To teach elementary schoolers to sing a sea shanty is one thing, but to find a sea shanty appropriate for children is nothing short of a feat, senior Matthew DeChant found. Earlier this term, he was tasked with bringing songs of the high seas to fourth and fifth graders at Odyssey Elementary School fourth and fifth graders. His presentation began by tracing the history of the genre for the children. After he explored the origins and legacy of the shanty, DeChant’s quest to find age-appropriate songs paid off. Drawing on his experience in the musical style with Larry’s Privateers, Lawrence’s acapella sea shanty group, he successfully engaged his young audience in learning several different shanties from across the world and throughout history.
DeChant’s shanty workshop was one of many different interactive projects of Lawrence University’s Music for All initiative, a program established in 2016 that connects members of the Lawrence community with opportunities to bring music to venues in the wider community that may not have sufficient access to the arts. This has included nursing homes, houseless shelters and even teenage correctional facilities.
Frank C. Shattuck Professor of Music Michael Mizrahi is one of the initiative’s two founders. To him, the mission of the Music for All initiative runs deeper than just bringing music outside of the traditional concert hall setting. In addition to making musical experiences more inclusive for the public, he believes it creates a deep sense of community between the performers and their audiences who would otherwise be strangers.
“We also try to create opportunities for everyone in the room to find some common ground through music,” Mizrahi said. “It opens up your ears in such a wonderful way for everyone…we embrace the serendipity and the unexpected nature of putting all these musicians in a room together with different communities.”
Music for ‘All’ rings true for audiene and performers, as the initiative also helps to foster increased “open-mindedness” in participating musicians. Performers can be exposed to diverse musical styles and instruments through their time participating in Music for All.
First-year Ella Dorsey’s contribution to the initiative is an example of the musician themself learning more about music through the program. They recently performed international folk music on the piano alongside other Lawrentians at Riverview Gardens. Before their experience with the initiative, Dorsey’s background was mostly limited to traditional classical music. In Dorsey’s case, Mizrahi’s idea of an ‘ear-opening’ experience for every party involved held true.
“I didn’t have any idea that those types of music…existed before [the initiative],” Dorsey said. “Just learning about different types of music was…really rewarding.”
Besides the faculty members who run the program, Music for All is co-managed by a student intern. Senior Theresa Gruber-Miller currently holds the position, in which her main job is to schedule events between Lawrence and the community.
Audiences of Music for All look diverse to say the least; from the nursing home resident to the displaced teenager, the program has seen it all. Musicians may be new to performing for an audience different than those who would show up to a concert hall, but Gruber-Miller considers that to be a positive change for performers. She explained that bringing musicians outside a traditional concert hall helps them learn how to “tailor” their presentation to a variety of different audiences and “engage” them better.
“When you’re going into a kindergarten classroom, it’s going to be a lot different than…performing your senior recital on the Harper Hall stage,” she explained. “Learning how to talk about your music in a way that’s accessible for those audiences [is imperative].”
Though she manages the initiative, Gruber-Miller has had her fair share of participating in Music for All as a musician. A member of Lawrence’s Fiddle Club, she has spread her musical knowledge by teaching members of local student ensembles. Apart from that, she has performed at the Harbor House domestic violence shelter, Riverview Gardens and the Pillars homeless shelter.
Audience interaction and engagement are at the center of the initiative. Musicians’ projects are often less of a ‘performance’ and more of an interactive workshop for whichever audience they are working with, as was the case with DeChant’s sea shanty workshop.
One of Gruber-Miller’s favorite moments in her time performing exemplifies the mission of audience interaction. At a children’s concert at Riverview Gardens, a chamber ensemble performed a reading of the picture book ‘The Rainbow Fish’ backed up by an orchestra. Gruber-Miller’s role was to facilitate the audience’s connection to the performance. As the story was read, she danced along to the music and encouraged the children to sway along with her to “connect with the music.”
The most difficult part of conducting the program is getting all the musicians’ schedules to line up. Both Gruber-Miller and Mizrahi agree that it is a struggle to coordinate since the performers taking part in Music for All are full-time students or faculty members who each have individual commitments. Still, with enough effort, working around everyone’s schedule has proved to be possible, as evidenced by the great number of past performances.
One does not need to be a conservatory student to participate in the initiative, Mizrahi said, since the program’s mission is to connect Lawrence as a whole to the outside community. In years past, faculty, staff and students with no affiliation to the conservatory have contributed to the initiative. Every corner of Lawrence is encouraged to share their unique experience with music.
The next event hosted by Music for All will be at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, at Gibson Community Music Hall. The event is free, as all Music for All events are, so Mizrahi encourages students to drop by and experience the community-building power of the initiative for themselves.