2001-06-02 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance by Susan Hartenstein

Can you set this to a rap? "Talent alone does not guarantee earning a living in the real world. It must be accompanied by a basic business, financial and legal knowledge." OK, so maybe you would have to change the words a bit to fit the cadence. But this was the underlying theme of a visionary program in Rockaway’s middle schools that employed contemporary music forms, like rap, to teach students positive values and practical knowledge. The program, "Rhythm and Beat – Music and the Industry," was established by the Rockaway Artists Alliance. It was an expansion of "Rhythm and Beat," RAA’s program in the middle schools that explored the influence of traditional African music on contemporary rap and hip-hop. The brainchild of RAA arts education director Chris Jorge and RAA teaching consultant Khadyjah Harper designed the popular course, which engaged its students with traditional instruments and the driving dances and rhythms employed by Harper. Khadyjah is a charismatic master drummer, dancer, singer and rapper. Jorge then brought in Wayne Nugent to develop the tie-in to the practical aspects of the music industry.

In Middle School 53, each of 8 classes was broken up into groups in which one student was the business manager, another was the accountant, another the lawyer and the remainder, the artists. Budgets had to be written, schedules had to be coordinated and legal issues had to be addressed. After Nugent left, NaRon Tillman, singer, voice teacher and church choir leader, was brought in. Together, Harper and Tillman emphasized (indeed, would accept nothing less than) the creation of positive lyrics by the students. Recognizing that the message of a song can influence the behavior of the young people who listen to it, the students were encouraged to develop lyrics about self-respect and values. Harper and Tillman taught song form, stage presence and projection.

The culmination of this program came on May 16 at an assembly at Middle School 53, in which the students performed their own songs for their peers. These were some really talented kids who performed to a wildly enthusiastic response. They were all terrific. Interestingly, these lyrics about self-respect and solving problems without resorting to violence were greeted with loud approval from the audience – especially the lyrics from a certain young gentleman who seemed to have the particular respect of his fellow students. Was it the message or the messenger that met with such approval? Perhaps the point is that when a message is delivered by a popular kid, those around him or her will listen. And when a young person feels good about him or herself as a result of getting approval from an audience, that person is more likely to actually feel self-respect and is less likely to do self-destructive things.

Charismatic and accomplished, Harper and Tillman had the respect of the assembly members. Khadyjah’s brilliant drumming and rapping and NaRon’s inspired singing totally captivated the crowd. In fact, the majority of students, who listened attentively, demanded quiet from those who remained less than attentive. Sometimes the first step is just getting a kid to listen and to see that there are alternatives out there. Khadyjah Harper and NaRon Tillman are the kind of role models all our kids should have. Not only are they talented. They are committed to changing lives for the better. More about them in another column.

Complex problems beg thoughtful solutions. Did the assembly on May 16 at M.S. 53 change the world? No. Did it change the lives of some young people in it? Most likely. I’d say that’s a pretty good thing.

Classic Movies – FREE – Under the Stars. Saturday, June 8 and Sunday, June 9 at 8:30 p.m. "Movies by Moonlight" in Fort Tilden, GNRA on the Great Lawn. The Best Priced Family Movie Treat of the Summer. Come rain or shine. Friday, the genius of Chaplin in "The Gold Rush." Saturday, the winning tunes of Broadway’s "Bye Bye Birdie." So grab your beach chairs, your favorite munchies, kids and neighbors and come to "M x M" -- the event that last year attracted more than a thousand of you. Sponsored by the Rockaway Artists Alliance, Blockbuster Video and Gateway National Recreation Area. Want more info? Email: WowThemInc@aol.com.

The Rockaway Theatre Company -- June 2 through June 30 – Neil Simon’s "Come Blow Your Horn" – Post Theater, Fort Tilden. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. June 10 matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets -- $10 adults, $5 seniors and kids. Growing theater company providing fine theater to our community. Check it out.

RAA Building Fund Benefit – June 23 – stay tuned.


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