Pittonkatonk’s Young Musicians Collaborative (YMC) connects local teen musicians with national and local musicians and educators. Our goal is to empower kids to use their love of music to engage the world around them and to use music to achieve positive social and political outcomes.
The YMC encourages the musicians, audience, and community members to engage on a social level blurring the lines between performer and spectator. The YMC is currently working with University Prep 6-12 (UPrep) in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood.
Pittonkatonk is a grassroots initiative to connect people through music and to use music to promote fair and just relations between people and society. There are different parts of Pittonkatonk. Our two big efforts are the Young Musicians Collaborative (YMC) and the May Day Brass BBQ. We support other select events throughout the year. The programs focus on community music making and gets people to perform and experience music in public spaces with an emphasis on collaboration and teamwork.
Pittonkatonk is music without boundaries. It is a place where the audience and musicians become one. Pittonkatonk is music in a public space that belongs to everyone, with no stage, no doors, and no right way to express yourself. There is no admission fee, no corporate sponsors, and nothing is for sale. It is a pot-luck event where participants bring food, drink, music, dancing, and the desire to come together to celebrate what music and community really can be. We connect local teens and adults with national and local musicians, activists, and educators in order to empower them to use their love of performing music to engage the world around them. Our mission is to promote music performance as a means of achieving positive personal, social, and political outcomes. To achieve this we have designed a series of workshops that engender purposeful music performance on a communal level, blurring the lines between performer and spectator, entertainment and activism. We work with adults and teens from Pittsburgh to create public performance opportunities designed to give a voice vulnerable people in our city.
Music has always been with us. We have an innate desire to be musical and music, in many ways, defines who we are and how we relate to each other. The importance of music in our lives has not changed over the millennia, but the way we engage it has. The audience has become distanced from performers. Power structures (conservatories, media conglomerates, cultural institutions) tell us who is authorized to be musical and who is not. This separation is enforced by capitalist modes of production that present music as a commodity, transforming a powerful social ritual into a commercial transaction that reduces us to either “producer” or “consumer.” Christopher Small coins the term “musicking” as a verb that describes a diverse collection of activities that comprise musical engagement — being musical involves not just performing and creating, but also listening and sharing. Pittonkatonk puts this idea into practice by establishing a space of engagement where music can unite and empower all participants as equal partners in the musicking ritual. Pittonkatonk is an active space of political resistance that purposefully embraces music’s social affordances and eschews discrimination and exclusivity.
- Phase 1 Introduce the principles of alternative music making with demonstrations of organization, purpose, and performance.
- Phase 2 Challenge and empower participants to reflect on their everyday lives and identify aspects they want to reinforce or change. We will demonstrate the connection between music performance and real everyday issues, investigate what matters to them, and how to express that when performing.
- Phase 3 Organize participants into performance groups and asks each group to discuss and decide on a few ideas they wish to express through their performance. Participants will learn about different forms of brass music and their evolution as political tools.
- Phase 4 Teach participants that what, when, how, and where one plays music has real meaning; they will be challenged to put their ideas into practice and create networks of engagement within their own community or neighborhood.
2017 will be the fourth year for Pittonkatonk and the third year for our workshop series. Every year we have expanded our programing and level of engagement. Last year, we devised a survey to determine the efficacy of our workshop series. We found that our participants experienced enhanced personal growth, team building skills, and community engagement. One example of a positive project outcome from last year was the collective writing and performance of the song “Black Culture” by the UPrep 6-12 band. The song was about how African-American teens (especially males) are unfairly characterized and discriminated against in the US and in Pittsburgh. Using the Wendy Bell controversy as a starting point, two student MCs wrote lyrics about their personal experiences as well as general experiences of what it’s like to be black in America. The song premiered at the 2016 Pittonkatonk May Day celebration for a largely white audience. The song was not the result of an assignment that we gave the students. Rather, it was an expression of empowerment resulting from participating in the workshops. We hope to extend these positive results by making our workshops public and partnering with local organizations to improve outreach.
Project Coordinators – Pete Spynda & Richard Randall
May Day Marching Band (Pittsburgh)
Raya Brass Band (NYC)
What Cheer? Brigade (Providence)
UPrep 6-12 (Pittsburgh)
Abby Gross (Pittsburgh)