Mentoring Youth: Live Performance and Songwriting

In late 2015, members of the Dubuque Area Arts Collective developed a new program building on the organization’s mission statement to mentor and empower young artists. Project 1 was devised to encourage young musicians to work together toward learning the fundamentals of live performance and songwriting. This goal was to be achieved with assistance from a group of DAAC members and volunteers, local musicians offering their collective experience and knowledge to the students.
“I never knew if I would meet anyone who viewed the importance of music in life as I do. When I joined it’s like all of a sudden I came out of my shell and had lots of confidence about what kind of person I want to grow up to be.” – Addison Aronson

Over the course of 12 weeks, from February to May, participants in Project 1 worked with mentors to gain the skills and confidence necessary to perform in public. A diverse group of students, many of whom did not know each other, met at the DAAC gallery with adult mentors. Focusing on the group aspects of playing music, mentors paired students with similar interests and facilitated an atmosphere of collaboration and discovery.

“It was overall a really fun experience and we were beyond lucky to have our own space to go to every week and have so much equipment to play with.” – Sunshine Duehr

Project 1 offered a program unique to the city of Dubuque, concentrating on the real-time application of the basics of being in a band. Students were encouraged to pursue styles of music they were interested in, and individual lessons were eschewed, with the mentors instead emphasizing the importance of working together. A do-it-yourself spirit was central to the instruction – the goal being for the students to actualize the skills they learned and bring them to the community on their own terms.

“Not only did [Project 1] introduce new musicians to each other, it also brought together a new generation of music.” – Stephon Baldwin

“It was really nice to get recognition for something that means so much to me and to finally be able to get out and perform, because it’s what I live for.” – Sunshine Duehr
There were also extra-musical benefits to Project 1. Over the course of the program, students connected with each other, gaining the confidence necessary for self-expression. The students and mentors formed close bonds, and many new friendships were made. The group’s camaraderie played a significant role in both the program’s success and, more importantly, the students’ progress. Instead of a competitive ‘battle of the bands’ scenario, the students looked after each other and offered support.

“A big part is getting to play music with kids my age and making friends, and having support from the awesome mentors, and now friends. I think it changed my life from being a shy kid into a confident and great person, and am very grateful and would love this program to be a continuing part of my life.” – Addison Aronson
As the program progressed, the students formed groups and worked on their songs in anticipation of a final performance, which for many of the kids would also be their first show. They continued to push their own boundaries, participating in multiple groups and trying out unfamiliar musical genres. As the deadline to showtime loomed closer, extra rehearsals were held, and the mentors, in addition to musical instruction, offered advice on calming nerves.

“I learned that great music is never perfect and that you have to push yourself and want to be great, as much as you need to breath.” – Ota Benga

After three months of meetings came the program’s triumphant finale. A live performance showcasing the solo and group projects of the students was held in front of a capacity crowd. Emboldened by their success, several of the students continued to play in public after Project 1 ended, booking their own shows. Other students began recording their original music in home studios.

“Before this program I was a bedroom player. Now I’ve been booking gigs over the last two months because I met my partner in Project 1.” – Logan Pint
“Being part of DAAC Project 1 was one of the best decisions I have made as a musician. The mentors really guided us to accomplish our goals and bring our dreams to life.” – Isaih Hessling

By all measurements, Project 1 was an enormous success. The DAAC will continue the program with Project 2 this fall. We believe it is a valuable service to both the young people involved and to the community at large.

“I thought the program was just what the Dubuque area needed. It was the push I think all of us needed to have to make sure this was something we wanted to do. Music is a great outlet. I loved every second of it and I would do it again in a heartbeat.” – Stephon Baldwin
“It was all very short-lived, and I miss it and miss everyone a lot, especially the mentors. I really hope we can do this again, and I hope we get even more high school kids starting bands, especially girls. Kids here need this more than people realize.” – Sunshine Duehr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *