Youthprise Visits… Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project!
This month, Youthprise made a visit to the Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project at Harding High School in Saint Paul to sit in with the students participating in summer programming. Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project, a long time partner of Youthprise, is a music focused organization that utilizes Jazz music, its derivatives, history, art, media, and technology as a means to promote learning, communication and self- expression. Twin Cities Mobile Jazz provides programming throughout the year and features concerts in the park during the summer. As the name implies, the organization is mobile, providing programming to students and hosting the Summer Concert Series in multiple places, moving from one location to the next.
We arrived to Harding High School in the afternoon. The students participating in the second half of the program were rehearsing for the 2016 Summer School Harding Showcase. A diverse group of students stood in a semi-circle as teaching artists Maria Isa, Jermain McKinley, and Ernest Bisong conducted the group. Students who were once shy, hiding their faces in cell phone screens, were now smiling and approaching every song lyric with confidence. One student said, “In this program, I learned to be confident with my music.”
Shortly after their rehearsal, we got a chance to speak with the students. Immediately after sharing names, the students began to talk about their song titled, “I Hear a Voice.” The song was written one day after the shooting death of Philando Castile on July 6, 2016. The students described their frustration after the tragic event, saying they felt numb and helpless in a society that doesn’t value black lives. With the support of the teaching artists at Twin Cities Mobile Jazz, the students were able to express their feelings and turn their trauma and frustration into song, using music as an outlet.
The song, “I Hear a Voice” features ties to a traditional Afro Puerto Rican song, “Hoy una voz” and Hmong, English, Spanish, and French languages. The students worked collaboratively on the song with every participant having a part in the song. They received positive feedback for the song, smiling as they recalled it being helpful to the family members of Philando Castile and to the community.
Twin Cities Mobile Jazz is about relationships. Students say when they arrive at the program they are welcomed and asked, “How are you feeling today?” The instructors ask the students what they want to do, whether it’s writing a song or producing a beat. They call the program an affirming space where they feel supported outside of the traditional school setting. They are able to express themselves and work collectively to share ideas and learn new techniques for creating music. Students have the choice to work on instruments, on poetry and lyrics, or on digital recording and beat making. Instructors say, “You can’t come into the room unless you are going to do something.”
When we asked the students how many songs they produced during the summer session, they responded saying, “There’s too many to count.” At the end of the session, they performed their songs in the 2016 Summer School Harding Showcase. Although the program has ended, instructors say many students stay connected to Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project, performing in concerts and often, following the program to its next location.
Photo Credit: Ryan Cahill