It’s December 2009 and I’m two months into my Music National Service work at Meadowbrook View apartments, in north Seattle. My mission:
“to create vibrant communities in housing projects with immigrant families, through music rich after school programs, intergenerational, and cross-cultural music exchanges and performances that celebrate the diversity and cultures of all resident families.”
Celebrating diversity through music, what a marvelous idea! After all, music is universal, it brings people together, and it saves lives. After returning from an incredible two week training in San Francisco, I was excited to start my work and make a difference in the world but the truth is, I haven’t made a difference at all. I’ve taken a beating ever since I got here and I don’t see how this “music saves lives” thing is going to pan out. Right now, I feel completely ineffective and my ego is shot to the ground.
I know it’s not about me, but before I continue with the rest of this story, let me tell you a little bit about myself. As conceited as this sounds, my resume is pretty damn impressive. I’m a certified music teacher with fourteen years experience in various public school settings, I’ve mentored student teachers, published articles, co-authored music textbooks, and presented music workshops both regionally and nationally. Heck, I was even invited to present at my first international music conference a few years ago. My point is, with all of this experience, I’m simply not prepared for the struggles I’m facing at my service site.
Imagine walking into a room with ten kids, ages eight to fourteen, and being completely ignored. I greet them with a smile and they don’t even look at me much less acknowledge my presence. I ask how their day went and all I get is that detached monotone response, “fine” that is, if I get any response at all. I tell them it’s time for class and they give that long drawn out sigh and roll their eyes. I’m lucky if I make it through ten minutes of class without the finger drumming, fake singing, or constant bickering.
I know what you’re thinking, “This is typical adolescent and teenage behavior, be firm, it’s a phase, they’ll get over it.” Well, let me just stop you right there because the issue goes much deeper than that. You see, conflict resolution and relating to one another in a respectful manner is not a part of this community make up, at least not yet. Loud vulgar music blasts from windows and words like “faggot” and “fuck you” and “bitch” fly around with no thought or consideration to their meaning; on the other hand, sometimes they’re said very intentionally. This is the life at Meadowbrook View, it’s just the way it is and don’t get me started on the CPS investigations and the lock downs with the S.W.A.T team on the property.
Is it any wonder the kids behave the way they do?
How am I supposed to accomplish my mission with all this instability?
What the hell was I thinking?!