Thursday, April 20, 2017

Warsaw Brings Music to the Schools

Courtesy of MeMA

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, music was a fixture of the American household – the lyrical vein of social gatherings, promoting stimulating conversations; and if drowned out by human engagement, its voice would suddenly rise in silence, by which its depth of composition would be heard.

These were the times when music appreciation started in the home with meaningful lyrics, conveying messages of self-respect, civil liberties, love, peace, and compassion for mankind.

As the concept of musically inclined homes from “the parents’” generation has decreased, today’s youth are being deprived of a comprehensive musical experience with historical weight.

This cultural deficit makes another argument for music in the schools and has inspired me to invite Jeanne Warsaw-Gazga, Founder of the non-profit mission MeMA (Motivate and Encourage Music Appreciation), as lead guest for my 2017 Female Interview Series on Interiors. 

Interiors of Man:  Let’s start by discussing the music curriculum you have brought to the Chicago Public Schools through MeMA, and the music deprivation you’ve witnessed with students being unaware of the music you’re exposing them to.  

Jeanne Warsaw-Gazga: The MeMA-Music curriculum exposes students to many of the legendary folk, rock, R&B and gospel/spiritual songs during the 60s-70s, that were instrumental in making a social revolution and changing public opinion against the Vietnam War.  Our curriculum also features a brief history of Hip-Hop from its inception in the late 70s to today, and current pop music with socio-political messages.  Many students are completely unaware of this music, and in particular, African American students are unaware of the (importance of) staple songs from their own culture during the Civil Rights Movement and during the 70s.  In addition, students from all cultures and backgrounds know very little about the difference between Hip-Hop as a “culture” and rapping having its own category.  I think the uniqueness of our program is how we integrate current event issues and satirical/infotainment video clips into the curriculum that students really enjoy, and they love diving deeper into discussions with their peers.

IOM:  And not to mention the importance of students listening to songs beyond their traditions – whites listening to Marvin Gaye’s concept album and blacks listening to John Lennon.  

JWG:  The MeMA program also features socially conscious music from other ethnic groups such as Latin, Ethiopian, Muslim and really any other age-appropriate music I find from around the world.  This makes the program more inclusive with schools that have a broader demographic, and at the same time, students become aware of issues in other countries and they can compare and contrast to the current issues we face in the U.S. 

IOM:  As a veteran music promoter, with over 20 years in the music business, what lasting impressions, moving moments or experiences have conscience-minded recording artists left on you?  

JWG:  As a young girl, I was very much into music, and so ending up in the music business gave me the opportunity to meet many interesting artists who were writing great lyrics.  Having discussions with these artists about their music and lyrics always inspired me.  At concerts, I would look around at the people attending the show and get the chills over how the music affected them and brought people together from all different cultures.  A great example is Janet Jackson’s concerts.  I’ve never seen so many different types of people gathered in one big space, getting along and enjoying themselves.  

IOM:  There’s a famous poet who once intimated that great music is just as important as great literature, pointing out the enrichment it can provide in childrearing … reading to the child at bedtime and filling the home with quality-inspired music.

JWG:   I solely agree.  I think with music, the song lyrics as literature is more impactful and better remembered when backed with a song; especially with tone and instruments taking on emotional sounds. 

IOM:  Do you think we have abandoned music that demands an emotional investment?  For instance, Kevin Ross’s “Long Song Away” is refreshing and fearfully nostalgic as we have become homesick for music that puts us in touch with our hearts.

JWG:  Well ... I think us older folks feel this way, however, I’m not too sure about the younger generation.  Although, I do think young girls pick up on the emotion in songs more than young boys do.  Nothing better than an awesome, nostalgic R&B tune with great lyrics, unless you’re a 15-yr-old white or black kid into Too$hort or Migos.  I think there are songs out there that demand an emotional investment, however, you have to look for them or hear about them from a friend.

IOM:  Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and the program?  

JWG:  I never realized how much emotionally the MeMA program would affect me.  I see so many kids open up who have never raised their hand or spoken in the classroom, and suddenly they’re involved in discussions and, will come up to me after class and recommend a song or talk about a social issue.  Teens, I think, want to talk about things that are going on in their lives and with our program; they feel safe about having discussions which can sometimes be difficult at home, or non-existent.  I’ve had parents personally thank me for “helping bring out their child’s feelings” in creating their culminating social justice projects.  Some kids stay in touch with me too.  I want to follow each and every student throughout their lives, but I know that’s not possible. I do know that I’ve introduced most of these kids to music they’ve never heard before and some kids research the artist or google more music from the era on their own. 

For more on MeMA and Jeanne Warsaw-Gazga, visit the following: