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  • In part 1 of this series, we looked at a video that showcased an artist as a role model, another that shed light on the creative process of an up-and-coming band, and a third that brought international superstars back to their old digs to be humbled by their beginnings. For this installment, we’re going to revisit the political music video with TARICA’s “But, Anyway” as well as examine the success of the web series with a look at NPR’s Tiny Desk.

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  • Braids Companion EP

    Montreal based experimental pop/rock band Braids are set to release the follow up to the critically acclaimed album, Deep in the Iris  on May 20th. The four songs for the EP were recorded in August 2015 shortly after the band completed work on Deep in the Iris, but we’re surely not talking about B sides here.

    With Companion, the band continues with a similar minimalist approach musically, but as you listen to the title track which begins by deeply focusing on the beautiful soaring vocals of Standell-Preston, the tension builds as the synthesizer takes a growing, more profound role in the track.  The vocals and music provide a fantastic balance of emotion in the build up, and as the song begins to fade out with a delicate piano, a whispering vocal joins in, “Remember when I pushed you in, you were surprised that you floated.”

    The second track, Joni, takes a more powerful, upbeat approach with its booming, break-beat musical structure. Lyrically, the song addresses dealing with life’s uncertainties and the personal challenges that come with it.  On the other hand, Trophies for Paradox gets back to the common topic of relationships and all the complexities that go with it. The music composition is also more complex with added guitar elements in the mix.  Perhaps, my favorite song on the EP is Sweet World.

    The composition of the track provides a pure energy rush as it unfolds with a driving style not found with the other songs on the EP.  Overall, this is a very strong release, and is some ways more impressive than Deep in the Iris.

    Braids is a band that’s still evolving and exploring new ideas which is refreshing given the state of music today.  In many cases, the first release from a band ends up being their best, but it seems certain that the best is yet to come from this talented trio.

  • At The James Baldwin School in Chelsea, AFP’s program is in its 3rd year, offering after school digital audio production, musical instrument instruction and performance coaching. Students range from 9th to 12th grade and come to the program with a variety of individual goals in mind. The sessions vary, and participants usually work individually or in small groups.

    The class combines a combination of elements which are often going on simultaneously. One group may be learning how to sequence beats to a metronome track on one computer, while another student is involved in the more advanced stages of a fully fleshed out track on the next. At the same time a vocal duo may be working out harmonies to a rock ballad, while others are learning how to build scales and chords on the piano. In all cases, the fundamentals of music making are uncovered and explored. The focus is always on building a working musical vocabulary and developing the ability to use music for self-expression.

    This year at Baldwin I have seen remarkable progress on every front. Beat-makers have progressed from struggling at playing simple kick and snare patterns, to building complete tracks and having their friends rap over them. Drummers who had never played a drum-set maintain a groove behind a full band. I’m especially impressed with Reshwan and Katana who had never met before. Within a few short months they have  become a powerful cohesive duet act eagerly learning the theory to support their development. Reshawn knew some guitar chords coming in, but upon learning the structures of scales and chords on the piano, his guitar vocabulary and playing piano has exploded in earnest. Katana, whose instrument is her voice, has also been learning the fundamental elements of melody through the solfeggio system. She has been working on her considerable power through breath support exercises. The duo already sound like a seasoned act that has been performing for years.

    The Art for Progress Music and Digital Audio Production Program at The James Baldwin School is providing meaningful learning skills and an important outlet for students’ creative energy. The insights they gain through AFP help enhance their overall school experience and give them something to look forward to after school. We’re thrilled with the success we’ve had with the Baldwin program so far. I’m looking forward to recording Reshawn and Katana, among other talented musicians, and to continuing to lay down hip-hop, trap, and dubstep tracks with rhymes direct from the Baldwin halls.

    Here’s a quote from Reshawn about his experience with AFP at Baldwin:

    “My experience with Barry has been an amazing one. I feel that because of him, his methods of teaching, and his dedication and passion, that I’ve grown not only as a guitarist; but as a musician generally. I found that when you’re self-taught, as time goes on it becomes harder to progress and so when I first came to Barry, I felt that I was at a standstill. It was extremely frustrating to be able to play these interesting jazz chords and know all of these runs but not be able to explain to someone what the chords in a progression I made was or even be able to comprehend what I was doing.  In just two months, Barry has equipped me with not only the knowledge of what I am doing but he has also helped me begin to understand the underlying skeletal system of music itself and equipped me with the tools to explore and learn these things on my own through theory. Because of Barry, I can play a chord; sit at a piano and decipher and identify the chord, and find the notes within the chord. It’s like I’m experiencing the wonderful sensation of teaching myself guitar all over again and I love it so much. It feels so great to be able to stop by Barry’s room everyday after school for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours and learn something new. I am so grateful to him for what he’s done for me, and anyone willing to accept what he’ll do for them. Barry is dedicated, passionate about what he does, and cares about his students and as a student you can’t help but just admire that about him; it’s inspiring. I’m so grateful for his support and guidance, and I know that I’ll never truly stop being his student.“

    Reshawn Smith, Senior

    Here’s another from principal Brady Payne Smith:

    “Art for Progress music courses have been popular with students and are an essential part of our arts offerings. Students are gaining skills, trying new things and learning theory while having fun in class.”

    -Brady Payne Smith, Principal The James Baldwin School

  • The Art for Progress music program at Humanities Preparatory Academy, now in it’s fourth school year, is the flagship of AFP’s arts education programs. Instituted in the Fall of 2012, the program serves two classes of 12-18 students four days per week, with each day’s lunch period serving as an additional class period enabling students to seek further instruction or individual practice time. The class is open to students of all high school years (9-12) allowing a rare occasion for teens of different ages to interact on a level playing field in a collaborative setting.

    There are also two after school sessions per week, which give students an opportunity to either practice alone, or to join in group music-making, which is the ultimate intention of all AFP music programming. Faculty also participate, further enriching the overall experience of the students, and the teachers learn just as much as the kids!

    The goal of the program is for every student to be able to play at least one complete song. Toward this goal, all students learn the basic mechanics of music in general, and to develop proficiency on least one instrument. Although much of the class time is spent building and developing skills, the focus of the program is ultimately on giving students the tools to express themselves.

    The semester begins with discussions about students’ musical interests and experiences, with everyone having an opportunity to choose a song by an artist or group that they like to share with the class and then discuss. From there, we move on to explore the work of an iconic artist, such as Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, who exemplifies the ability of music to transcend entertainment. We discuss the historical, cultural, racial, and philosophical impact of that artist’s work, with the goal of expanding students’ concept of the meaning and power of music and art in general.

    After this brief introduction, the class spends about three weeks learning the basics of music theory. Notation is introduced, but is not the primary focus. The main substance of the lessons is learning how scales are built, how chords are constructed, and the relationship between the two as relates to tonal centers, or key signatures. We also explore the elements of rhythm, including tempo, meter, and syncopation.

    Once everyone in the class has a working knowledge of the building blocks of songs, each student is asked to choose a song to learn to play on an instrument of his or her choice. The underlying teaching philosophy, a departure from the methodology generally employed in more formal music education programs, follows the old adage “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” By peeking under the hood of musical structure, kids are quickly able to understand how songs work, and develop a functional understanding of their instrument which accelerates learning.

    One young woman in my class, Luna, a senior, was particularly resistant to learning to play an instrument. She was learning to sing, but still had some struggles with self-doubt and shyness. Despite the fact that she had been making great progress, even singing in the talent shows, playing instruments intimidated her. After one full semester working on vocals alone, she finally asked if I would teach her one song on the piano. She struggled initially, but I wouldn’t let her quit on herself, and she was soon able to coordinate parts on both hands and to sing along with herself. Needless to say she was overjoyed to be able to do what she had moments before considered impossible, and has gone on to be able to play a number songs using just a chord chart and lyrics. I lent her a keyboard so she could practice at home, and she has since learned to accompany herself on piano to do vocal exercises at home as well. Ever since, partially as a result of her accomplishments through music, Luna has been more socially outgoing and confident, and generally seems happier.

    Another young woman, Joey, a junior has, though sheer determination and hard work, learned to play classic lines on electric bass, as well as rhythm and lead guitar parts for a blues shuffle. She also fearlessly approaches the drum-set, and is able to intuitively provide a solid beat to back up what her classmates are playing when we have class jams.

    The true proof, which as they say, is in the pudding, is clearly evidenced each semester in the school’s talent showcases. The student body, faculty and families alike at Humanities Prep are consistently blown away by the quality of the performances! We expect nothing less from the upcoming Spring talent showcase, and the school’s coffee house showcase at the Nuyorican Poets Café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side!

    Art for Progress music programs have become the backbone of a music and arts culture that pervades Humanities Prep, helping to create and sustain an environment of acceptance, open communication, and creative collaboration that is the signature of the school.