A Bronx-based group of inspirational young people from around New York City spent their summer vacation bringing music, dance, and poetry to kids and adults in the five boroughs through a new performance program that aims to change the world “one song at a time.”
The 18 youths, who range in age from 8 to 22, put on close to 60 performances at camps, senior centers and the like as part of Music With a Message’s goal of providing positive environments for both participants and their audience.
Being a part of the troupe has made her feel as if she can make a difference, said 18-year-old Ariel Miles, who lives in East New York and attends New York University. To explain exactly what participating has meant to her, she quoted Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“I love performing and I love spreading the message,” Miles added, noting that she thrives in the close-knit atmosphere. “We have come to form a family and we are all committed. I think there should be more programs like this for youth.”
Some kids travel from outside the city to be part of the action.
Ronald Harris, 17, comes from Orangeburg in Rockland County. But, the trip is worth it, he said.
“I didn’t know what path to take. Music With a Message made me a better person and made me a man at the same time,” Harris added.
For some, though, Music With a Message’s headquarters is right around the corner.
Eight-year-old Lauren Bryant, who lives in Parkchester in the Bronx and goes to PS 106 and is the youngest member of the troupe.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “I like seeing people smile. I like seeing people having fun.”
But, being part of Music With a Message is more than that.
The songs, said her mom, Elaine, “Send a message. Look at things differently. Think outside the box, not with the crowd. If you teach just one person, you’re really doing your job.”
The kids benefit as much as anyone else, Bryant added.
“I have seen the kids really grow, musically, mentally, socially.”
That’s exactly what Bervine Harris — who the professional musician who developed the group, auditioned all participants, and trains them scrupulously — intended. The youngsters, he said, “Learned music not just as an industry but as a ministry,” during far-ranging outings that took them to Madison Square Garden, the U.S. Open and other venues, performing in front of both small groups and huge crowds.
“They had an opportunity to change how people feel,” Harris stressed. “Through entertainment, they were able to socially develop the community and social develop themselves.”
All the songs the group performs are original, with subjects ranging from local pride to asthma to the low-slung pants worn by many urban young men. Their common goal is empowering people not only to do the right thing, but be comfortable in their own skins and their own communities.
“Music opens up all these doors,” Harris added. “When we perform ‘Pull Your Pants Up,’ everyone in the audience is pulling their pants up.”
One particularly poignant song, “I Remember You,” takes on the grim subject of death, and was written, said Harris, because so many youngsters expressed a need for it, having known another young person who died violently at an early age.
“Kids are murdered at 12, 14, 16 years old, and no one was processing the deaths of these young people,” Harris said. Whenever Music With a Message performs this song, he went on, “We tell people to think about someone they lost, and remember a touch, remember a hug, remember loving. People laugh and cry.”
Music With A Message is an offshoot of Renaissance E.M.S., a Bronx-based non-profit organization that Harris founded with Darren Quinlan, to fill the gap in musical education for public school students whose schools don’t have music programs, and which also provides athletic programs for urban youngsters.
Further information on Music With a Message, and a calendar of the group’s September performances, can be found at www.musicwam.org, or call (718) 450-3466. For more information on Renaissance E.M.S. can be found at www.renaissance-ems.org.