On March 11 young artist Noga Cabo (seen at the end of this post) performed her piece, “Stephen Said!” about scientist Stephen Hawking, who died three days later, on March 14. Here is a feature about Noga with excerpts of the song. — B.P.
From time to time I’ve attended celebrations in Carnegie Hall’s education wing, where the young participants including at risk youth in the Weill Music Institute songwriting program present their new material. Every student sings an original song with a back-up band. I can feel how the faculty has effectively nudged key phrases, word dumps and free verse into songs with beginnings, middles and ends. Creativity takes shape. The performances can be passionate.
Yesterday, March 11, the project scaled up – way up – with a concert featuring student and professional vocalists, the magnificent Wadleigh High School Choir and Songs of Solomon inspirational ensemble, the A Time Like This Band, Future Music Project Ensemble, Free Verse Poets and more. Images, patterns and colors played on the walls. Hats off to conductor Kenny Seymour at the keyboard. He arranged and orchestrated every piece. To watch him is to know what’s going on.
The program introduced 13 new original songs along with four from the ‘60s – “For What It’s Worth,” “Inner City Blues,” “Think” and “Bold as Love.” (Throughout the winter Carnegie Hall has been celebrating “The ‘60s: The Years that Changed America.”) Those antiwar, pro-woman songs have become anthems over 50 years.
Coming out of intermission, the lights shone on Eleanor Roosevelt High School student Emma Thompson-Haye, downstage center with her guitar. Self-confident but understated, she delivered her song alone. “Afro Americana” opens with “first grade teacher says everyone is equal,” moves on to high school when “issues of chromosomes and melanin become intertwined” then circles back to the centuries of slavery and forward to the present – “you know he’s not safe in that black hoodie.” Her recurrent lines are
don’t say you’re blind to the colors you see
you know we are different you and me
the world is your oyster and life is your drug but
when I say that mine matters you just shrug
A professional singer with power and range, Carrie Compere delivered Aretha Franklin’s 1968 release, “Think [about what you’re tryin’ to do to me] …” and the refrain “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” The generations started to talk to each other.
The Carnegie Hall faculty also teaches songwriting at Sing Sing Correctional Institution. Images of incarcerated composer Kenyatta Hughes were projected on the wall behind the orchestra as Toshi Reagon sang Hughes’s “What Are We Fighting For,” powered by a back beat and soulful piano solo. The title became the refrain, swelled to fill the hall and finally Reagon brought the words down, ending unaccompanied. Then with an assist from rapper Young Paris, students Aynsley Powell and Orson Benjamin from the Future Music Project at Belmont Academy, Brooklyn, rapped and danced to their original, “Let ‘Em Say [what they wanna say]”. The audience cheered, including student performers from earlier in the concert, now seated in the auditorium.
Noga Cabo from Beacon, NY, is 16 and attends LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in Manhattan. She played guitar and sang
Stephen said the sky is fallin’
But we just go about our days
100 years from now
we’ll be gone or dead
but oblivious we stay
and it’ll stay this way
with more words from physicist Stephen Hawking projected on the wall behind her. Visually and musically, the message of “Stephen Said!” was dire. We are killing our planet. And young people will have to change that.