. In this track I decided to take any needed for rhythm out of the picture and give the piece cohesion through the harmony. I tuned a guitar to a G chord, Gabby and Jonathon both laid down a track freely strumming the guitar. Then Joe (different Joe than the one at St. Paul) played his guitar that was tuned more traditionally, because he’s able to shape his hand to make the G chord. Hannah and Hannah both played keyboard, I taped some keys to show them which keys to play and set the keyboard to some atmospheric sounds that I thought would go well with the vibe we were creating. Nick sang “What makes you beautiful” over top of the instruments which I thought was a nice sentiment.
I mentioned Joe last week, he demonstrated that he was able to tune and play a couple of chords on the guitar. Joe came prepared with his own set of lyrics, this week. The title of his song is “Peace Is”. Turns out Joe is a peace activist. Joe didn’t want to sing in front of the group so we waited for when the rest of the group was going outside to delve into is song. Joe sang me his song and I learned Joe has a beautiful deep voice. I asked him if he would sing it again and he said he wanted to write down the chords first. So we took some time to write them down. After playing again Joe agreed to record it, but he was hesitant. I told him we didn’t have to share the recording with everyone. It could be a learning experience for him to hear it and we might play it for a few staff members so we can show them what he’s been working on. He liked that idea. After hearing the recording Joe said he wanted to practice it some more. Practice is always a good idea! I made a note to Joe that when he played through the song without the chords written in, he sang and played with a very natural timing. After he wrote in the chords they didn't always land as gracefully. I encouraged him to make edits if he hears the song going a differently than what he wrote down. He said he thought that was a good idea. I’m hoping to help bolster Joe’s confidence in his singing and songwriting so that he’ll feel comfortable performing on the concert and posting a recording of himself on the bandcamp page by the end of the summer.
This Thursday both the Brooklyn Park and Shoreview groups held their sessions at Brooklyn Park. Joan started out the group singing the two covers we talked about, “Only Fools Rush In” and “Don’t stop Believing” She had the lyrics printed out and gave a performance with lots of gusto! We went around the room and had several vocal performances that day. Apparently I need to do a better job of writing down names so I can share them! What I do remember is that the other folks who sang were people who had very soft voices. I really loved hearing them sing. With such soft voices it can be hard to hear their voice so giving them a microphone helps to make them really be heard. Plus the timbre of their voice has a very tender quality to it that I think is very beautiful. We heard renditions of Amazing Grace and Country Roads among other songs. .
With the Shoreview group we did a lot of experimenting with instruments. This group doesn’t use their voice much to communicate, which definitely presents a weakness for me in finding the right way to spend out time. I’ve found some help in a book I've been reading. I’m not a music therapist (more on why I’m not a music therapist in next weeks post), but I’ve been making my way through a music therapy book, “Music and People with Developmental Disabilities: Music Therapy, Remedial Music Making and Music Activities” One of the sections talked about have process oriented goals instead of product oriented goals. So I asked Lauren Hughes from MSS if continuing the same process of experimenting with sounds and instruments from last week was a good idea for these people and she said it was. So we continued to introduce different instruments, tried to find new interests and in the process paying attention to the participants reactions. I learned sometimes people are more interested in playing the keyboard if it’s set on certain sounds. I also learned more about some peoples movements so I learned better ways to present instruments. I really believe a big part of overcoming communication obstacles is about taking the time and energy to really get to know the person you're having trouble communication with. It's important to me that regardless of ability level people get a positive experience. Regardless, at the end of the session I was feeling like doing this same approach for another 6 weeks was going to be tough. I was afraid the participants may lose interest and I was also wondering how do I frame our activities in a concert setting. I asked the staff music therapist if he had any input for what we were going to do for the next 6 weeks. He knew the people a lot better than I do so his thoughts would be helpful. He brought up the idea of making recordings. Of course! Honestly, I felt a bit silly. That’s what I've spent so much doing back at CCW. We were also making recordings with the Oakdale group, so there was no reason we couldn’t do it with the Shoreview group.
Friday and the weekend
On Friday's at 11:30 the The Show Gallery Lowertown is putting on a weekly concert series. This week an chamber/art pop duo performed, Har-di-Har. These two really had their set together and the music heart felt. The rest of the weekend was filled with music as well! I attended The Twin Cities Jazz Festival, a wonderful event with lots of great performances, and equally supportive crowds. Highlights for me were hearing Houston Person, Tia Fuller, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Connie Evingson and sitting in at the jam session each night, hosted by John Weber.
I talked about Liz Lerman some last week, I really just love her book, “Hiking the Horizontal”. I’ve read it once, and from time to time I go back and open to a page to see what I find. I think her ideas are just great! Since her ideas have been so influential on the kind of music making I'm doing in this residency I'm going to share some of her ideas each week. Her first chapter is called “Questions as a Way of Life”. I love the concepts she touches on in this chapter! A central idea is acknowledging what we don't know. She decided to use not knowing as foundation for how she relates to the world. She says “not knowing is fuel for the imagination rather than fuel for humiliation”. She talks about how not knowing can foster curiosity, conversation, friendship, collaboration and learning. We unwittingly presume to know many things in our lives with out really knowing them. If we approach ideas and knowledge from the perspective of not knowing we can ask questions to find deeper understanding. If we approach people from the perspective of not knowing, we can ask questions to learn more about them instead relying on bias or prejudice we may unsonsciencely or conscience developed. Asking questions of the participants helps me to give them autonomy and to not presume what they can or can't do. It's also great for learning about their interests and finding out more about their personality.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!
Welcome to my blog! I'll be using this page to share my experiences while carrying out my residency at MSS. I'll be talking about the people I meet, the music we make together, how I got here and where I hope to take the residency. Thank you for reading!
Who is MSS?
MSS is a program that offers a variety of day services to adults with a variety of disabilities. Among other things, they offer Day Training, Vocational Services, Autism Services. They also has an award winning Creative Arts Program! I'll be collaborating with participants from each of their six facilities to help write and perform the music for my residency. Learn more about MSS here. I was introduced to MSS through a good friend and colleague Chris Coyle. Chris worked with MSS when he visited Minnesota for his residency in 2013. I'm excited and grateful that Chris passed this torch to me! He introduced me to Lauren Hughes, Director of Arts Development at MSS, who has been instrumental in preparing for and implementing my proposal. I couldn't do it with out Lauren!
Why CCW? Why MSS?
My journey to this residency started at my graduate school graduation from Louisiana State University in 2013. Choreographer Liz Lerman was our commencement speaker she also gifted each of us a copy of her book "Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes From a Choreographer". At the ceremony she talked to us about leveling aesthetic hierarchies by equalizing the artistic values we were taught in an academic setting with artistic values we might find in outside the academy. She put this into practice throughout out her career. She told us a story about when she was getting started dancing in D.C. she was dancing in a professional ballet as well as teaching dance classes to a senior citizens center. She spoke about how her colleagues in the ballet felt the dance class she was teaching didn't have the same artistic weight as the ballet she was doing. And the folks in the senior citizens dance class implored her to teacher more classes. The ballet was elitist and didn't help ordinary people like them. She decided to call the two equal, and put on a performance at the Kennedy Center that had both groups of dancers on stage together. She found beauty in a variety of movements and a variety of body types. After hearing about this I knew I wanted to try and use this philosophy in music.
Eventually I found a home making music with people with at CCW. The Center for Creative Works is a similar program to MSS, it's vocational arts program for adults with disabilities. I've spent the past three and half years working at CCW part time. In that time we've put on performances, recorded music, released albums, started a record label and collaborated with musicians in the larger community. If you are interested in any of the music we have recorded, check out the CCW bandcamp page!
The first week of the residency has been about learning about people's interested and abilities so that I can develop where to take the residency. We did a lot of experimenting with making different sounds on a keyboard, and introducing some people to using the microphone. Both are ways of trying to make some creative sparks to find out what things might be possible in a performance situation. The first day I visited MSS's Eagan facility and worked with participants from both Apple Valley and Eagan. At the Eagan facility they had on hand a lot of bells that were really easy for a lot of people to play. Together we created a chorus of bells all playing the same chord. The sound was vibrant! Especially coming from Dave. Dave gets REALLY into play the bells! He gets really excited about and keeps a great steady rhythm. Some of the folks were interested in my trumpet playing so this coming week I'm planning on playing trumpet while they play the bells. I've already decided this will be a piece on the concert! Dave will be our time keeper, whoever is playing drums will be told he has to follow Dave for time.
The Apple Valley group was smaller and had some people with different interests. Kristin was really into playing the keyboard. Some of the sounds on the MO 6 keyboard I recently pruchased (thanks Shayne!) have rhythmic feels to them. Kristin got really into one of these. Matt and Ashley gravitated toward singing, Lauren Hughes gave them some inspiration to sing some "Yeas". But Matt sang "No"! Matt and I got into a rhythm for a bit, him singing "No no no no no no" while I was playing keyboard along with him. I got lost in time for a bit! It's always good when that happens. Then Matt and Ashley sang together some, Ashley added some "yeas". Matt S was pretty quite but I got him to play the drums for a bit. I'm hoping he will feel comfortable opening up a bit more over the few weeks.
I'll be at the Oakdale facility on Wednesdays. One of the things I'm excited about at Oakdale is their staff member Dan. Dan is really enthusiastic and he is interested in learning so I'm hoping that working along side him that they will continue recording music after I leave. If all goes well Dan will be playing drums with us on the concert. That brings me to the recording we made. I had each of the participants play an instrument. Some played guitar tuned to a chord, some played a keyboard with stickers on which notes to play, and Nick sang some lyrics inspired by his favorite band, One Direction. The piece is atmospheric and everyone seemed to enjoy the recording process, they looked forward to recording some more next week. I'm hoping to be able to publish the song on an MSS band camp page by the end of the week so everyone can hear it!
It's always a goal of mine when working in this sort of situation to empower and give autonomy the people I work with. I hope that the workshops can be driven by the interested and desires of the participants. People with disabitlies so often don't get a say so it's really important to give them a voice in an artistic process. I found success in this process at Oakdale on Wednesday. I opened up the floor to what the participants wanted to do. Joe said right away that he wanted to play guitar. I got the guitar off the wall, it was very out of tune. Joe said he could tune it. I wasn't sure if he could or not but I handed him the guitar and he tuned it by ear! The guitar was tuned a whole step lower than a guitar is usually tuned, but it was right in tune with the piano. Very impressive! Joe proceeded to strum some different chords and he recorded them on the piece we recorded. I talked to Joe about possibly writing some lyrics so he could write a song, maybe bringing something back for next week. He seemed interested. I'm looking forward to learning more about Joe and what he might want to do with his guitar playing. Later in the week one of the staff members said she didn't know that Joe could play the guitar. I love it when this happens, uncovering peoples hidden abilities is a ton of fun!
Thursdays I'll be working with MSS's participants from Shoreview and and Brooklyn Park, we met at the Shoreview facility. The Shoreview group did a lot of experimenting with different instruments. Some people showed more interest than others. Many of the people I worked with at Shoreview don't use words to communicate. I've got some work to do so I can know how to work with these people better. Back at CCW I work with some similar people, but I've known them for some time so I've gotten to know them and I know how I can work with them. I'm looking forward to learning how to work with these people more effectively.
The star of the show from the Brooklyn Park group was Joan! She started singing on the mic and couldn't get enough. She sang many of her favorite covers including "Only Fools Rush In" and "Don't Stop Believing". Joan is a natural performer, I could take a note from the presence she exudes while performing! Covers are great but I'm always most interested in making original music, so I asked Joan to improvise some lyrics. She improvised some great lyrics and I accompanied her on the keyboard. Joan will be on the concert for sure! Some of the other folks from Brooklyn Park played the keyboard and used the microphone I'll be working on getting some of them to come out of their shell a bit next week.
On Friday I went back to Oakdale to doing some mixing on the recording we made. I was happily surprised to see the group there working on lyrics when I got there. Looking forward to hearing them next week! After spending some time on the track I went over to The Show Gallery, a partner of MSS. They are putting on a weekly concert series. A local group, Patty and the Buttons played. It was a great concert! They played old time/swing jazz music people from MSS were dancing and had a great time. I ended up siting in with the band on a gig they had on Sunday. After the concert I got lunch with some of the wonderful staff over at the American Composers Forum, William J. Lackey, Kris Kautzman and Taylor Seaberg. They were a lovely bunch with a ton of positive energy. I'm incredibly grateful to the ACF for bringing me to Minnesota!
More info on my residency will be coming next week. If there is anything specific you want to hear about please let me know!