UA participants with percussion instruments

UA participants exploring conversation through rhythm (photo: Theo Goodell)


It’s that time of year! Upstream Arts launched more than 20 fall programs in Minneapolis Public Schools this month – and already, the amazing stories have started rolling in. Here’s a powerful anecdote shared by Julie Kurtz, one of our teaching artists, from an Upstream Arts session in a Special Education classroom for middle school girls with emotional/behavioral disabilities.

“We got the group snapping, keeping a steady beat, and started introductions. ‘Hi, my name is…’ (in rhythm) ‘and I feel…’—encouraging their speech to be in rhythm with the snapping. The last student in the circle didn’t want to participate. ‘Pass,’ she requested.

I picked up a drum and asked her whether she was feeling an energetic rhythm or a slow, steady rhythm. “Slow and steady,” she replied. ‘Like this?’ I clarified, using the drum. ‘Yeah,’ she said. While I maintained that rhythm on the drum, my fellow teaching artist grabbed an instrument and began ‘replying’ to me — a seamless transition into the next activity, ‘Rhythm Conversation.’ One of the students exclaimed, ‘Can I..?’ We pulled out more instruments, keeping the ‘conversation’ going as we passed one to each student, until soon the entire group was jamming together. The evolution of the activity was remarkable—from the students’ fascination about what was happening, to each discovering her own ‘voice’ by trading instruments and trying out different dynamics, to ‘leading and following’ within the group.

In particular, their discovery of their own power was compelling. A student would play loudly, be startled by the power in that volume, then experiment with when and how best to implement that power in the group—and when to give it over to someone else. It was moving to watch these middle school girls explore that give-and-take power.”