Rainbow Band: Play Who You Are

–Reflection by Ellen Ringler–

In late summer 2015, I had the pleasure of joining IICSI’s “Say Who You Are, Play Who You Are” improvisational music workshops run in collaboration with Rainbow Day Camp and KidsAbility. The workshops were facilitated by music therapist and community musician Laura Stinson. As a Research Assistant, I was introduced to the program in its final rehearsal phase and was given the privilege of joining the young improvisers on stage at the 2015 Guelph Jazz Festival. Connecting with this vibrant and energetic group of teenagers as we prepared and performed call and response, rhythmic and technology-driven music before Guelph’s community was enriching and inspiring. Joining the Rainbow Band for the last steps in the workshops, and for the performance, allowed me to feel and understand through difference, and I think it brought both audience and participants to a place of equilibrium through artistic expression.

The teenaged contributors in this workshop experience developmental difference and communicate through these differences at varying paces. As I watched the teens express their individuality, from boisterous and comedic to cautious and curious, I also saw them as a group of friends willing to learn and grow with each other. While each personality shone through their music, so did the overwhelming sense of collective strength through improvisation and collaboration. It seems this shared creativity fostered a kind of equivalency of communication, where the music the teens and contributors made acted as a mediator between the facilitator and the volunteers and myself. Each teen was asked to perform call and response on rhythm instruments followed by a collective improvisational rhythm entitled “This Is My Music and This Is Who I Am,” and this was when this equivalency was truly striking. In those moments of call and response, communication through music brought about a sense of liveness, pivotal in the creation of improvised music.

The teens were asked to meet a half hour before their concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival. As we prepared for the performance their energies hummed with everything from excitement to the naturalness of nerves, though most seemed as though they were seasoned performers. With the musicians ready to express exactly who they are, a growing audience assembled for this Guelph Jazz Festival favourite. I could see it was very difficult for one of the more cautious participants to follow through with the live performance, but with the encouragement of the facilitator and volunteers this teen not only performed but seemed to thrive. The crowd may have frightened this shy performer, though she worked through her anxiety and the sense of confidence was powerful during the performance, and a sense of accomplishment and contribution was widely felt among the group of performers and facilitators.

Though I cannot speak for the audience, it seemed as though many of these spectators had supported the KidsAbility performances in the past, and many were familiar with the fully integrated program. I wonder about the audience members who may have been unfamiliar with the program or with improvised music. People seemed genuinely engaged with the performers, however there was some physical distancing that I read as a barrier. When encouraged, children were more willing to be involved in the performance while caregivers and other audience members stood quietly observing the performance, perhaps a little reticent in the mediation of the performers, the child audience members and their own posture within this community. It is possible that this distancing transpires because adults may not want to interfere with the opportunity young people have to explore with each other, it is also possible this distancing is a hesitation on the part of adults who are not quite sure what to make of improvised music. Irrespective of the distancing during the performance parents, caregivers and audience members were naturally given the opportunity to communicate with each other before and after. This is as valuable as the performance itself, as it opens the floor for the discussion of live music, improvisation and difference and allows for a flow of communication that may not have materialised without it. There is growth through conversation and performance.

After the performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival a party was held for performers, parents, facilitators and volunteers at Heritage Hall. It was a supportive opportunity for the participants to spend time together as well as receive praise and recognition for their work and contributions. It was also an excellent and poignant opportunity for the parents of the performers to talk and share their experiences with KidsAbility as well as their own perspectives and experiences with their children. It was a truly moving and an absolutely crucial moment at the final stages of this collaboration. To listen to caregivers engage with each other after their children had given so much united the experiences and continued to articulate the powerful work done by all of the participants in “Say Who You Are, Play Who You Are.”