It was a crazy summer. I gave up my beautiful apartment in Harlem for an exciting new chapter in my life. Not only was I leaving the city I’ve lived in for years, but I was also packing for a half-year on the road.
The first segment of this trip was with a duo project Slow Game. I spent the first week in Durham, NC with my bandmate Kenneth David Stewart creating and rehearsing new material.
After a tour culminating in Northside Cincinnati, I headed to a cabin in the Adirondacks for a week of practicing and studying in preparation for a three-week residency with Arts-Fi in Kansas.
I have come to expect overwhelming inspiration from collaborating with my colleagues in Arts-Fi, but this year I found a second source. Instead of a multi-city trip, we were scheduled to spend over two weeks in one town giving multiple daily workshops leading up to a final performance with student involvement.
Throughout my career I have been involved in outreach in so many communities around the world, but this was different. Usually an outreach encounter involves one meeting before or after the performance and it often can feel secondary.
We met with 300+ high school students each day, and we saw each group three times. At the beginning of the process we met resistance, which I understood! We were showing up in rural, western Kansas with our skinny jeans and east coast accents and asking the students to talk openly about how their personal experiences could relate to the poems and pieces of music we were working with.
We had so many amazing success stories, but one stands out to me. In our first workshop with one of the classes I had a group of 6 or 7 students. I noticed one of the students in particular. When I went around for reactions to the poem we were discussing, he wouldn’t respond. He wasn’t shy, and it wasn’t that he was resistant. I truly think that he just hadn’t been asked to think this way before.
At our last workshop with his class, we had him join us on stage to create a short scene (with the method that we at Arts-Fi use to create).
We started the scene, I was playing cello with Kristen on the piano, and Kyle and Tiare were improvising. This student started to read, obviously nervous, but as he felt us adjusting our interpretation to his reading, and supportively creating around him, he opened out to the entire theatre.
And this gets me to the high point of this summer. After I wiped the tears from my eyes I looked over at this high schooler who struggled to even give me one word about a poem 8 days earlier, standing on stage with me and my colleagues, his cheeks flushed and his eyes watery. He may have been wearing the t-shirt of the football team he plays for, but that day he understood in a real way what we were doing.