Finding the Voices of Homeless Youth in Downtown Minneapolis
* The Mural Outside the Youthlink Center:
In October 2009, I began a volunteer project to teach music to youth at the Youthlink Project Offstreets Center
in downtown Minneapolis. The center provides food, education, showers, clothing, childcare, and other services for homeless and at-risk youth, ages 16-21. The center is open from 3pm until 8pm five evenings a week. For my project I teach a 90 minute music class at the center, which is free and open to any youth that are interested in attending. My primary goal this semester 2009 has been to get to know the youth, and understand their musical culture as I teach them about music. For this purpose I have conducted an ethnographic study, including formal and informal interviews, photography, and musical performance.
Understanding by Xscape
- Below are links to some of the music that youth at the center have expressed an interest in performing.
This is the first song we began work on as a group. Several of the girls suggested it during an initial visit to invite the youth to my class in early October. Because the song was released originally in 1993, most of the youth would have been under the age of five when it first played on the radio. The song was on the Billboard Top 40 Chart for 14 weeks back then, and on was number one on the Hot R&B Singles Chart for two weeks. The song has remained a classic, and is often performed through karaoke today. The song has a positive lyrics and an easily learned chorus, so it was a good choice for the group.
Lay Your Body Down by Pretty Willie
This song was first suggested on November 30, 2009, during a well attended class. One young man brought his MP3 player and some speakers and shared this song with the group. Almost all of the youth became instantly excited about the song, especially the young men. There was a lot of dancing and energetic singing while the song was played. The lyrics are sensual, sexual, and provocative. I believe this is a big part of the song's appeal to the youth. However, the individual words of the lyrics are not profane. When discussing the possibility of performing this as a group, we talked about whether the song was appropriate. None of the youth voiced concerns about its message being inappropriate, and almost all of them stated they would like to sing it in class. I mentioned that many love songs throughout history have had sexual content, but that when this content is conveyed through the poetry of song it is more socially acceptable.
Chocolate Factory by R. Kelly
This song was suggested during the same class as the Pretty Willie song above (November 30, 2009). The song was suggested by a single individual who was not in attendance the following week when we attempted to learn it together. The verses of the song contain a lot of fast lyrics that are sung in a very speech-like manner, almost like rap. The youth said that this would be very difficult to sing without a lot of practice. They expressed a disinterest in trying it during the class. However, because I had provided lyrics sheets for them, and it was already in the lesson plan, I decided to stick to the plan. The results were good. We were able to sing the chorus in harmonies. The youth also did attempt the verses, although they were not terribly pleased with the results.
Will I? from Rent
This song was suggested by two individuals in the group who were interested in performing musical theater in our class. We had been talking about "rounds" in music, and I had described what a round was to the group. Some of them knew very well what this was, but others did not. This song was suggested as a good round to sing for the group. I suggested that it was a difficult choice, but the two students who disagreed said it was not difficult. I think it would be difficult because the range of the melody is often too high for young male singers, and the parts enter at irregular intervals, unlike a typical round. I am curious as to why the youth do not believe this is a difficult song to sing. I think it might be much easier if it is always sung with a recording. I plan to attempt the song in class in the near future.
Ordinary People by John Legend
This song was suggested originally by a young woman in the class. However, it was equally embraced by the young men in the class at the time. This was the first of the artists that had been suggested that I was completely unfamiliar with. When speaking with a black woman (not in the youthlink program) familiar with his work, and also familiar with the music production and radio industry, she stated that black radio stations often will not play work by artists such as John Legend. This is because his style is difficult to place into a single genre, and therefore less likely to be chosen for playlists.
Researcher: Brandon Miller