Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Found Sound Nation and the Lucerne Festival: School Project Day 2

(CONTINUED from Day 1 of Student Workshops in Nebikon)

August 24, 2011

The sessions began today at 8.30am. The students and teachers piled into the large room right on time, and ready to go. It's always fascinating to see the change that people go through once they understand this musical process. Instead of feeling tentative, they're eager to dive right in and create. Already, we noticed that some of the boys sat next to each other, put their arms around one another's shoulders, laughed and joked together like old friends (when they were strangers the day before).

We began by listening to the tracks that Chris and Jeremy had cleaned up (compressed, etc.) the night before (until 3am). For the most part, the students were happy with what they heard. I think that hearing the music they'd written gave them confidence to make more and better musical decisions, and they seemed eager to get to work, developing and combining the tracks into actual songs.

Two of the groups stayed with Chris, Elena, and Melanie, while two of the groups came with Jeremy, Tem, and me. We spent the next two hours re-recording vocals, overlaying additional instruments, adding some extra beats, until finally we had four really great tunes.

But even more remarkable than the music that emerged this morning was the feeling of camaraderie that enveloped us as we worked together. The boys cheered each other on when they heard something they liked; they respectfully listened quietly when we were recording someone; they listened to playbacks huddled together like a team. They trusted Jeremy, Tem, and I not to tell them what to do, but simply to support whatever musical decisions they wanted to make.

There were two examples that really underscore this point about the transformation of some of these young men. I should preface this by saying that we're fully aware of the complexity of using the word “transformation” when it comes to a 1.5 day workshop, and that whatever we noticed might only be a temporary uplifting of moods. Still, there were two moments that highlight what makes this work so damned rich for all of us.

The first example is of a young man, who, on the first day, was totally hyperactive and on the border of being “out of control.” He demanded to be the center of attention, and while he was basically a good kid, he overshadowed the others and made it difficult for them to participate in the music-making. By the second day, as the boys began to bond with one another and form friendships, the unruly one began to settle down. He somehow realized that his opinion wasn't going to trump the decisions of the group, and he patiently waited while others recorded and developed their tracks. He was brilliant at beat-boxing, and seemed happy to bring his skills to the table to enhance the beats of the tunes. I loved watching him soften, becoming aware that it's OK to be part of the group, and not always “on.”

The second example was in regards to the shyest boy of the bunch, and perhaps the one with the worst self-image. Before I continue, I should explain something about myself: in working with children, I am always attracted to the most difficult one, and I find myself drawn to include the kid who sits in the back of the room stewing in his misery and self-loathing. I'm not sure why, but this has always been the case. So it's no surprise that I noticed Michael* (name changed for protection) sitting deliberately further away from everyone in each of our sessions. He made no effort to participate. When we were in the small groups yesterday, I began to understand that he is deeply self-conscious and angry. In that session, I had tried to include him in multiple ways, but continually failed. However, I noticed one thing: he would mutter to himself under his breath, and somehow I understood his voice and the German to know that he was making comments on the music. Things like, “that's not the right beat for this song,” or, “that needs another melody.” He was making musical decisions to himself, without wanting to actively participate.

Today, while we were completing the tracks, we were asking everyone to give us text they'd written that we hadn't used yet. He handed me his text but insisted that he didn't want to use it. When I asked why, he said it sucked. I offered to work with him on developing it if he didn't like it, and asked him some questions about what he didn't like. He wasn't cooperating in the conversation, so I asked him to come to a corner where the rest of the group couldn't hear us. I explained that we didn't have to use his text if he didn't want to, but that we were here to help him make music that he liked. He replied with, “Es ist mir egal” (it doesn't matter to me at all), and “kann ich einfach sitzen und nicht mitteilen?” (can't I just sit and not participate?) Here, I “outed” him by saying, “I don't believe that you don't care. I've overheard you yesterday muttering your opinion about the music under your breath, and I believe you have many opinions about the music. So, what do you think? What would you do with these tunes if you could do anything?” Aha! It was here he snapped (in a good way!) and said, “well, actually, yeah, I don't like the beats you chose to use today, but I loved some of the beats from yesterday that we made. One of them was one of the coolest beats I've ever heard, and I'd like to hear that one again.” Later, Jeremy and I ended up finding the beat he was referring to and including it in a song, and while Michael continued to sit in the back of the room quietly, he smiled when we all listened to the track later and he recognized the beat that he'd chosen for it. Perhaps not the most glorious "teaching moment" on my part (although I was secretly very proud to have conducted our whole conversation in German), but a minor success with a boy who probably rarely gives himself an opportunity to feel proud of his accomplishments.

By the end of the day, we all gathered in one room to listen to what we'd created together. It was fantastic! And the best news of all: the teachers are going to arrange for the students to come to Lucerne for our party at the Buvette on Thursday night, where we'll present the boys' work and explain the project to the public.

While we may not see these boys again after Thursday (or at least for a long time), we hope that they'll walk away knowing that they created and owned something that is exclusively theirs.

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