How do you measure joy? In the notes, chords, harmonies, and smiles of students, teachers, and professional musicians who made up Arts Every Day’s first rendition of Music Ed Remix, a MECU sponsored collaborative project which supports the arts and community in Baltimore City Schools! It can also be measured by the hand claps, praise, and pride of the families, friends, and supporters who came out or tuned in on Wednesday night to WTMD radio (89.7FM) to witness the musical magic that culminated the Music Ed project.
Around 7PM that night, Sam Sessa, on-air host of WTMD (89.7FM) welcomed listeners to “Arts Every Day’s special presentation of Music Ed Remix…” He reminded those live in the studio and those tuned in that “…the arts, culture, and music…they’re sooo important. They’re crucial in all of our lives, but especially in our formative years- in elementary, middle, and high school. And Arts Every Day is an organization that promotes arts and culture in Baltimore City Schools. This is an essential part of the education for Baltimore City school students, and we need more of it here in our backyard.”
AED’s Director, Julia Di Bussolo, warmly welcomed and thanked all for tuning in and supporting and provided a critical reminder of the state of arts education in Baltimore City Schools and its promising trajectory as a result of meaningful partnerships, such as the one with MECU Credit Union. Handing the mic over to the night’s MC, beatboxer extraordinaire, Shodekeh, the musical journey began!
First to ignite the stage was a string ensemble from Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School, under the direction of their music teacher, Dr. Sherrie Norwitz, who noted that students had to audition for the opportunity to take part in the project. They collaborated with Baltimore Boom Bap Society’s, Erik “DJ Dubble8” Spangler, whose hip-hop infusion turned classical sounds of Viva Vivaldi by Owen Goldsmith, Sonata in C Major by Jean Baptiste Breval (cello solo by 7th grader, Zion Gyenyame), and Painted Desert by Anne McGinty (a Native American piece the honors students had been working on) into a remarkable soundscape.
Wittingly/appropriately named by Shodekeh as the “7:10 Orchestra” (7:10AM was their dedicated, weekly rehearsal time), students donned concert attire- white button up tops, black bottoms, and red ties or hair bows, and black dress shoes- fitting for the professional and impressive presentation they gave. Throughout the rehearsal process, students learned about improvisational techniques on their instruments and how to take directional cues (Erik used colorful cards to signal the start of loops) or “graphic notations.” Even Dr. Norwitz commented about her experience as a classically trained musician, ”This was something new to me and I had to kind of stretch myself and develop as we went along.”
Next up to the stage came City Neighbors High School under the fervent direction of their music teacher, Ms. Sharkia Paylor. Performing in front of a crowd is nothing new for this group, who meet regularly after school to learn various covers throughout the school year and is comprised of three vocalists, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a sound engineer, accompanied by Ms. Paylor on bass guitar. Baltimore’s beloved artists, J Pope and the HearNow was chosen to collaborate with the City Neighbors rockstars during this project. Can you say synergy? Once students got warmed up to J and her bandmates (student vocalist, Lauriana, has been a fan of the group for some time), rehearsals at City Neighbors began to sound more like professional recording sessions as organic imbedded love for music and openness to learn from the J Pope and her bandmates was evident each time. Rehearsals were also a great time for J Pope and the HearNow to show students how new music is made. They started out with instrumental samples that they like, deconstruct the sound to use as a springboard and build layers that resulted in new compositions. The students were constantly encouraged to step out of their comfort zones as Jake Kohlhas, the guitarist told them, “Don’t let what you feel like you don’t know stop you from starting.”
The group played a cover of Shaka Khan’s hit “Ain’t Nobody”, which Lauriana said was an easy choice because of their love for “old school music.” An original song with a mix of soul and rap was their second piece. According to J Pope, the piece came together in a manner quite similar to the way she and the HearNow create
Rounding out the night with immense musical vibrancy were the young ladies of Western High School under the direction of their music teacher and marching band leader, Mrs. Krystal Williams. Donning the name “The Dove Squad”, the ladies took a journey to the land of brass band music during their collaboration with Baltimore’s own Rufus Roundtree on trombone and Clarence Ward III on trumpet. Performing a brass band mashup of some familiar tunes, War by Youngblood Brass Band and Roll With It by Rebirth Brass Band and other pop culture hits. It was a seemingly effortless execution of this body-swaying, energizing collaboration, as piccolo player, Kenya Shabazz, commented, “Really the process was not hard at all… We just been puttin’ stuff together, you feel me?… No sheet music…off the top!”
Though Mrs. Williams would agree that the reciprocal experience was somewhat seamless, she pointed out that the biggest challenge was to bring the ladies out of the box of their classical training into a more loose and creative flowing sound and movement of brass brand. She made it a point to teach the “Dove Squad” what she didn’t learn until she was a music major in college. MC Shodekeh asked had they practiced in Baltimore or New Orleans, so they definitely hit the mark on their first try at the brass band sound. A round of high-fives across the stage…….??
Now, you certainly can’t have a room full of musicians and a little spare time without an improv taking place. So to bring the night to a close, Shodekeh invited any and all to join him on stage for what was to be the sweetest icing on the night’s musical cake! Rufus Roundtree and Clarence Ward led everyone into a rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In, New Orleans-style! Shodekeh beat-boxed, J Pope and Lauriana took vocals, Western’s drummer Skyla kept time on the drums, Ms. Paylor kept it grooving on bass, and Erick “DJ Dubble8” scratched in the boom bap sound to round out this yummy improvisation! Immeasurable joy, talent, and pride was served up that night by the students, teachers, and artists of the Music Ed Remix and we’re all left wanting more!
If you weren’t so fortunate to join us on May 8th, please check out the video footage of the night’s performances on WTMD’s Facebook page here. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know your thoughts and reactions to Arts Every Day’s first Music Ed Remix!
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein