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!