I was grateful to add a three day residency to my summer schedule through YANJ. I was asked to base the sessions on “What is Sound?” and I looked forward to the challenge. I spent some time ahead to study Bill Nye, the Science Guy and other readings popped up curiously ahead of time. I had some nice exercises and workshop ideas in mind, but perhaps I was geared towards a more artistic group of folks than the middle schoolers I had to deal with.

I was signed up for a group of about a dozen kids for two hour sessions on three consecutive afternoons. The two hour session seemed to be a bit long but figured I would deal with it as it happened.

Tuesday started out well, and I presented my “Sound” concepts about describing sound in terms like Pitch, Timbre, Intensity and Duration. That worked well. I worked in waves and frequency. I also introduced body sounds (clapping, vocalization, and some less social sounds, but that what was I was looking for. We did some good work.

After an hour, we took a break and after 15 minutes, I realized that only two kids were returning to the session. Damn. Both were quite intelligent and interactive but my ideas for further exploration were derailed. I managed to play some musical games with them, along with my bag of instruments, but I left quite drained by the process and lack of engagement from the larger group.

I returned on Wednesday to find most of the larger group was headed out to the pool – a particularly hot and humid day – and would have a session with around 7 kids to work with for two hours.

This turned out to be a good session with a couple of new kids and two returnees. We did some rhythm work with tambourines, and I brought in my banjo, my electric guitar (and battery amp) and my backpacker mandolin, talked about hard wood, soft wood, bridges, and tone shaping on the amp. At the end, I let the kids get their hands on the instruments. That was really valuable, I think, for everyone. All in all, it was a productive session, focused and fun.

Thursday was tougher with only three kids on hand, though Katelyn, who was there for all three sessions, really ‘got it.’ She’s the only one who thanked me after each session. I brought in my acoustic and we discussed the difference between the electric and the acoustic. We then explored the guts of the piano in the music room we were in. Wood, strings, etc. Nice exploration. I also brought in my old Gibson mandolin. Although there were only three kids, we did some nice work.

I was brought in to work on the science of sound, but ended up trying to connect in anyway possible. It was hard work on several levels – working with MS students who know nothing of acoustic folk, competing with other summer camp activities, a long two-hour time frame and a small number of kids. I was whipped by the end, but, again, enjoyed the opportunity to be a Teaching Artist and getting paid a decent wage during the summer.