The ChiArts Choro Residency “Connecting Through Rhythm: The Language of the Heart”
by Julie Koidin
In December 2019, I was fortunate to be one of forty artists from across the United States to participate in an Alumni TIES seminar dedicated to social justice in the arts. This opportunity to interact and learn from such amazing artists and their inspirational projects was an unexpected gift that ultimately opened a new path within my already established career as a music educator/flutist specializing in Brazilian music.
After the seminar, the Alumni TIES program offered everyone an opportunity to fund a project based on our takeaways from the seminar. For me, the project that was most inspirational was that of Battery Dance Company in New York City, which works to unite kids of disparate ethnic and social backgrounds through student-choreographed dance performances. As I am a musician, specializing in Brazilian choro (a style similar to samba), I turned to this genre as my project’s vehicle to unite a student population of varied backgrounds. Choro music is highly social, informal in nature, and communicative in performance practice. My project was called the “ChiArts Choro Residency,” named for the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) where we launched this pilot program. ChiArts is part of the Chicago public school system, and a large portion of its student population is impoverished and culturally diverse.
Originally slated to start in March 2020, the residency was sidelined due to the pandemic and the closure of all Chicago public schools the week prior to our launch. We were unsure whether we would be able to go live in the fall or if we would even be able to implement an all-online program given the nature of our program. Only at the start of the fall semester did we learn that the only way we would be able to complete the residency program would be if we restructured it to be virtual. How, we asked, could we make this entirely online project successful?
Over the next year we reformatted our program by creating a detailed rehearsal and teaching agenda so that all the kids could participate. Central to the entire experience was to have them engage with each other as well as with our five teachers, three of which were Brazilian culture bearers. We researched rehearsal/recording platforms that the band directors were using since the previous spring, and decided to use “Soundtrap” as our online recording studio. This platform allowed for immediate feedback on the students’ practices so they could check their performances in real time.
After an intensive week of working with the students, introducing them to Choro’s history, culture, and performance practice, all the students emerged with an appreciation for not only Brazilian music, but with a new passion to explore other genres and cultures. One of our greatest surprises, and a reaction that was a common thread in their post-residency interviews, is that the students said that a significant take-away was experiencing a “new way” of learning music — one that engaged their emotions directly and was more relaxed about technical precision. It seemed that their minds had changed about the very nature of music itself and its incredible communication powers. This outcome was extremely powerful to all of us on the teaching team as well as to the directors and faculty of ChiArts.
I shared the entire process with the Chicago Brazilian Consul General (Benoni Belli) who became a supportive force for the project. As part of his contribution, he made a welcome video for the students whereby he explained how meaningful Choro is to Brazilian history and its present musical environment. In June, as we were completing the project’s documentary film, he offered us the opportunity to apply for Brazilian funding to implement the project in another school. Unfortunately, the June due date left me little opportunity to contact school administrators as most schools had closed for the summer. That said, I was able to make some contacts and they expressed interest in our Choro residency program, saying that “social justice” is a topic they strive to emphasize in their programs. Although this next school year will be one of transition, recovering from the pandemic and closures, I intend to present this new social justice/world music project to high schools throughout the United States through music education conferences and articles.
For further information on the project including the documentary film “Connecting Through Rhythm: The Language of the Heart,” please visit: https://sites.google.com/chiartsfoundation.org/ctr-film-site/home.
Julie Koidin, DM, Fulbright Fellow 2002 (Brazil), 2005 (Norway), 2006 (New Zealand), 2008 (Serbia), 2011 (Sweden), 2014–15 (Brazil), 2016 (Ecuador), 2019 (Colombia)
ChiArts Choro Residency is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.