by Gavin McCarthy, Manager, The Real School of Music, Burlington, MA
For the past 5 years, I've had the pleasure of leading The Real School of Music's summer program, Real Jams Academy. The program gathers groups of young musicians aged 10-17 and asks them to do something they may have never done before: write, record and perform an original piece of music--often with other kids they've just met--in the space of just one week. On the face of it, it seems like a lot to ask. How will musicians of this age, some with very little experience, be able to meet a challenge that many experienced adult musicians might find challenging? The answer is: surprisingly well. I believe that it's in part due to the fact that they're placed with other kids of a similar age and musical experience, but more importantly it seems, it's their enthusiasm and desire to create something they can call their own.
On the first day of the week long program, they're introduced to their new 'band'. Consisting of kids their age and made-up of the necessary parts for a group--guitarists, vocalists, keyboardists, drums etc-- they begin working under the watch of a Real School instructor almost right away. Instructors guide them on developing basic chord progressions, melodic ideas, rhythms and lyrical ideas. Working together to create an original song takes more than just basic instrumental skill; it takes the ability to work collaboratively with others. The instructors take special care to make sure the kids are all working together in a constructive way so that they meet their goal of having at least one song written by the end of the week. I'm consistently surprised with howinfrequently issues of cooperation and interpersonal dynamics come up. Most of the time, the kids cooperate better than groups of adult musicians!
Year in and year out, each week of Real Jams Academy has produced original songs (and videos!) beyond what I think possible at the beginning of each week. Each Monday I've met the fresh group of young musicians wondering if we're asking too much of them. They always prove that we're not. Further, the songs they write aren't just adequate, sometimes they're exceptional and downright catchy. I believe that their youth and inexperience in some ways actually helps their creative process in that they don't feel it necessary to 'self-edit' at every decision point. They are ready and able to tap into their creative 'flow'.
The week is capped off by a chance to play their songs live in front of their family and peers. Its gratifying to watch the kids get up on stage and have a blast as well as see the amazement on the faces of their parents. "How did they manage to do this all in one week?" is a common question they'll ask. In part, they were successful because they worked really hard throughout the week. However, there's something about music making that inspires people in less tangible ways; something that speaks to their emotions and gets the creative juices flowing. Watching the kids experience this is really something to see!