13 Aug Speaking in Rhythms | Youth Arts Organization, Performance Group
Speaking in Rhythms is a Harlem based arts organization for youth. For over 13 years, they’ve been striving to give students the knowledge and discipline they need to fully realize their creativity, and to enhance their sense of their cultural identity in the context of a wider world. Hear what staff and students have to say about their organization and it’s impact on the community.
What is Speaking in Rhythms? How did it come to exist?
I teach music in East Harlem at an elementary school. I was familiar with using percussion instruments to teach children music, so I brought in a bunch [of percussion instruments] and the kids really really loved them!
Students would ask “can we come up during recess to play with the instruments?” We started having recess jam sessions. From those jam sessions we formed a performance group. Our first opportunity to perform was in 2001 on the Intrepid.
How did you plan to impact the community?
Well, again, I’m a music teacher. As a teacher you’re already servicing the community because you’re an educator. As a music teacher I’m expected to get children to learn about and love music.
When I created this organization I was simply trying to create opportunities. There’s been some evolution. When we began I wasn’t thinking about the general community, I was thinking about my students and creating greater opportunities for them – like traveling, performing, and creating music.
The school system, the Department of Education, could not support that financially. We decided to become a non-profit. That’s how we began serving the greater community.
Initially we weren’t thinking about traveling, now we’ve traveled to three countries and have plans to visit more. So our vision of Speaking in Rhythms is expanding, and now we want to include more children!
My obligation is to get the young folks to understand that their existence is worth more than what society is saying. I want them to tap into that and become great musicians, great composers – music is a tool.
What’s it mean to be “socially responsible”?
Social Responsibility means that we are obligated. We are obligated to make life better for ourselves and other people.
We exist because we have people who came before us who chose to fight, people who chose life.
Man created the “isms”: racism, sexism, etc. If we’re talking about uniting the human race, we have to work to get rid of those “isms”.
What could the community do to better help Speaking in Rhythms?
We get all different kinds of support. We get in-kind donations so when we have events at spaces we don’t get charged. The problem is when we have a show, and the community doesn’t come out… we don’t make money.
We need people to come out and support us financially by attending our events, or just by donating (it’s tax deductible).
We take that money and hire young adults and local musicians to work with our students. Institution building is extremely important, and also the belief that our young people are great and good. The community could to better to invest in themselves in general. I think that Speaking in Rhythms is a valuable resource in the community.
Describe Harlem in 3 words…
“Hope, Progression, Unity”
What’s the best thing that’s ever happened in Speaking in Rhythms?
Traveling to other countries and engaging in the cultural exchange programs while creating music has been amazing. Working with students to study the styles of music, each time, has been great.
What’s been this organization’s impact on the community?
I think that my mother has already built something very special with Speaking in Rhythms and I’m looking to maintain what’s already in place. She has a huge impact on her students, the community, the people who see the percussion ensemble perform. I think she’s made an important impact in the community.
I think we impact people on an individual level. For many of our students, Speaking in Rhythms is their first introduction to instruments, and they stay with us throughout high school and sometimes college.
Some of our students go to my mom years later for advice and counseling and a whole bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with music.
Define “social responsibility”
Being socially responsible means knowing what’s right and wrong and living by that. So if you have an organization it means that making sure that it helps people.
How can the community better help this organization?
Similarly to what I experience as a visual artist; when you have events you want people to show up. I think that if this organization is sustaining the community, the community should help sustain it through our fundraising efforts. We’re a non-profit organization. The money is going directly back into the community. It would make sense because you’re supporting and sustaining yourself.
Describe your community in 3 words…
East Harlem has a pulse to it.
“Alive, Community, Musical”
What’s the best thing to happen at Speaking in Rhythms?
I’d say the cultural exchange program….
I’ve been with Speaking in Rhythms since the fourth grade, about 10 years. Thanks to this group I’ve become a far better musician. I went to the school that DeVeor taught and we had music classes throughout the day, you were always exposed to percussion instruments. It felt amazing playing the drums and learning these different rhythms I’d never heard.
When I got a chance to be a part of the group there were all these rehearsals after school, it took me off the streets. I was able to go to a good high school, and I got into a good college thanks to this organization in part.
Harlem in 3 words…
“Authentic, Cultural, Loud”
What’s the best thing to happen to you at Speaking in Rhythms?
I went to Belize and Peru. That’s not something that most young people where I’m from can say. I don’t think our shows are as packed as they should be. I think we’re a great group and have a lot to give to this community, so please come out and support.
This is my sixth year. It’s been life changing. I didn’t have the opportunity inside or outside of school to be involved in the arts. Every year it’s gotten better. We got more teachers, learned different music from different countries, we got to go to different countries, and the opportunities just continue to pour in with this group.
We offer people of all ages and different walks of life an opportunity to be a part of something artistic and musical. That’s what gives people that well-rounded education they need in life.
How can the community better support Speaking in Rhythms?
We need people to spread the word and show up. We play off the energy in the crowd; we give more when we’re receiving more from the crowd…
Describe Harlem in 3 words…
“Diverse, Rising, Alive”
I’ve been with Speaking in Rhythms for I think since I was in kindergarten. I’ve become a better musician. When I started it was just an activity, now basically… music is my life.
Harlem in 3 words….
“Diverse, Culture, Historical”
Best experience with Speaking in Rhythms….
Making new friends and actually performing for people. We perform in a lot of places and it’s nice to see when people like our music!