Rewriting for a new Strings Attached project
ONCE UPON a TIME …
Strings Attached was created in 2009 to provide community kids with the resources they need to start music education. Learning to read music, play guitars, ukuleles and other folk-based stringed instruments. What grew out of that over the course of 11 years was a community of people who agreed with the idea. The circle grew to include a three year residency in a local school, school visits with musicians, library partnerships, librarian musical training and library summer classes. A yearly partnership with a local nature area. Recording studio collaborations with local musicians that produced 4 CD’s of Americana music. Dozens of awarded instruments for kids to keep. A loaner instrument program for kids without starter instruments. Hundreds of kids who came through the program, some staying for 5 years or more, for weekly music lessons, recitals and community performances. Recognition, support and funding from individuals & foundations all over the country.
In divisive times finding an idea people can agree on is no easy task. Especially in a toxic community like Ferguson, MO, which now has an international reputation for community hostilities. Music has the ability to overcome those hostilities and find some common ground if allowed.
The Story Twist – Enter 2020
Then the COVID 19 pandemic arrived. Suddenly the program changed and became confined to a new medium, the computer screen.
The project had to learn to adapt in a new way, practically overnight, to something entirely different. To compound the trauma, it lost a majority of funding partnerships, starting with the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, who stopped providing funding due to losses in tax revenues because of pandemic lockdowns.
It was a bit like a tornado that came through and wiped away 11 years of experience and community work.
Every story has conflict.
So now we need to start over again and rewrite, rebuild with what remains. Essentially what remains are our instruments. Our ability to read and understand music. Technology to communicate with and use as a rebuilding tool. A realization that it’s the end of an era you see in the surrounding photo samples and the start of a new adventure. Rewriting the story for the difficult-to-write, pesky third acts.
Not sure what will come of it – but I’ll keep you posted!
Don’t forget – We are now Online Remote, which means if you are in Arizona, Texas, China, Alaska, Finland, Washington state or anywhere else and would like to take a class – it’s POSSIBLE! Register https://app.teacherzone.com/Registration/RegistrationPlan?PlanID=9335 and you’re on your way to starting your musical path.
Live or Remote? On Becoming a Non-Profit Digital Nomad
2020 and 2021 have been true tests of the project’s durability. In March, 2020 we were suddenly forced to go digital with our program due to COVID. Our lesson space at St. Stephen’s church was shutdown by the church and we were given one evening to pack our bags. To this day, a year and a half later, the building remains closed to community programs and is only open to the congregation. I doubt we will ever return, except to collect our instruments and books.
But Strings Attached never really paused during the 2020/2021 pandemic. We continued to offer support to a full roster of students with weekly, individual contact via Zoom and Teacherzone. We continued to offer low cost music lessons and loaned instruments when needed, which is our primary mission. We even added additional students during the time period when many other programs for youth were discontinued or put on hold. The project learned how to navigate in a remote, computer-based world rather than a live hands-on method. We joined the growing sphere of digital nomads.
I learned to appreciate it also.
Making Use of Technology – Shifting from “needing” to “wanting” to use it.
We also discovered room for improvement. Student/teacher/family understanding and use of technology during this pandemic time period was the biggest area in need of attention. Most parents and kids are used to live music lessons. In live lesson sessions, kids learned their timing skills from playing music with the teacher, and playing in live ensemble settings. But during the pandemic, they needed to rely on technology to develop these skills. They had to learn to work with ensemble and isolated ensemble audio tracks on computer instead. Most students (and parents) had no idea how to make use of computer audio tracks for practice. They also found playing with audio tracks challenging. In playing with audio tracks, one MUST practice & play in tempo and at a designated meter. When a student plays alone in daily practice sessions, anything goes… he/she can miss notes, measures, not play in tempo, forget to count whole notes, half notes, dotted quarter notes, ties. But when playing along with one of our new Virtual Music Ensembles developed during the pandemic, a student must adhere to the rules of music-making and learn to play with others (virtual “others” that is.)
Many students became much better musicians as a result. They had to acquire new skills needed to play with audio tracks. How to use playback, looping, playing against different score parts, counting beats correctly, harmony and a host of other skills that one seldom develops as quickly in practice without the aid of audio tracks. They began to develop their skills in the “multi-tracking world”, rather than the “me-only” world of music practice.
What’s the Best Course of Education in Music for the Future?
In a baby steps, they are also learning to navigate a musical world where musicians increasingly communicate through computer audio tools globally. Musicians now compose, do studio job dates, share music with audiences via multitracking platforms, social media and other 21st century devices.
Watch this young teacher explaining using her DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to create song melodies. This is a fine example of the how youth today will need more musical technology knowledge to create, compose, edit, learn and communicate:
The remote teaching also allowed us to reach students for their weekly lessons when they were in their mom’s cars, taking road trips, joining parents on work assignments in other states, when they moved to other cities. It expanded our reach to new students in sections of the city and county that would typically be considered too far away to join us for live lessons.
It shouldn’t be surprising, but class attendance has improved also. Parents no longer have to deal with weather issues like winter snow, iced streets, sub-zero temperatures, rain downpours, car repairs, or minor parental illnesses that prevent kids from getting to their weekly lessons. Several students and their families even continued lessons while in COVID quarantine!
There is a lot of criticism of remote music instruction. Many students, parents and other teachers say, “Never again!” to remote online classes. Some of it is understandable: the sound quality is not always the best. Computers glitch and have outages. It requires more hands-on assistance from parents. Kids can’t always see and experience what the instructor is trying to show them directly, as in a live session. Students don’t get the benefits of live performance and audience reaction. The criticisms are all worthwhile points and agreeable.
We’re Just Too Busy
But we also no longer live in a world where kids learn music by creating garage bands as we did in the 1960’s and 70’s. They are just “too busy” with other activities. Families and friends no longer play music together in their homes. Parents are, “too busy” for live student recitals and for the consistency needed to bring kids to live ensemble rehearsals. Music education is always the lowest priority in “busy” schedules and often eliminated to the bare minimum of lesson time. Students seldom have opportunities to play/learn live music in organized school or church ensembles. I seldom hear of the growing home school community creating any live music opportunities for kids. Without the opportunity to play music with their peers, kids often grow bored with music lessons ( and I don’t blame them.)
LIKE IT OR NOT
So music making is changing. Like it or not, much of it is being done in remote, more isolated situations. Music publishers that create the music instruction books understand this as well and publishers like Hal Leonard, Essential Elements and Alfred are quickly developing online teaching methods and tools for a computer-age to help kids and teachers communicate online. Other school and community music teachers I’ve corresponded with feel as I do, that kids involved with music are not being prepared for music sharing, music creativity and recording in the 21st century. The sudden switch to all-online during the pandemic lockdowns was proof of how ill-prepared they are with technology available to musicians.
The days of young composers alone at their Spinet pianos have changed to full compositions and performances created on desktops:
The remote experiment also helped point out that non profits like Strings Attached and independent music teachers can manage costs by reducing the need for a physical space for lessons, not to mention reducing commute times and expenses for families struggling to get to and from weekly studio space lessons. We can manage without a physical space and still offer music education without being tied to rented music studio space, or music shop contracts, or unfair labor practices to have a space to meet with students.
A tool of change may very well be the independence afforded by remote technology.
It paves the way for us to become “digital nomads.” We could teach from “virtually anywhere” to students “virtually anywhere.” We’ve been doing it for over a year now. So we have developed some of the skills needed, learned how to operate some of the tools required and created a beginning digital catalogue of teaching materials. It’s a start.
During the COVID19 year we learned that students and teachers need to begin to work with these tools and understand them.
We especially want to thank the foundations and funding partners that stuck with us during this difficult time period, when many funders and people we counted on abandoned the project, its students and families:
Thank you, The Jubilation Foundation, Saigh Foundation, Pettus Foundation, Les Paul Foundation, and Reverb Gives. Without them, we would not have been able to carry on in the 2020/2021 pandemic.
Our next 6 week FREE session of ukulele classes for the younger crowd, ages 5 to 8, starts the week of April 12, 2021. To register please go to our Teacherzone registration link at https://app.teacherzone.com/Registration/RegistrationPlan?PlanID=9335 Classes are FREE and sponsored by our generous foundation supporters. Classes are individual 20 to 30 minute sessions conducted on ZOOM. Materials are provided through Teacherzone learning platform. If your child needs a loaner ukulele for the session, please let us know and we will help provide one. Once registered, we will contact you with times available for scheduled weekly class. We hope you’ll get your child started on a musical path! Many of our long-term students started small on ukulele, then moved into baritone ukulele and guitar as they got older. Children involved will learn to make basic chords, strum and read simple chord charts during the 6 weeks.
Strings Attached project’s soundtrack experience continues to grow! Over the years our student studio recordings have been used as background tracks in a variety of film and video projects. This year we make a cameo in Joe Gordon-Levitt’s first season of HitRecord’s “Create Together: We Are 2020 – Class of 2020.” Create Together draws on our Cabin Jam music in a segment on collaborative music making during the pandemic. Even better news – the first season of HitRecord won an Emmy! We received our Emmy recognition in the mail as contributors.
AND!!! Our music also turns up in Season Two of “Create Together” on a segment of turning nature sounds into music and being inspired by nature to create music, dance and art. Watch this and the rest of the season on YouTube now.
AND! Season 2 of “Create Together” has been nominated for another Emmy!
Join us for a virtual Christmas concert featuring some of our 2020 Strings Attached students starting on Winter Make Music Day – Monday, December 21st.
For over a decade Strings Attached project has welcomed the community with our annual “Christmas Guitars” concert recital of students performing holiday songs. Due to the 2020 pandemic we had to suspend live performances. But we continued with our weekly music lessons and invite you to join us for our video presentations of students sharing song. Get cozy around the Christmas tree with some hot chocolate, eggnog, Christmas cookies and a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the entire playlist!
The full playlist can be found starting December 21st at Winter Make Music Day with Strings Attached 2020
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
~~ The Strings Attached project
We’re not shut down during the Covid19 emergency
During the Covid19 lockdown and social distancing, we are operating safely through our virtual one-room schoolhouse.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. NOTE: WE HAVE BEEN HAVING TROUBLES RECEIVING EMAILS THROUGH OUR HOTMAIL ACCOUNT. PLEASE TRY REACHING US AT email@example.com You can register for classes at https://app.teacherzone.com/Registration/RegistrationPlan?PlanID=9335
During the Covid-19 lockdown we gave away a significant portion of our student loaner instrument collection to kids staying-a-home so they could continue to practice and play music with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. To proceed safely, we are not asking loaner instruments and cases to be returned to help minimize risk of spreading the virus. We are grateful to a generous contribution by Reverb Gives and Reverb.com that will enable us to replace our loaner instrument collection for future use by new entering students. Thanks Reverb Gives!
Did you participate in “Play Music on the Porch Day?”
“Play Music on the Porch Day” spotlights musicians, young and old, professional and not professional in their natural settings, usually their front porches – just the way our grandparents and great grandparents would share music with friends, family and passers-by. As most of us are sticking close to home and family currently, it’s a great time to share some music from the porch. Watch our student, Zander Mae share her wonderful voice on,”Play Music from the Porch Day!”
Join us on FACEBOOK -STRINGS ATTACHED PROJECT for this year’s Make Music Day (2020) on June 21st. We’ll be sharing students performances via video and through audio recordings. We’ll also participate in a Music Track Meet, where students (and teacher) will each take relay race turns creating songs online with Soundtrap Education. Through the gift of remote multi-track recording (thanks les Paul!) we’ll compose quicky socially distant tunes on Make Music Day using our instruments and loops, then post the results on Facebook to share with anyone that wants to listen. Watch and Listen to some of our Make Music Day student performances and recordings:
Listen to student Jadon’s composition, “Ender Drive” created during our songwriting relay using Soundtrap for Education:
Our social distancing recording, “Great Gratitude” has become part of the archived collection of the Missouri Historical Society’s, “Stories of the Pandemic” along with writings, journals, photos and recordings collected during the pandemic. The collection is the subject of a StL Public Radio story. Listen here: History Museum Collects Photos, Other Items To Document Life During Coronavirus Pandemic by Chad Davis
If you have cabin fever, we’ve created an experiment in social distancing songwriting and collaboration on HitRecord.org! The tentative title is, “The Great Gratitude. Simply go to this link: Cabin Jam
Download “Cabin Jam” remix from the contributions, upload it to your home recording setup and create your contribution! Could be more vocals, a choir, more instruments, fiddle, doboro, spoons, percussion, hand claps, anything Americana! Upload it back to the Cabin Jam page and we’ll build on it.
This is what we’ve built so far with people we’ve never met, recording remotely during the Covid19 isolation:
Strings Attached project · Great Gratitude
Strings Attached is at it again …. Producing music that is!
We’re back at Native Sound in January, 2020 starting a new collection of American song recordings featuring project students and combining some of St. Louis’ best roots musicians. In previous recordings we focused on a variety of music genres including cowboy, ragtime, blues, jazz, rockabilly. This time, we’re having fun with traditional folk tunes again like, “Crawdad,” “Blackberry Blossom, “Old Joe Clark” – some gospel, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “I’ll Fly Away” and the Bing Crosby classic, “I’m An Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)”
The Strings Attached project connects youth, ages 5 to 17, with music education using American roots music. We learn to play instruments such as guitar, ukulele, dobro, banjitar and mandolin. If you would like to learn more about the project, please click on the file symbol above and to the left.
You can also email us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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