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!