Awardee: Owen Lyman-Schmidt
Primary Artistic Medium: Music
The seed of this idea started to germinate while my duo, Driftwood Soldier, was working on a related project this summer. In May we received a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to conduct a songwriting experiment in which we collected stories from people around Philly about their lives during the pandemic. We then stitched them together into a musical patchwork quilt in an effort to capture a better sense of our city’s collective experience during a traumatic time.
As a songwriter and a musician, I’m very proud of the resulting song, ‘Gimme Music’ (you can listen at https://driftwoodsoldier.bandcamp.com/track/gimme-music or find it attached below), which managed to combine fifteen of the thirty contributions we received and remote collaborations from two other Philly musicians, but the limitations of the project were obvious. To begin with, we were only writing one song, so the contributions had to be kept short, and much of my songwriting craft was dedicated to teasing out the similarities and shared threads of the different contributions in order to build composite characters out of them, rather than diving deeply into any one contributor’s experience. The other obvious limitation was that it was still my personal experience guiding the decisions about what to include and how to represent the community response.
To address these problems, I began imagining a new expanded version of the project that facilitated multiple collaborative relationships between musicians and community members. People from around Philly would be invited to contribute a short paragraph about any aspect of their life in 2020. A group of ten Philly musicians, representing a diversity of identities, experiences, and musical styles, would be recruited and would each pick a community member’s contribution that resonated with them. The musician would have the opportunity to interview the community member before writing a song that musically interpreted the community member’s contribution.
The songs would be released together as a compilation, but also as a site specific trip through the city. When thinking about the release of ‘Gimme Music,’ it became clear to me that each of the composite characters inhabited different specific Philly neighborhoods in my imagination. Accordingly, the music video was shot from a bike, riding through those neighborhoods as each verse was sung. (You can watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTrIWegSemY)
The distinctive character of Philly’s neighborhoods play such a huge role in defining each person’s experience of our city, and their variety is part of why those experiences contain multitudes. To build on that in this project, each community member would pick a personally significant location, which would then be included in a map so that listeners could take a self guided trip across the city, stopping to listen to each song in the chosen location.
If successful, the project would use music to literally and figuratively amplify the stories of Philadelphians, while highlighting the diversity and creativity present in Philly’s neighborhoods and musical landscape.