CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 1. . . .September 2, 2011
Listen to This.
Juan Baquero (Writer, Director & Editor). Howard Fraiberg (Producer).
Toronto, ON: Proximity Films (www.proximityfilms.ca), 2010.
60 min., DVD, Prices:
Personal Home Use - $25.00 + HST (shipping incl.).
Library Use - $100 + HST (shipping incl.). Lending to individuals for personal, home use, but illegal for classroom or instructional purposes of any kind.
Single School Use - $150 + HST (shipping incl.) Includes Public Performance Copyright for one school only. Not for circulation to other schools in your district. K-12 Schools Only.
Media Centre Circulation / Institutional - $300.00 + HST (shipping incl.) Includes Public Performance Copyright. Includes the right to circulate within a school district or post secondary institution.
Review by Francine Morin.
Listen to This is a 2010 documentary film by writer-director Juan Baquero and producer Howard Fraiberg that provides much insight into exploring the critical role of music and the arts in educating for social justice. This compelling story depicts the very real experience of musicians engaged in transformative work with children from disadvantaged circumstances by giving them voice and inviting them to imagine a different reality.
The film follows three children participating in an after-school music program called "Evolving through the Arts", created by renowned jazz pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo. The setting for the program is Firgrove Public School located in an inner city neighbourhood near the intersection of Jane and Finch in Toronto, ON, not unlike the one that Egbo-Egbo grew up in. Shootings, drug dealing, and rape are all part of the life worlds of the children who live in this area. The purpose of the music program is to provide children with the opportunity to recognize and express ideas, thoughts and feelings about their lives through composing songs and later performing them in a small public concert for the local school community.
As the scenes unfold, viewers gain insight into personalities and musical gifts of the featured students, Jasmine, Donta, and Whitney, as well as the open-ended instructional model that Egbo-Egbo and three other local teaching-musicians use to guide the creative process with a diverse, multicultural group of eight and nine year olds taking part in the program. The 16 week song composing process begins with the development of a basic music vocabulary as the musicians provide the scaffold for children's thinking and knowing about how music works, especially rhythmic ideas such as beat, meter and rhythmic patterns. Then they are supported in finding ideas that hold meaning and relevance for them, as a large group and as individuals. "Why should love be the new cool? What do you think of mean people? What should this neighbourhood be like?" Children brainstorm ideas and are encouraged to record their ideas on paper. Jasmine says, "I got the ideas from talking about my life. Life is really hard to go through." In combination with composing journals, digital audio and video recording devices help the children to capture their "in-process" songs.
Collaboration, leadership, and making musical decisions are emphasized in the process-oriented music program. With support, children reflect and revise their ideas and are truly moved into the act of composing. One-on-one sessions between the children and adult music mentors serve to increase the children's capacity to explore and sense the musical possibilities for their songs. They "play' with rhythm, find melodies, add harmony, try different timbres, and explore a variety of expressive devices until their songs are organized into a satisfying overall form. A special project is highlighted with Donta, an energetic, talented boy whose single, working mother has precious little time to spend with him. The project results in a superb rap entitled "Watching My Back."
Several other powerful scenes provide evidence that the children benefit immensely from receiving constructive feedback from the musicians, and, in turn, the musicians learn about the challenging lives these young song writers lead and just how much assistance they need in overcoming frustrations, staying with their song writing projects, building confidence, and realizing moments of euphoria. "It [music] makes you happy and proud of yourself," asserts gregarious Whitney, while shy, sensitive Jasmine reveals her identity shift when she moves from saying, "I am not an artist," to, "I am an artist."
The program culminates in the most authentic celebration for any song writer, when the children's compositions "jump" off the page and onto the stage in a public concert for family and friends held at their school. The concert scene represents the point at which the children's songs are truly "published" and shared with others in their final, more polished forms. Just minutes before show time, Whitney calls her mother, "Mama, are you coming to the concert?" Sadly, she reports, "She doesn't have time cause she's working. She has to get money." Despite the empathy evoked for Whitney, viewers can feel that the exhilaration of the live concert is truly climatic for these resilient children as songs "Take a Chance Take a Chance" by Jasmine and "Can You Feel It" by Whitney are executed with pride and excitement.
Listen to This tells an inspiring story in a style and mood well suited to its content. The music program featured is an instance of critical pedagogy and is thoroughly explored in 60 minutes from the perspectives of both the children and professional musicians. The scenes are logically sequenced and flow smoothly with very good editing and production quality. Viewers will find the still and moving images clearly focused and well framed, the audio mostly clear, and the lighting sufficient. The documentary will be of particular interest to classroom teachers, arts specialists, and artists involved with community based arts organizations and cultural institutions with arts education outreach initiatives. Indeed, the documentary provides a provoking example of how music can transform the lives of disadvantaged children and move education in our schools and communities to a more equitable place.
Purchasing information for Listen to This can be retrieved from www.listentothisdocumentary.com
Francine Morin is a Professor and Head of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Manitoba.
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