Last summer residents of Syracuse, especially those on the Near West Side, must have wondered what was going on down in Skiddy Park. Drums? Trombones? With a “What if…” mini grant of $2,745, Melissa Gardner and Second Line Syracuse brought weekly drum circles and Latin music to the park. “What if…” grants are awarded to community and neighborhood groups that want to make positive change in the city of Syracuse.
There were some unexpected results from this small grant. “Youth hanging out playing basketball or chilling at the picnic tables … surprised me as they first got up to leave but came back when we started playing, bringing food and hanging out to listen,” notes Melissa. “Some of the kids playing basketball even joined in on percussion instruments. This surprised me because I thought they might be ‘too cool’ for it, but they fully embraced what we were doing and thanked us for bringing music to the park.”
Second Line is a New Orleans style brass band of professional musicians. They helped kick off the session, and Melissa continued the program with local musicians. It wasn’t always easy, as some people were concerned about safety and there were language and cultural barriers. However Melissa found that music brought them together.
Melissa also was flexible enough to switch gears in response to specific interests and styles of music. What started as simply drum circles evolved into performances, with singing and horns. “There is a rich tradition of Puerto Rican folk songs that everyone around me seemed to know, accompanied by tambourine-like instruments without the jingles, called pleneras,” remembers Melissa. “When the pleneras came out, there emerged an extra-long medley of beautiful melodies, and everyone joined in singing. I did not expect everyone to sing, and it was an incredible way to get everyone present involved.”
The greatest success was when residents emerged as leaders and began running the sessions themselves. In fact, several organizations asked if they could book the informal group of musicians, and they have played at the Skiddy Park Block Party, at La Liga and La Casita.
“I was welcomed so warmly, and since have been invited to be a part of musical projects that I would have never been connected to otherwise,” concludes Melissa. “They tried something new, I tried something new.”