A few words to describe the experience of doing the play this year
Full circle, vulnerability, and collaboration.
While the play is about a future we strive toward, I think it also captures and contextualizes the past two years, bringing the past two years “full circle.” The last time NS performed a play was a couple days prior to communities shutting down, and we shifted to remote learning. The past two years have fueled a greater awareness and analysis of the types of change needed for a more just and inclusive world. The play is a heartfelt demonstration of how young people are processing all that is happening around them, committing themselves to gain understanding, and leading the way to a future vastly different from the present–reframing humanity and reimagining accountability with systems of “care.”
Personally, another word that comes to mind is “vulnerability.” The play embodies a vulnerability that meets our humanity. The young people embraced vulnerability in the preparation and performance of the play. The staff also embraced a sort of collective vulnerability in our collaborative efforts. Collaborations asks of us to trust one another and to trust our collective creative potential. And finally, when everything still feels uncertain in the present, hundreds of people showed up to see the play. I think that acknowledges the vulnerable space we’ve been in as a community and the desire to connect, to open, and to be in relationship with one another.
Bucket Drumming, Yes Please!
Something that I love about my work at the Neighborhood School is I’ll start somewhere and while I have some idea where it might go, it always goes so far beyond what I could’ve imagined when it first started. This happened last year when we learned Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, we had this incredible recording of the whole school singing AND playing the song.
This year in level four and level three, we started off with drumming. Level four really took it to this next level: we learned about drum lines and about the history of drum lines. We also learned about the history of drum lines and second lines in New Orleans, and how drum lines and marching bands evolved into a symbol of pride, protest and advocacy. Following our drum line work, we transitioned to music theory. Students learned rhythmic notation, and they were EXCITED about it! They learned how to read, write and play rhythmic notation all the way down to sixteenth notes and triplets. They worked in pairs and composed full arrangements of a drum piece on the buckets. Which also, talk about full circle, the buckets we played on were the very buckers we’d been sitting on for the past two years. “Buckets? Drums? Bucket drumming?!” Yes please!
I started talking with Johnny and Mar about what our dance piece was going to be and how we were going to incorporate music into the play. At the beginning of the year we weren’t singing, so I thought, ok, let’s bring in the drum pieces because that’s what we’ve been doing this year. The coolest part is that the rhythms used in the dance-off are taken from the students’ original rhythms they composed–their rhythms created a foundation to the “drum-off.”
It was awesome to work with Mar and Johnny. Johnny just said “dance-off” and gave us creative freedom. The dance-off is placed at the most intimate and special part of the play (for me). The students are talking about what makes accountability or apologizing so hard. The first time I read it with Mar, I started tearing up. It talks about anxiety, guilt, shame, insecurity, nervousness, being angry at yourself for messing up, that feeling where you want to just run away versus confronting this thing that happened. That’s so human, and the power of being able to overcome that, to be able to choose to be in relationship with people where harm has happened, is a beautiful thing…
Rock Band/“We Need Merch”
We were presented with some challenges at the beginning of the band this year. It was the first time we could bring back instrumental programming since the start of the pandemic. Usually, the requirement is for students to have taken at least a full year of private instruction on their instrument prior to joining the band, but private instruction was not accessible during the pandemic, especially for students who experienced the new phenomenon: “zoom fatigue.” So, we had a group of students who had been away from being in music together for a while, most of whom were coming into being in music together for the first time. The group just really took responsibility for their progress! They practiced at least an hour a week at home, and really put their all into it. Every week, they are scheming about “oh we need merch” and “what are we gonna play” and “when are we gonna perform”… We weren’t planning for the band to perform in the play this year, but serendipitously, they had been working on the song Born to Be Brave – a very hard song rhythmically, harmonically, and vocally, very challenging. It was clear the band was up for the challenge, and we all agreed a band performance would be a great addition to the play. The band took a lot of risks to perform live, and I think there was a lot of pride in that. To stand up in front of people and not to freeze is courageous. It’s one thing to learn and perform lines, but there’s something else in music that taps into the core part of yourself–music performance really asks you to be your true, authentic self – again, the theme of vulnerability shows up here!
Coming to Neighborhood School and where you came from
I’ve been at Neighborhood School since 2018. All through my twenties, I consulted into schools and after-school programs, both public and private, doing music therapy work. After completing an education and counseling graduate program, I worked at a non-profit in Dorchester and Roxbury called Teen Empowerment, hiring young folks from the immediate neighborhood to do youth-led community organizing work around issues most important to them. With the help of many youth leaders, I developed a youth-run, adult-supported record label. We collaborated with an incredible studio on Mass Ave called The Record Co. Young folks were at the lead: they hired and trained artists, supported them in their songwriting, and they had access to what I think is the best recording studio on this side of the state. They produced some incredible albums, all which are available online. I’ve brought all of these experiences with me to NS, and engage students in songwriting and music production.
What are two things about you that people at NS might not know?
I originally studied jazz saxophone and composition at Berklee – that was my first love. I had planned to be a performer and touring artist, but in my senior year at Berklee I started developing a lot of pain in my right arm to the point where I could not use or lift my arm. Overuse injury in music is common and usually people can heal and get better with physical therapy, but unfortunately mine was too deeply rooted in my physiological makeup. So I transitioned from being a performer to taking a year off and then doing music therapy. Now, I can play guitar and bass for a good while before my injury bothers me, but saxophone is my original language. Even though I obviously learned how to speak words first, I feel most comfortable expressing myself through playing the saxophone. That was a really hard loss, and also the radical gratitude of that is that it put me on a different path for which I am equally grateful.
Also, the summer before the pandemic I toured in Europe and throughout the States. My duo went to Europe and we recorded in Spain and then came back to the States. We were going to go out on tour here in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. My duo is called Ruby Luna and the Fox. [Click HERE to hear some of their music]
What has surprised you most about NS?
Everything surprised me. Not that I am surprised that NS exists, it is just the type of learning community I longed to be part of. NS is really trying to embody a student-led, community-centric, radical way of education. It’s incredible to see how every student is cared for and is ensured that they belong and have a voice. I love the mixed-age classrooms and the opportunity for peer-to-peer mentorship. And the arts! NS’s commitment to performing a large-scale original play that integrates multiple artistic modalities demonstrates the school’s understanding of how the arts build our inherent ability to imagine and to create! NS is helping develop humans who are vulnerable, intellectual, “emotionally intellectual” creative, compassionate, and collaborative individuals! Oh! I was also surprised that NS is housed within a HOUSE!