Free flow your story, and let it be told: day five (Part 2)

A story and interview from the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year.

Another Day Five?  Studio time with Monishia Schoeman, International Kennedy Center Fellow.

[WATCH Carla Moreno’s video about studio time with Monishia Schoeman].

Monishia Schoeman visited Arts Corps for a week during March 2010 to study and model arts education for youth in her native South Africa. Monishia Schoeman is from Cape Town, South Africa, and works as the Indigenous Arts Administrator of Artscape Theatre Center. She had been selected as a International Kennedy Center Fellow, as part of a Cultural Exchange Visitor Program, which brings emerging international artists to the United States and provides them with instructive and informative experiences in their arts discipline.

Monishia Schoeman, Kennedy Center Fellow, in the studio with the MusicianCorps Fellows

Monishia’s time with MusicianCorps was magical and powerful. Monishia is graceful, confident, talented, bold, and brilliantly creative. With the MusicianCorps Fellows, she wrote and recorded a new track called “Hold On Tight.” Lyrics from the song include:

Hold On Tight / Don’t Let It Go / Free Flow Your Story / And Let It Be Told.

After Monishia returned to South Africa, I interviewed her about her time with Arts Corps and the MusicianCorps Seattle Fellows. That interview follows.

JASMINE: What did you think of Seattle?

MONISHIA: It was my second visit to Seattle. I had been introduced in 2005 through an international music workshop experience with the Red Bull Music Academy which was stationed in downtown Seattle. I was five years younger at that time and that had been my first introduction to international travel and the United States. It was very different then as all I did revolved around the Red Bull Academy and music. We never made much contact with the locals.

This time around it was very different. I got to learn a little more about the people, the culture, and the history. Seattle, I was told, is one of the younger states yet I felt it had an old soul. It seemed quiet yet revolutionary. It also seemed a lot less “invaded” by human destruction in relation to some of the other parts of America I’d been to. I was also constantly aware of the diversity of people and on the very few occasions that I went out to a club or live music event, I noticed the cross-section of broken barriers. No stereotypes.

JASMINE: What were the highlights?

MONISHIA: Being with the kids at LIHI and spending some time at SYPP! I loved every moment of my time at LIHI with the kids and Carla. When we met each other for the first time they welcomed me so warmly, I couldn’t believe it! I got a glimpse into what it might be like for me to work with children between the ages of ten and 16, which happens to be the ages I’m hoping to do some work with once we set up Women in Hip Hop.

SYPP really inspired me because I got to sit in on a session with the youth when they were talking about gangsterism and how it affects them and their environment. I got to listen to and compare some stories and experiences of what young people go through with regards to the issue of gang violence and I realised that it’s exactly the same in South Africa; although the political, cultural and historical landscape is different, human perception is more often than not universal because we all feel. I was grateful and honoured to be allowed into the lives of these youth for those precious few hours.

JASMINE: What were the challenges?

MONISHIA: Staying cognisant of the fact that everyone has an individual story and life journey with every single meeting required my most alert and sensitive faculties to be constantly grinding, hahaha! Meeting so many people and having to present myself in blank slate form meant that I was constantly loading information and dumping it somewhere in my memory bank, which was filling fast; and then having to answer questions which were points of interest to people who did not have any previous introduction to me, allowed me to express myself in a way that I do not get to do often enough – and this coming from an avid silent, observing writer, rather than a talker, meant that I was pushing new boundaries within.

As diverse as South Africa is – what with eleven official languages and three times as many cultures – there is a lot less acceptance and inclusion and appreciation or willingness to learn more about each other. We are very segregated because Apartheid is not really dead amongst the people, it has died on paper but lives a healthy existence within the minds of those most negatively affected; living so diversely requires working together and as odd a challenge as this might sound, It was difficult to fathom how relatively integrated people are in Seattle. Coming from being in DC prior to my Seattle visit I was surprised at how different the people are from state to state. Perhaps that alludes to the fact that Africa’s “states” are not united but divided into little countries and so it was like travelling to and from various different countries within a continent where the only commonalities were the official language and the president – that’s what it felt like.

JASMINE: What was most memorable?

MONISHIA: Khatsini’s poem/rhyme was very powerful and inspiring! I was blown away by the fact that such a young woman was able to write and think like that. She reminded me of myself when I was a few years older than her…she is advanced beyond her years and so humble about her skill which is the healthiest route to take for any human being who wishes to inspire positive change “and sometimes rhymes can’t express all parts of my mind…” Khatsini the Great!

JASMINE: What will you take away?

MONISHIA: I have identified the confidence to keep my ideals coming forth into this realm of reality; I have the knowledge that an organization such as Arts Corps exists in real life as an imperfect and powerful non-profit arts entity of progressive, creative and inclusive empowerment.

I’m coming to understand that my perseverance has to pay off and that my failure is success by the mere fact that I’ve been brave enough to embark upon the most daunting adventure however big or small. Human beings are more similar in our requirements than we are different and in my mind there is a lot more unity which consoles me in my attempts to tackle whatever I put my dreams to.

JASMINE: How have you been since?

MONISHIA: I’ve been frustrated since coming back home. A lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s so much inside that I need to channel before I implode, and so finding constructive ways to do that has become a mission. I felt like I was catching up on a month’s work here at home wit so many requests coming from all angles and the demands of catching up at work is an adjustment! I feel like I’ve been on a magical fantasy journey that I now need to translate into the reality of this world. South Africa is ablaze with Soccer World Cup fever and political mayhem; construction is happening everywhere: on the roads, the train stations, airports, every public space is being revamped and the people are paying very heavy taxes for this. All the while the average household is suffering because of food inflation and high electricity tariff, the public school system is in dire striates and the Department of Education is not concerned.

So I feel the pressure to become more constructive in whatever way I can. I want to clone myself to do more with my 24 hour day but change is a slow process. I’m also preparing for a trip to Germany which will happen in May for two weeks where I’ll be working with an organization called Each One Teach One where I’ll be performing and doing music workshops alongside some b-boys and b-girls from Cape Town and other Hip Hop practitioners and social activists. We will stay in touch as we grow individually together.
Peace from Cape Town.

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Free flow your story, and let it be told: day five (Part 1)

A story from the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year.

“Day five” was one key component of the MusicianCorps pilot year model. During days one through four, the Fellows worked full-time at their sites, delivering music education and service work. (For more on days one through four, see “Classtime”). On “Day Five”, the Fellows met with Tina LaPadula — Arts Corps Education Director and MusicianCorps Team Lead — for needed reflection, professional development and group service.

MusicianCorps Fellow Carla Moreno leads Washignton Reading Corps in "Tideo"

What did “day five” look like? One example is the Musical Tools for Literacy workshop.  In February 2010, the Fellows delivered this workshop to 55 members of Washington Reading Corps, a statewide service corps that improves literacy in K-6 students through tutoring and effective collaborations among schools, families, community members.  With rhythm, movement, expression exercises, the MusicianCorps Fellows taught tools useful for WRC’s literacy work.

WATCH a video about the Musical Tools of Literacy workshop & READ more about the workshop.

Other day fives? Throughout the pilot year, MusicianCorps Seattle Fellows led and participated in over 20 service learning events, including days of Service at Griffin Home and Leon Sullivan; a Brazilian Percussion workshop at the Center School; engaging performances at the Imagination Conversation, AmeriCorps Launch, MLK Day Celebration and Guiding Lights Conference; a service learning workshop with Seattle Public Schools; a fieldtrip with Leschi Elementary School students; and a Volunteer Day at World Rhythm Festival.  Day fives also included time for guided reflection, and professional development — such as studio sessions or website building workshops.

Stay tuned for more about another special day five: studio time with Kennedy Center Fellow, Monishia Schoeman.

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Classtime! student reflections & learnings

The MusicianCorps Seattle Fellows dedicated a year of service to music learning. A bulk of their time was spent teaching: in school, after-school, in community centers, at low-income housing institutes, to students learning an instrument for the first time, and to professionals seeking to incorporate music tools into their career.

The four MusicianCorps Seattle Fellows reached 234 students with ongoing year-long music learning classes, and over 2,500 community members with civic and learning events.

So what did the students think?  To find out, watch this video about classtime during the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year, and see below to read student reactions.

“Taking care of people … drumming … the bells … meeting people … being able to work together … tambourines … working together”
–what students (aged 5-9) liked from Brazilian Rhythms, the MusicianCorps class led by Eduardo Mendonca

MusicianCorps Fellow Eduardo Mendonca with his Brazilian Rhythms class

“It’s been good. I enjoy practices. I enjoy the feeling I get when I wake up in the morning and say ‘uh, I got to go to school, but at least I have drumline today.’ He has taught me a lot of stuff. A lot of it has to do with drums, like sticking. But not only drumline … to believe in myself that I can do anything I want if I really try.”
–David Valdez-Lazo, student in Aaron Walker-Loud’s drumline class at Washington Middle School

MusicianCorps Fellow Aaron Walker-Loud with his drumline class at Washington Middle School

“I think his energy was really, really important. [Amos] opened up the space. He was modeling what we were going to do. And that was really important in order for us to start taking initiative to actually start seeing what it looks like.”

“It’s made me try new things and understand people better. When you actually sit down and take time to learn about how people are, you actually realize how amazing everybody is.”

“Now I have a stronger sense of self, and a stronger sense of what I need to get accomplished and who I am as a person. We all have these dreams, but who you are is what you choose to do, even if you mess up.”

“I am going to write music about issues going on in the community and perform them so that other people can learn about what’s going on. And to do performances for charities, because that’s what I really liked about being in this group – to play music for something we actually really cared about.”
–students from Youngstown Records, MusicianCorps class led by Amos Miller

Youngstown Records class with MusicianCorps Fellow Amos Miller

“Cool, Inspiring, Fun, Creative, Challenging, Awesome, The people, Carla, My team”
–what students liked from World Rhythms, the MusicianCorps class at Low Income Housing Institute at Meadowbrook View Apartments, led by MusicianCorps Fellow Carla Moreno

MusicianCorps Fellow Carla Moreno's World Rhythms class at Meadowbrook View Apartments
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From service missions to fieldtrips of service

A story from the MusicianCorps pilot year.

Before the pilot year began, the MusicianCorps Seattle Fellows worked with Tina LaPadula to write missions statements.  Tina LaPadula is Arts Corps’ Education Director and the MusicianCorps Team Lead, and led the MusicianCorps team through the pilot year.

Tina LaPadula, Arts Corps Education Director, with the MusicianCorps Seattle Team

In guiding the Fellows to write their mission statements, Tina sought to practically match the goals of each site to the goals and skills of the Fellows.

“That’s a creative challenge in this work,” LaPadula said. “Without the right intention and time paid to those intentions, the best ideas and the best dreams and hopes of a program or a school or community will not be met.”

LaPadula continued: “This year – taking ten years of Arts Corps learning of how to place the right person in the right spot and facilitate that relationship well – we took it further [with MusicianCorps] in that now we have teaching artists for a longer time in this community. How can we make a program that takes advantage of this person and their best skills and the need at this site? We’ve been more intentional so that expectations can be realistic and be met, so that everyone’s hopes and dreams can be aligned, and be both practical and idealistic.”

MusicianCorps Fellow Aaron Walker-Loud provides one example of the power of service missions matched to service sites. During the pilot year, Aaron worked with a cluster of schools and groups in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood: Washington Middle School, Leschi and Bailey Gatzert Elementary Schools, Garfield High School, and Seattle Music Partners.   Aaron grew up in the neighborhood where he worked during the pilot year, and attended many of the schools in his MusicianCorps placement.  Given his background, and after meeting with his site partners, Aaron created his MusicianCorps mission statement, as follows:

“Engage more low income youth and youth of color in district music programs, through a supportive pipeline of drumline classes after school, and in the school day workshops and ensembles at Washington Middle school and feeder Elementary schools. … Strengthen the collaboration among music specialists, musicians and service programs in Seattle’s Central District school cluster.”

(Read each Fellow’s mission statement here).

MusicianCorps Fellow Aaron Walker-Loud with students

Aaron’s mission directly influenced his MusicianCorps work, both within and outside of the classroom. One idea Aaron had was to take elementary students – many of whom had not yet played any instruments – on a fieldtrip to music programs at Washington Middle School, where many of them will attend.

A student's flashcard from the Leschi fieldtrip

The fieldtrip was a powerful exercise in collaborations, connections, and imagining possibilities. [Read more about the fieldtrip here]. Chaperoned by the MusicianCorps Team (Tina, Aaron and the other Fellows, and myself) and the team from Seattle Music Partners, students from Leschi Elementary Schools toured Washington Middle School’s music classes and interviewed the band and orchestra teachers and students. As chaperones, we each shared our own experiences with middle school and the arts. We also interviewed the students about their music background, and how the field trip influenced their wishes for middle school. Here are some responses:

“I think it helpful because on the first day (of middle school) I thought I would be scared, but I wasn’t. I can handle it and not be scared on the first day of school.”

“I don’t play an instrument but I plan to play an instrument, the drums. [The fieldtrip] helped me to see what it would be like, see kids their attitudes, how you can make friends.”

“It was helpful to see how the class works and to get the answers out of actual middle school students … for the future, to have the chance to get to feel the transitions from elementary music to middle school music. It was helpful to get a feel for middle school and to actually see what it feels like.”

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Festal to Parks: paying teaching artists, strengthening communities

A story from the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year.

[WATCH a video about “Festal to Parks”]

Mentor, volunteer, teach, perform – musicians invested in their communities are often asked to do work for free. Eduardo Mendonça sought to change this, as part of his mission as a MusicianCorps Seattle Fellow.

Throughout the pilot year, Eduardo had worked to foster city-wide civic engagement through music. He taught Brazilian Rhythms at Delridge Community Center; facilitated collaborations among Seattle Center, Seattle Parks and community musicians; and orchestrated field trips to community festivals and performances.

MusicianCorps Fellow Eduardo Mendonça with Brazilian Rhythms students from Delridge Community Center

Eduardo also aimed to empower a diverse set of musicians to teach free classes to youth throughout Seattle. But to buck the trend of not paying musicians for their work, Eduardo sought funding and approached 4Culture, the King County cultural and arts services agency.

“I met with 4Culture and talked about MusicianCorps/Arts Corps, the idea I had to connect community centers with Festal, and how uncomfortable I am asking musicians to work for free,” said Eduardo. “After my explanation I was invited to apply for funds, and I gave this mission to Elizabeth [Whitford] Arts Corps Executive Director who wrote the grant and we got funded.”

With funding from 4Culture, Eduardo Mendonça introduced “Festal to Parks MusicianCorps Mentors” in April 2010.  This program was based on Mendonça’s previous work as the 2002-2003 Artist-in-Residence Coordinator at Seattle Center and Seattle Parks.

“The old version consisted of bringing in artists from outside of Washington State to conduct one or two workshops using Parks and Recreation premises,” Eduardo said.

Students from Festal to Parks class "Afro-Peruvian Percussion Workshop"

The new version, “Festal to Parks,” matched local teaching artists from Festal – a year-long series of free events that honors cultural richness and diversity, presented by Seattle Center in partnership with community organizations – to Seattle’s community centers. Each teaching artist was given a stipend to teach free 8-week classes, and prepare their students for end-of-class performances.

The four classes were:

“Beginning Taiko Drumming” with Gary Tsujimoto and Nancy Ozaki from One World Taiko at Bitter Lake Community Center in North Seattle – connecting to the Cherry Blossom festival;

“Band Workshop” with Daniel Pak from Kore Ionz at Rainer Community Center in Southeast Seattle – connecting to the Aloha Fest;

“Soulful Expressions” with Portionte “Miz Floes” Jamerson at Jefferson Community Center in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood– connecting to Sundiata Festival; and

“Afro-Peruvian Percussion Workshop” with Monica Rojas from De Cajon at Northgate Community Center – connecting to Fiestas Patrias.

Festal to Parks class "Band Workshop" led by Daniel Pak

In total, these classes served 35 new students. Each class had the opportunity to perform twice, during “MusicianCorps in Downtown Parks” performances at Westlake and Waterfront Parks, and at the MusicianCorps Community Celebration at Seattle Center. These performances reached 1000 community members. The result: increased visibility of all represented festivals, increased music service opportunities to local musicians, and free music programs to youth at community centers.

“Festal to Parks established a citywide music infrastructure in 5 community centers in Seattle where local musicians connected to Festal taught after-school music classes,” Eduardo said. “The program developed new relationships with local musicians, with local community centers, and with local arts organizations – such as Music Works Northwest and 4Culture. The program also exposed youth to a new musical language in after-school community center settings.”

Festal to Parks class "Soulful Expressions" perform at the MusicianCorps Community Celebration

After Festal to Parks ended, participating teaching artists gave their feedback to better inform program learnings. Here are some of their thoughts:

“I think it is a wonderful way for an artist to give back and also enrich the youth of the community.”

“Very good idea. Every community center in Seattle, and every city for that matter, should have a teacher perpetuating the culture of the ethnicities represented in the community, which only makes the neighborhood stronger.”

“This is a wonderful program. I know the kids who did attend enjoyed themselves and without this program they would never have a chance to be exposed to such music as Taiko.”

“This is a healthy alternative to tv, videgames, texting for kids and parents to gain self-confidence, and develop their artistic talents. Art is a powerful channel for education. This is a wonderful program like seeds spread around town. “

Festal to Parks is a reminder of the importance of paying teaching artists for their meaningful community work. Festal to Parks is also a reminder of the importance of collaborating with existing community structures and partners. Monica Rojas, one Festal to Parks teaching artist, commended Kris Mainz, who works at Northgate Community Center.

Gary Tsujimoto and Nancy Ozaki from One World Taiko led Beginning Taiko Drumming at Bitter Lake Community Center

“Kris was very supportive any time I needed anything,” Monica said. “She was key in having a constant group of kids in my class. “

Finally, Festal to Parks demonstrated how in these tough economic times, innovative programming and modest funding can support arts education and community building opportunities.

“I know we are in times of economic crises and government transition,” said Eduardo. “But even so I believe that a budget directed to use these spaces and times could be established, and partnerships with local arts agencies – such as with 4Culture – will fund some areas to support projects relieving the City of Seattle from total financial onus.”

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Nursery rhymes nurturing communities: Early Childhood Education at LIHI

A story and interview from the MusicianCorps Seattle pilot year.

In winter 2010—part way through the pilot year—MusicianCorps Fellow Carla Moreno debuted a new class, Early Childhood Education. Up until that time, Carla had been working with (and continued to work with) youth, aged 9-14, at the Low Income Housing Institute, exposing students to world music, new instruments and songwriting. (Read Carla’s blog about her journey with the youth, who wrote a new song and performed at a senior center, Seattle Center and the Triple Door).

Carla Moreno leads young children and parents in engaging music activities.

The new class, Early Childhood Education, introduced Carla to a different population at the Low Income Housing Institute: parents and young children. Her weekly class included interactive music games, group singing, and exploration—activities which encouraged music appreciation at an early age, and family bonding through music and movement. When I visited Early Childhood Education, I found smiles on mothers, one father and children.

WATCH THE VIDEO of Carla Moreno’s Early Childhood Education class.

To me, these smiles were remarkable given the context of Carla’s work. Her MusicianCorps service site, Meadowbrook View Apartments, is part of the Low Income Housing Institute (or LIHI), an organization that develops and manages “housing for low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington State; advocates for just housing policies; and administers a range of supportive service programs.” Most families enter LIHI out of arduous situations, such as being homeless or indigent, or immigrating from war-torn countries.

As a MusicianCorps Fellow at Arts Corps, Carla had been charged with creating vibrant communities at LIHI through intergenerational and cross-cultural music exchanges, and performances that celebrate the diversity and cultures of all resident families.  Through her Early Childhood Education class, Carla did this by bridging the diverse families of Meadowbrook through engaging music and games, and teaching these families to bring that music into their homes. Carla approached this community, and her year of service as a MusicianCorps Fellow, with persistence, respect and love.

“Carla is very disciplined; she is very focused, she knows what she wants to do,” said Lynn DeMarco, Property Manager at Meadowbrook View Apartments. “She raised the bar and [the kids] came up and paid attention and had fun in class. She demands a lot—which I think is really important—she lets them know that they can do well but that they have to give a lot to get want they want.”

On the last day of the Early Childhood Education class, Diana Shomstein, our MusicianCorps Mentor, interviewed a parent who had been in the class. “Her children sing the songs at home, and Shana does especially,” Diana said.” “Her kids love it, especially being able to play the different instruments and hear the different sounds they make.”

I interviewed Carla to find out more about Early Childhood Education. Her answers follow.

JASMINE: How did the idea to form this class come about?

CARLA: The Early Childhood Music class was an idea I had at the beginning of the year, but we didn’t have enough children and parents were busy working during the day. A few months ago, a few families with toddlers, happened to move into the transitional units and the timing was perfect to start the class.

JASMINE: How have you chosen your lessons? What needs do they meet?

CARLA: The lessons are quite simple, yet complex. It’s all about play, exploration, and self discovery all done through a variety of music activities including, singing, listening, and movement. Similar to language, music must be nurtured from very young. Research shows that a child’s best music learning potential, or music aptitude, is from birth to age eight.

JASMINE: What have some challenges been?

CARLA: Attendance has always been a challenge. Many of these mothers not only work, but are attending school; therefore, this poses lots of scheduling conflicts. Consistency is important, but this is the reality of our community. We’ve had to learn to work through it.

JASMINE: What have some successes been?

CARLA: The kids AND parents are indeed learning and actively engaging in the music making process! Research was right!

JASMINE: How has teaching this class strengthened the LIHI community?

CARLA: I believe community is about relationships and that it starts at home with family. To see parents bond with their children is a testimony to the power of music in helping build those solid relationships that last a lifetime. I’ve already witnessed the parents bonding before and after class. It’s great to see them want to stick around and talk, joke around, and just be in a happy place!

JASMINE: What have you learned from your students and parents?

CARLA: I’ve learned that no matter what the situation may be or whatever background these families may come from, everyone deserves the chance to be a part of successful and loving community and have all the opportunities and offerings available to them just like any other community. I’ve also learned that they want to keep the Early Childhood Music program on going! Yeah!

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