Oct 14, 2014

Composing music with and for a community

by: Charis Duke

Today we have a guest post from Charis Duke, a composer working with Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum on the If You Could Hear These Walls project. Hear Duke’s finished piece performed at Keir Johnston’s Henry Ossawa Tanner: Letters of Influence mural on October 18th along with new compositions by RJ Johnson, Maximillian Maksutovic and Monnette Sudler. RJ Rushmore

Twice a week for the past few weeks, I have been going to the George Meade School in central Philadelphia. I am working with two third grade classes, a total of about 35 children. Together, we are exploring how to communicate and express ourselves through music and art. The children took a field trip to the mural Henry Ossawa Tanner: Letters of Influence and wrote answers to the questions “What three words would you use to describe this mural? What do you like or dislike about the mural? How do you feel when you look at the mural?” I will use their answers to these questions to help them compose a class piece based upon the mural. They are creating instruments from recycled materials for the performance of their piece.

This has been a wonderful opportunity for both the children and me as we get to know and work with each other. The children have fertile, untapped creativity that they are bursting at the seams to share. At our first session together, I played excerpts from many different styles of music and asked for their interpretations. Their answers were astounding and entertaining. When I played “Cloudburst” from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite I got responses ranging from “sounds like Noah’s flood” to “that’s a zombie biting someone’s leg off!”

I want these children to know that art is not just something that hangs on a museum wall with a “do not touch” sign. Art can and should be a part of our everyday lives, one of our tools for self-expression, and one of our tools for erasing barriers that separate cultures and people. In our time together, I hope the children will learn that what they have to say is important, that the feelings they express have value, and that music and art are a powerful way to communicate.

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Letters of Influence © 2012 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Philadelphia / Keir Johnston. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Portrait of Charis Duke courtesy of ACF Philadelphia

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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