Guest Blogger Tyné Freeman - Post #2

Hi again everyone! Thank you to all who read my first post introducing this project. To recap, I am recording a collaborative album, co-writing the songs with artists from seven different countries. I am currently a senior at Dartmouth College, and I’m spending my senior year completing this independent project -- which includes a scholarly ethnography -- in lieu of classes. Over the past month, quite a bit has happened, as the project comes to life.

Sanborn House - Dartmouth College

Sanborn House - Dartmouth College

Much of the month was spent writing the ethnography, which explores the themes that are emerging in my cross-cultural collaborations.  It is entitled Sojourner’s Song: Retracing Afro-diasporic Pathways through Collaborative Songwriting (a mouthful, I know). I recently submitted the first 30 pages to the fellowship committee, who will review my work throughout the year. In these pages, I discuss my ‘hyphenated identity’ as a African-American-Jamaican, and share the ways I have been able to connect with each of my collaborators. In this section, I also “unpack” my songwriting process with Peddo Brian, a collaborator from Nairobi, Kenya. I share the ways we trade lyrics back and forth, and work across languages other than English.

An outdoor concert in Nairobi, Kenya.

An outdoor concert in Nairobi, Kenya.

Working on the album itself is also very exciting. Over the last month, I have delved into the songwriting process with my collaborators. Each piece is unfolding uniquely.

My collaboration with Peddo has birthed a song called “Wanipenda,” which translates as “You Love Me.” It features an intertwining of Swahili, Luo and English. The song is a duet, narrated by a pair that is geographically separated. The rhythm and progression draw primarily upon reggae, with neo-soul and jazz influences. I found this fascinating -- a song inspired by a Jamaican genre, and featuring a compilation of East African languages.

This song was birthed over a year ago, when Peddo sent me a draft of it, proposing a collaboration (I still treasure that first moment of musical connection). Below is a chart including a section of Sheng lyrics and their English translations.

From his Sheng lyrics, I’ve been able to gather the concept and elaborate upon Peddo’s words. Although the full English translations are not always seamless, I thank I’ve captured and expanded the intent.

VERSE (Sheng original):

I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself

nikijiuliza

siku gani nitakucheki ma

every night

I’m calling from my cell, chatting kwenye text

nikajiambia

siku moji nitakumarry ma

VERSE (English translation):

I’m sitting by myself, talking to myself

I wonder

when will I see you again

every night

I’m calling from my cell, texting

I think

one day i’m gonna marry you

if you love me for real

On a personal note, the lyrics also speak to my collaboration with Peddo and our ability to connect, despite the literal sea that separates us. The melodic dialogue of the piece reflects our ongoing correspondence, as we have gotten to know each other. The song is an exchange, our vocal parts diverging and coming back together, as Peddo and I overlap lines, swap languages, and tell a story together.

When song comes together, it is so exciting. Here's a video of me singing with Joel Almeida, one of my collaborators from Cape Verde. He translated sections of a Cape Verdean song into English, so we could sing a duet. We recorded it at Dartmouth last summer, while he was here completing a fellowship. 

As with any large project, challenges are emerging. A big one has been setting up rehearsals. My band is located in Boston, and I am in Hanover, NH. It has been difficult to schedule rehearsals -- which is where I had planned to spend time with the band on each piece, gaining a stronger sense of what the song will sound like, how to improve upon it, what to add and remove. Thinking I would have time in the room with the musicians to flesh out the songs, I planned to simply put together lead sheets for the band, from which they would improvise. (A little explanation: Lead sheets are a popular way of communicating the chords of a song, often employed in jazz and popular music. Rather than specifically notating each instrument’s part, it includes only the chord changes, leaving room for players to improvise more freely.)

Since rehearsals have been tricky to schedule, I decided to produce a demo of each song, in addition to lead sheets. I am using an audio production software to create a virtual mock-up of what each live instrument will be playing. This is more work for me, but it gives me a way to work on developing each song itself, even before working with the band. These demos will also be helpful to the band, giving them a sense of each song’s structure and feel, so we can maximize the time we have, and focus on bringing each piece to life. Although a challenge has emerged, I have learned from past projects that flexibility is essential. When things aren’t falling into place, I know that I have to make adjustments and calibrate my plans in order to bring the vision to life.

The first month has been an adventure in other ways. I am working to juggle the varied schedules of my collaborators and band members, along with my other commitments at Dartmouth. I’m a member of several ensembles, and perform frequently across campus. I also take jazz piano and vocal lessons, and serve as a teaching assistant for two music courses.

To be honest, things began to feel slightly overwhelming. So I took a step back, to regain some perspective and inspiration. I thought back to dreaming up this project my freshman year. I travelled back in time, retracing the path that has brought me to this moment, this opportunity. Being able to pursue this project is such a blessing. It’s easy to begin taking it for granted, to get caught up in the details. So many things have aligned in order to make this a possibility. I’m so grateful for the experiences that led me here, and the plenitude of support I’ve received along the way.

Hearing the songs, even in their beginning stages, is so exciting. I look forward to hearing them continue to evolve. Even more so, I can’t wait to share them with you! Thank you for taking the time to read and follow this journey.

Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.

Guest Blogger Tyné Freeman - Blog #1: Trading Homework for Harmonies

Hello all! Tyné here. I’m so excited to be writing for Hope Sings, and grateful to Beth Blatt for extending the invitation.

Tyné (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Tyné (in red) with girls from the Global Village Project

Just to provide a bit of background: I am a singer/songwriter and Senior Fellow at Dartmouth College. As a Fellow, I am pursuing an independent project throughout my senior year. Since 1929, Dartmouth has provided this opportunity for students to pursue endeavors that extend beyond the traditional classroom setting.

For my project, I am engaging in cross-cultural musical collaborations, composing songs with artists across the African continent. I’ll record the songs professionally with a band in Boston. Then, each artist will record their vocal part remotely, from whatever country they are in. They will send the audio over, and I’ll work with an engineer in Boston to piece everything together.

Finally, it will be released as a full-length album in 2017. The album will feature a variety of artists, genres, and musical traditions. It will be accompanied by an ethnography (approximately 25,000 words), which will explore the process of intercultural collaboration through a more academic lens. All that in nine months!

Tyné (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

Tyné (far left) with the Jabulani African Chorus, which she directed at Dartmouth

The idea initially emerged during my freshman spring. I had developed some wonderful cross-cultural friendships on campus throughout the year, and wondered if I could somehow blend that with my love for music. In the spring of 2014, I enrolled in a course called Caribbean Lyric and Literature, and my creative wheels began to spin. In the course, we explored the societal impact of Reggae song lyrics, in Jamaica and beyond. I began to consider the role of music in different cultures, and the ways it can bring people together -- themes that would eventually birth this endeavor.

Over the next two years, I continued to fantasize about the possibilities of this idea as I completed other relevant classes, studied abroad, recorded an album, and toured Cuba as vocalist with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

A pivotal moment in the project’s development occurred when I visited Nairobi, Kenya last fall. I attended an outdoor performance featuring local artists, right in the center of the city. I recall watching as a young man with freeform dreadlocks and an acoustic guitar prepared to sing. He strummed a few bars then began: “I remember when we used to sit / in a government yard in Trenchtown.” My ears perked up as I recognized the lyrics to a Bob Marley song, “No Woman, No Cry.” My mind flashed back to a lyric study we did of this particular song in the course I mentioned earlier. I recalled sitting in class, many months ago, many miles away. As I sang along to the words of Marley, I felt an inherent familiarity and connection.

Next, a spoken word artist took the stage, and launched into an energized piece dealing with politics in Kenya and critiquing the current regime. His piece interwove English and Swahili, a technique the artist Peddo Brian would later explain to me as Sheng. Sheng is popular amongst millennials in Nairobi, and is typically incorporated in music, movies, and other popular media. I loved it.

After the show, I introduced myself briefly to Peddo. Two weeks later, out of the blue, he sent me a half-written song, with lyrics in Swahili and Luo. “Write the other half!” he urged me. And I did.

I was so inspired by Peddo’s initiative and talent, I decided to pursue more such cross-cultural collaborations and reach out to other artists, just as he had reached out to me. When I returned to campus as a junior, my experiences abroad formed the basis for a concrete project concept which would involve international artists representing 7 different countries: Ghana, Kenya, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.

Tyné singing with a band in Ghana.

Tyné singing with a band in Ghana.

I proposed the idea to the College, under the advisorship of Professor Ted Levin, an internationally-renowned ethnomusicologist at Dartmouth.

I was elated to receive a letter a couple months later, notifying me that I had been selected as one of five Senior Fellows.

Currently, the artists and I are in the beginning stages of the songwriting process. Over the past month, we have been collaborating by exchanging ideas virtually, which is both exciting and unpredictable. The process is rather fluid so far -- we send over audio files containing ideas in rough draft form, elaborate upon them, and then send back what we come up with. I am loving getting to know each artist on a personal level. Our conversation topics have ranged from politics to love, from cultural identity to Myers Briggs personality types. It has been a revealing experience already, allowing exposure to different perspectives and experiences - and I’m also learning a lot about myself.

For me, this project is bigger than just these songs. I want to examine the ways music can facilitate and sustain relationships, and see how these interactions extend beyond music. I want to discover if meeting through music making can prompt meaningful interactions that transcend cultural and linguistic differences. I am interested in seeing how my own worldview evolves, and am eager to discover what value I find in building a cross-cultural musical network.

I am three weeks into senior year, and currently preparing for the first full band rehearsal in Boston this upcoming weekend. There’s so much more to come over the next nine months, as the project continues to unfold, and as graduation nears. I am experiencing a flurry of emotions…

It’s a big project, and it’s a bit overwhelming at times, as I try to navigate the typical senior year anxieties -- securing a job or a spot in grad school, etc. In any case, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to dedicate my final year to this project. I’m just taking it one day at a time, learning something new each step of the way. I welcome you all to come along with me on this journey! It’s sure to be an unforgettable year.

Tyné Freeman has performed at the Kennedy Center, composed for the Grammy Foundation, and been featured in Seventeen Magazine. She has released several EPs, and most recently recorded a charity album in support of the Global Village Project, which runs a school in Georgia for teenage refugee girls; she composed a song for the girls to sing and featured their voices on the record.

Swypo-ems

My cell phone is Android-based, it's not an iPhone. My son is terminally irritated by this.

One of the things I love about the Android is you can SWYPE to type. That means you drag your finger, ouija-board like, from letter to letter to create a word. Kind of like cursive - you never have to lift your writing implement (i.e. your finger), so the writing is much faster.

Swyping comes with a major irritant. When the artificial intelligence kicks in, it auto-corrects your word in the wrong way. 

Example: today, I wrote "topsy-turvy." My phone wrote "tipsy-turvy." I liked the phone's version better. It spawned all manner of ideas about who would say that, or who would do that.

My instinct was to write a lyric (a/k/a) about this. Which I have done before. But today, I feel  the time has come to make it official this. 

I checked on-line and no one seems to own the idea of Swypoems, so I am planting my flag in the linguistic soil of the idea. I'm going collect them and spin them and see where they lead. And then and share them with you.

And I hope other Android owners (beleaguered and outnumbered as we are) will become Swypoets and share them with me and I'll share them with others and soon we'll all be giggling over our Swypoems.

First big question: 

Swypoems? Swypo-ems? Vote!

Second big question:

Since when is there the acronym SWYPO meaning "Sex with your pants on" (referring to food)???

Hope Sings Today with Lisa DeSpain

We had the pleasure of catching up with composer, jazz pianist, educator, all-around "inspirer" Lisa DeSpain last week.

Lisa’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Fellowship and an Aaron Copland Fellowship; her commissions range from the ASCAP Centennial Commission Honoring Duke Ellington to the US Air Force Band of Flight and the Airmen of Note. 

She is also writing the musical "Red Light" (nee “Storyville”) with Kristen Anderson-Lopez (FROZEN) and Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad).

Oh - and her “day job” is running the music department at LaGuardia Community College.

How did Lisa come to be doing all the things she does – and does so well?

Lisa is writing a musical, "Red Light" (formerly “Storyville”), with Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Frozen”) and Julia Jordan (“Murder Ballad”).

What gives Lisa Hope? She’s not the first one to give this answer…

What else gives her hope? This is a great tip for all of us…

This last one really surprised me – and is something I totally share…

Hope Sings at Hour Children Annual Luncheon

On Thursday, May 5, 2016, Hour Children – the charity that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women rebuild their families and their lives – held its annual luncheon in Bedford, NY. 

And Hope Sings was there to celebrate the organization – with founder Beth Blatt reprising the song she wrote for them, inspired by letters between Kellie Phelan and her daughter when she was in prison.

Phelan now works at Hour Children as Program Coordinator for their Hour Friend In Deed Mentoring Program. Read more about Phelan on CNN.

The song, “Hour Children,” was originally presented at the Hope SingsSongs for a Cause” event in Katonah NY in June 2015. The event featured singer-songwriters Jake Klar, S4C co-director Elizabeth Kemler and Blatt and raised awareness of/funds for Hour Children.

Sharing the duet with Beth as Kellie’s daughter was Tara Curran, a 13-year-old middle schooler who has quite a musical career, appearing around Westchester and Putnam Counties with her duo, Justin and Tara, and her band Gilbert. Michael Minard, who is a successful composer who creates songs and musicals with incarcerated women, accompanied them.

The luncheon was a huge success. 170 people attended the event, which raised about $45,000 for Hour Children’s programs in Westchester County. Hour Children has strong local support thanks to their work with women and their children at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Hour Children Luncheon Minard Kemler Teesa Kellie BB.jpg

“Your performance at our luncheon enabled guests to really FEEL the complicated relationship between an incarcerated mother and daughter,” Rob Zopf, Development Director for Hour Children, told Beth.  “Your song captures the fears, anxiety, love and hope felt by countless incarcerated parents and their children.  That the characters portrayed in the song have a happy ending in real life, reminds us that “Love Makes the Difference” is not merely a motto, but a key element in Hour Children’s strategy to reunite families impacted by incarceration.”

Honorees at the luncheon included the inspirational and assured Miyoshi Benton, recipient of the Hour Exemplary Mother award. She has gone from being incarcerated, to working for Hour Children, to working for the Women and Justice Project.

Allegra Love - Santa Fe Dreamers Project

I came across Allegra Love in the Dartmouth College alumni magazine. How can you not be curious about somebody named "Love"?

Talk to her for a few minutes and you hear she is all about love: for her clients, for the other righteous lawyers with whom she works/volunteers, for her family.

Allegra is the founder of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, offering legal assistance to immigrant youth (“Dreamers”) and their families. She began her career at the Santa Fe Public Schools in 2005 as a bilingual elementary school teacher and followed her passion for working with immigrants to law school.

After graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Law, she came to work for the Adelante program of Santa Fe Public Schools, where she founded the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. 

Then there is Allegra’s work with Central American refugees on our border in the southwest. I had read about the groundbreaking work by volunteer lawyers in Artesia NM – how they had flown down there on their own dime to provide women and their children legal counsel so that, for the first time, they could earn refugee status. As victims of violence.

These women and children weren’t here looking for a job. They were here to save their lives. She feels this government - and previous administrations - criminalizes these refugees.

And Allegra helps them. And countless others. She volunteers extensively, both in her community and elsewhere, for organizations like the Santa Fe Youth Commission, No More Deaths, and New Mexico Dreamers in Action (NM-DIA). She has a BA from Dartmouth College, a JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law, and is a licensed teacher in the state of New Mexico.

This kind of work – the enormity of the task, the hours, the low pay - could get you down. But Allegra still finds lots of reasons for hope.

First of all, there are her clients.

Then there are the amazing lawyers from the CARA project. Yes, even you will think they are amazing :)

And last but not least: family. Namely, her nephews. Love of children binds us all - and has the power to keep us safe.

Please consider helping these worthy organizations - it could end up helping not just other families, but your own.

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project

CARA

(speaking of family, here are her cutie nephews)

Q&A with Elizabeth Kemler - co-producer Songs for a Cause

I want you to get to know Elizabeth a bit - she is an incredible activist, artist and human being!

Elizabeth Kemler

1) Why are you a singer-songwriter?

It feels somehow necessary. I've explored many modes of creative expression over the years, including theater and comedy (writing & performing), and enjoyed them both immensely, but there is something about music that nourishes me more deeply, and in a more sustainable way. I must admit that songwriting for me is a fairly labor-intensive process, due in part I think, to my lack of formal musical training, but I enjoy the puzzle-like quality of trying to find just the right words and melody to capture whatever message and essence I'm striving for. 

2) What are your major musical/creative influences? 

I am going to be wholly unoriginal here and say that I am flat out in love--madly, crazily so--with Bruce. I also have much love for Neil Young, Tom Petty, Chrissie Hynde, Gillian Welch (and David Rawlings of course), and the wildly brilliant Chris Whitley. 

3) What social causes move you?

Far too many to count, but at the forefront of them would be anything involving child welfare. Seeing children suffer from hunger, neglect, or any kind of abuse just kills me. 

Elizabeth and her guitar (and hat!)

4) Tell me about a few of your favorite songs you've written.

A lot of my songs explore what you might call the 'darker' aspects of the human experience and in truth, it feels good to have a safe and constructive place to do that; that said, my two  favorite songs (You Are Mine & A New Dream) are about the sweetest thing in my life, my 4 year old son Benjamin. The former is not a complex song; sparse, direct lyrics and simple chords, but somehow it just hits the spot when I sing it; the latter is a tad more musically interesting and is lyrically a bit more obscure but still has that same satisfying quality. 

5) If you weren't a singer-songwriter, what would you be? 

Well, during the daylight hours, I am fortunate to have work I greatly enjoy, creating social-emotional and job readiness curricula--primarily for underserved young adults. You can check out one of my programs at: thinkbuildlivesuccess.com

Songs for a Cause - Benefit Show in Katonah NY for Hour Children June 28th

Hope Sings is co-producing its first music event in Westchester County NY on Sunday, June 28th at 5pm at the Katonah Library. 

"Songs for a Cause" benefits Hour Children, which helps incarcerated women rebuild their lives and families. They work locally with the Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities. 

We are co-producing with the wonderful singer-songwriter and musical activist Elizabeth Kemler.

Hope Sings founder Beth Blatt, Ms. Kemler, and indie roots-rocker Jake Klar will be featured.

$15 includes wine/cheese reception - and the chance to do good for a wonderful organization. 

Please join us and support established and emerging local talent and women creating better lives!

Daily Ditty - from my show Smotherhood: Bad Mother

Shall I start sharing from my show, Smotherhood?

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

BET YOU WISH YOU HAD ANOTHER

NOT THIS BAD MOTHER

 

A GOOD MOTHER

IS CONSISTENT.

SHE SETS LIMITS

AND REMEMBERS THEM

THE NEXT DAY.

 

A GOOD MOTHER

IS INSISTENT

EVEN WHEN HER CHILD’S

RESISTANT.

ALWAYS KNOWS THE RIGHT THING

TO SAY.

 

SHE IS NEVER TOO NICE, THEN TOO MEAN

SHE’S ALWAYS PERFECTLY, PLEASANTLY IN-BETWEEN

AND SHE’S NOT ME

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

I AM SUCH A SAD MOTHER

CAUSE I’M SUCH A BAD MOTHER

 

A GOOD MOTHER

KNOWS WHEN HER CHILD IS LYING

KNOWS WHEN HER KID

IS TRYING

CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAZY

AND DUMB

 

SHE WOULD NEVER LET HER CHILD TALK SASS

OR ADMIT THAT SHE SMOKED GRASS -

JUST ONCE.

Ok maybe twice.

 

SHE LISTENS QUIETLY.

DOESN’T PREACH, “WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE,“

DOESN’T SCREECH OR FLY INTO A RAGE

YEAH SHE’S NOT ME

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

“PLEASE DON’T BE MAD, MOTHER”

Sorry – I’M A BAD MOTHER

 

LIKE A BAD DOG –

BAD DOG!

STOP CHEWING UP YOUR LITTLE TOY

STOP SCREWING UP YOUR LITTLE BOY

IF I COULD I WOULD, BUT I CAN’T

(a hiccup of a heartbreak…then it kicks back in)

SO HERE’S MY RANT

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER –

(MOM pulls the band back to a vamp as SHE speaks.)

 

What’s a bad mother to do,

When she’s a bad mother, through and through?

She could bemoan it

Or she could own it

Which is what this bad mother is gonna do –

(Band kicks in again.)

 

BAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

NOT A GLAD MOTHER

BAD MOTHER

Daily Ditty #58 - Blizzard, Schmizzard

A Mickey Mouse snowstorm. Thanks to Erika Amato for the title inspiration.

Blizzard, Schmizzard

So said Eddie Izzard

Blizzard, Schmizzard

So said NYC

Missed my night out

Cause they feared a white out

Gosh oh gee oh –

What emergency?

 

Mr. De B. – he is now my subway clown

Bet that he’s sad he shut the subway down.

 

Blizzard, Schmizzard

Fire that Weather Wizard

Blizzard, Schmizzard

How embarrassing

Daily Ditty #49 - Full House (Sleepover) - or Floodlight of Love

A Sunday morning reflection.

FULL HOUSE (SLEEPOVER)

To have a homeful of teenage boys

Giggling and guffawing

Is one of those motherly joys

I have never known.


What do they talk about?

Nothing my son will tell me.

I am content tonight to walk about

Inconspicuously, bringing more food.


In the morning, I find they have left the lights on

And dirty Kleenex everywhere.

And I’m pretty sure my son didn’t brush his teeth.

But it’s a full house and I don’t care.


They say you should shine a light

On the aspects you want to see more of.

A boy who trusts we won’t embarrass him,

Trusts we won’t pry and poke,

Won’t try to understand every joke.

A boy who likes to come home

And bring his friends home, too.

On this I shine

A floodlight of love.