English for Parents Class

AROUND HEAR POP-UP #2: English for Parents Class at the East Somerville Community School (a collaboration between The Welcome Project & Somerville Family Learning Center)

March 30, 2017

I have been a visiting artist to Megan Demott-Quigley's adult ESOL classes several times in the past year, bringing music and art supplies as prompts for self-expression and conversation. Her classes always have a fun community vibe, probably because of the positive, open, loving tone she sets. Usually I visit her classes a solo violinist, but last night I brought Dan, my pianist buddy, along with me, since the East Somerville Community School has a decent grand piano. We played Dvořák's Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75 and asked the students to draw or write the memories, feelings, and dreams that arose during their listening experience. Here is the little instruction sheet we handed out, which includes translations in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Bangla, the four first languages spoken in the class:

Not eight bars into the first piece, a woman directly in my field of vision began weeping. Seeing her crying made tears fall down my face as I played. This music awakens the emotions in a way that not all music can at first listen. It wanders so fluidly from content to longing, with no clever compositional tricks to bring the emotional into a lofty space. This is sincere music that tugs directly at the heart.

We also played the finale from Dan's brand new sonata for violin and piano. These are fresh sounds, but rooted in Dan's passion for the piano chamber music of Brahms, Faure, Prokofiev, and others. Megan asked Dan, "What were you thinking about when you composed this music?" He responded, "I think about where I'm going next, how to keep the music going." We talked about journeys, that special feeling of arriving "home" – musically and literally.

In a later blog, I will talk about the art materials I shared with the listeners at this event, as I will be using them again in upcoming pop-ups at after school programs. The responses (written, drawn, and spoken) from this group of beginner English students revolved around how the music relaxes them, how it gave them much-needed time to think and feel. Some described memories of childhood in their countries of origin. One described the loss of her parents. Another wrote cheerfully about her daughter who plays the viola at the East Somerville Community School. A few commented on how Dan and I play, how exciting it was to witness the dedication of musicians firsthand.

Having had no previous interactions with these particular students, Dan and I weren't sure whether our visit had an impact. When I asked Megan if she thought her students got something out of our visit, she said, "Everybody was babbling away and very happy after your class, and that's the best feedback." I am glad that music and art inspired lighthearted communications among these students, each of whom is on an intense journey as an immigrant to this definitely-not-always-welcoming country. I am also left with a sense of how fragile the circumstances are that brought all of us together last night. This city, which provides sanctuary as well as a plethora of cultural and educational opportunities (such as this ESOL class, and the Somerville Arts Council grant that funded our visit), is becoming increasingly unlivable for immigrants and artists, due to the skyrocketing cost of living. I wonder, in the years to come, will there still be a target audience for an English for Parents class in Somerville? And will there be any local artists to provide enrichment at such classes?

With that...uh...HAPPY FRIDAY, and stay tuned for a blog about the first Around Hear program at the Mystic Learning Center!