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Arts in Corrections by Ann Noriel

It was an honor to be invited as a guest to attend the Arts in Corrections conference at the beautiful campus of the University of San Francisco. There were people from all over the United States, England and Japan who came together to discuss delivering arts programming to incarcerated youth and adults. Some of these artists have been working in this field for over thirty years and they shared such heartwarming stories. Also attending were family members of incarcerated adults, those who used to be incarcerated, some local politicians and even people from the corrections side. Everyone gave such amazing testimony of how the arts are making a huge difference in the lives of so many inmates. There are not a lot of artists who work in this field and it can feel a bit lonely at times, so to be around so many people of like mind was such an encouragement. A huge thank you to The California Arts Council, William James Association, The University of San Francisco and California Lawyers for the Arts for making this conference happen. More funding is being allocated to delivering arts programming to incarcerated individuals and Southland Sings teaching artists and I look forward to continuing to work with this very under served population.

The Magic of Vocal Scatting Brings New Hope by Diane Sawyers

VSA California, the State Organization on Arts and Disability, recently contracted Southland Sings to bring Poetry to Song Workshops to Hope High School as the music component of VSA California’s Once Upon a Thyme multi discipline arts residency. Hope School is dedicated to preparing students with special needs for lives of purpose, quality, contribution, and independence.

Diane Sawyers, one of Southland’s vocal and composition teaching artists, has been working with two classrooms at Hope.

When attending the VSA California Planning meeting at Hope High School in late February, I was thrilled to hear that the chosen music genre for this year’s “Pageant of Hope” was Jazz. I have been a long time Jazz aficionado and I was excited to have the opportunity to share my love of Jazz music in an Educational setting; however, I was not prepared for the profound effect this genre would have on the Music students at Hope

The element that has really opened doors for these students is a type of Jazz vocal improvisation known as scatting. For those who may not be familiar, scatting is when a Jazz vocalist sings seemingly random syllables in an improvisational style, often having characteristics similar to an instrumental solo. Here is a definition I think is particularly helpful: A type of jazz singing characterized by improvised vocal sounds instead of words.

I believe that the key here is “improvised vocal sounds instead of words”. The opportunity to make any vocal sound they wish, with no judgment of what is right or wrong, has created a freeing opportunity for the Music students at Hope. For example, one of the female student enjoys scatting with the word “Puppy”. She repeats it in a rhythmic fashion along with an instrumental track, often elongating the first syllable. The result is amazingly musical! Many of the students are able to duplicate simple rhythmic patterns using their scat syllables(s) when the pattern is demonstrated for them.

The live microphone also seems to have magical effect. When these students come up to the front of the class to take their turn, they all seem to understand what the microphone is for. Some of the most astonishing examples involve students who have been challenged in their verbal skills and/or those who are usually shy and cautious in their verbal communication. In my most recent session, one young man came up to the microphone, put his mouth almost right on it and joyously began making many different types of sounds. I have never heard him speak a word in any of our previous sessions. Adults in the room who have known this student for a while kept saying “Wow!” He had such a great time with his turn at the microphone we finally had to gently let him know “Great, thank you! Now it is time for someone else to have their turn.”

Another young man hasn’t mastered vowel sounds yet, but is doing very well with extending the “M” consonant and with various humming sounds. He also doesn’t usually exhibit strong verbal skills; however, he does extraordinarily well with the word “Yeah”! With encouragement, he is able to repeat the word “Yeah” rhythmically with the music, with the most infectious smile on his face. Another student who has some hearing impairment, enjoys saying “bah, bah, bah” with a good sense of beat. One boy enjoys punctuating scat syllables with people’s names. Some of the names he incorporates are those of his fellow students, some are of Paraprofessionals, and in one exuberant moment he even gave a shout out to Betsy Ross!   One of the female students started out her scatting with lots of dah, dah, dah; she has a great “d” consonant. At first she was shy about vocalizing and needed lots of encouragement. By Session 6, she was able to come up to the microphone by herself, say her name and sing all of the lyrics of the Chorus of our original piece (not scatting but actual words) with a great sense of rhythm and pitch! It was so exciting to see her achieve that level of confidence.

For those students who don’t generally exhibit verbal abilities, the Big Macks have proven to be a great way for them to participate. A Big Mack is a device, which can be used to record words or sounds. The Classroom Music teacher and I record various scat syllables for them. When it is their turn to come to the microphone to scat over the instrumental background, they can play back the sounds that have been recorded by pushing the button on their Big Macks. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to start pushing the button but once they understand how their sound fits with the music, they often continue pushing it on their own with giant smiles on their faces.

While none of these students are yet scatting with the elegant musicality of Ella Fitzgerald or the complexity of Al Jarreau, every one seems to be enjoying the opportunity to take their turn at the microphone and vocalize using the sound(s) they like best. The growth in the responsiveness to the rhythm of the instrumental loops they are singing with has been to me, extraordinary. Even more important is the joy they have all discovered by participating in the creation of Music, both as individuals and as a group.


Diane Sawyers – Southland Sings’ Teaching Artist

Diane Sawyers, Soprano, has been performing professionally in the Southern California area for over 20 years. She has performed in many genres including Opera, Oratorio, Operetta and Theater. Diane’s favorite roles performed include Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte, Musetta in La Boheme and Peep Bo in The Mikado. She has toured nationally with Opera a la Carte, the renowned Gilbert and Sullivan repertory company. Diane has performed at the Ambassador Auditorium, the San Antonio Opera House, the Lied Center at University of Nebraska, the Cohan Center in San Luis Obispo and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Diane has also performed with Southland Sings in five different school outreach productions for over 15 years. This has allowed her to perform for and interact with thousands of students throughout the Southern California area. This opportunity has given her invaluable experience in connecting with young people of diverse ages and backgrounds.

Diane is just as passionate about teaching as she is performing. She has been teaching privately as well as in group settings since 1991. Her educational experience includes directing children’s musicals and youth choirs. She feels strongly that Arts Education is essential for young people. “Participating in the performing arts is so important for students, to discover their own ability to create and to recognize the importance of what the Arts contribute to a flourishing culture. To me, a really good teacher is one who provides their students with the tools and guidance to be able to think for themselves, trust their own creative ideas and make their own discoveries. Whether I’m teaching them acting, singing, musical interpretation, or how to create a story, my biggest goal is to instill in them a sense that they have something important to contribute, hoping they will find great joy in creative expression.”

Diane has a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of California, Irvine and she maintains a private voice studio in the city of Orange.