I was Musician-in-Residence at Homan Square Park in Chicago, as part of my MusicanCorps Fellowship (www.musicnationalservice.com/musiciancorps). The program placed musicians in community sites as part of a domestic musical Peace Corps, to serve the community through music. Our goal: find a relevant community issue, and collaboratively design a music project in service to it. I felt it was important that the issues be defined by the community itself- not by me. But it takes time to build the trust necessary to have honest discussions about issues that matter to people. I began by offering basic rhythm workshops to get to know folks and let them get to know me. Eventually personalities emerged and I was included more. The maintenance staff were some of the key culturekeepers, as well as very musical, and helped me integrate immensely. There were park kids who scurried around, park staff who wrangled them, teens, older gentlemen playing chess, and other passersby of all ages who came to use the facilities (pool, workout room, basketball court, playground). Many recognized each other but did not interact much. As I came to realize through conversations, many held unfair impressions of each other ( "Young people are thoughtless thugs." "Old people can't play music.") With further discussion, we decided to focus on intergenerational dynamics as a service goal through music.

My musical skillbuilding focus became polyrhythm; holding together several simultaneous, contrasting rhythms. Polyrhythm is a graceful metaphor for human social dynamics, and a great exercise in active listening.

We soon generated an umbrella project: to create a sonic archive of the community. Anyone found around the park was invited to contribute a recording. It could be a song, a statement, rap, giggle, poem, lullaby or sound effect, made with their voice or any instrument. Over 60 community members made recordings to add their voices to the archive. I made sure many of them also learned to use the recording equipment in the process, if they were interested.

The privacy of the recording sessions was crucial- it created a nonjudgmental space. The only guidance I gave was technical, bringing attention to levels, but leaving the artist to control the aesthetic. If they felt good about their recording, it was included on the disc.

Then the idea was proposed that we remove the names, listen back and try to guess whose voice we were hearing. Now some very interesting things started happening! People were surprised by voices they didn't recognize, which ended up being people that they know. Formerly unknown people were introduced to each other by their stories and songs, by listening around the park to find a match to the voice they heard on the CD.The hidden talents of some of the quieter members of the park community came out. The resulting compilation is full of surprises. Many of the recordings were later developed into larger compositions that we performed. Even better, we have had several intergenerational jams beginning to happen!

Secret Voices from Jamie Topper on Vimeo.

AKIWOWO

AMAZING GRACE

BALD HEAD

MONSTER

BRAND NEW

CLOSE TO YOU

GETTIN INTO IT

HEY BLACK CHILD

HOMAN HISTORY

HOW TO BE GOOD

I SEE YOU

I'LL FLY AWAY

I'LL TAKE YOU BACK

INTERVIEW

KING KONG LEPRECHAUN

NEVER

NO MORE

ONE TIME

STEP BACK BABY

STILL I RISE

STORY OF MY LIFE

SOMEONE

WATCH OUT

WHATCHA GONNA SAY

WHEN I WAKE UP

Secret Voices CD cover