El Paso Jazz Girls Composers
The Latest Update
This past week I was interviewed for KRWG’s Puentes radio show about El Paso Jazz Girls Composers. Puentes, which translates to Bridges, is a local El Paso/Southern New Mexico radio show that focuses on community events and “building bridges” amongst the community. I talked about the girls’ composition process, our mission, and the girls’ compositions were played live on air!
You can listen to part of the interview online – https://www.krwg.org/term/puentes
Thank you to Emily Guerra for the feature!
Voilà! Listen & Watch the Final Compositions
Here are the 7 final pieces girls wrote, arranged, and recorded all in one week! The links will take you to our Instagram page where we posted all the songs. You can also visit us at facebook.com/epjazzgirls to watch the world premiere livestream of these pieces where girls’ explained their writing and recording process. The livestream info can be found in our “Event” section of this page!
This piece is about a heartbroken Melon-Koala who musters up his will to go out for a night of dancing. He dances with a Salsa-Iguana the rest of the night. The somber melody reflects his heartbreak while the driving dance rhythm symbolizes the dancing.
This group of girls named themselves the Virtual Jazzers. This deconstructed song was written using elements from Audioslave’s “Like a Stone,” Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown,” the Bee Gee’s “You Should be Dancing,” and SHAED’s “Trampoline.” T.O.Y. stands for turquoise, orange, yellow (all their favorite colors) that represent the moods this song takes.
A take on Covid-19, this bluesy piece was written with the hope of uplifting listeners. The girls wrote it by examining their individual likes and musical abilities.
Written by the Virtual Jazzers, this collection of short pieces were inspired by objects and stories created by participants. All the artwork in these pieces were created by participants in the band!
Diabetic Buffalo – this recently dumped buffalo is stress eating buffalo wild wings and wandering aimlessly in the Savanna.
Little Garden Gnome – it’s a beautiful day to head off to work with a shovel and carrot. More about this song can be found in the our “Object Stories” update.
Beaver Fever – this beaver forgot to build is dam and is trying to play it cool on the outside while feverishly trying to gather his supplies to build the house.
Calculator Breakdown – composed in Chrome Music Lab, this synth piece represents the rigid and wild calculations of a calculator.
Let’s Get Digital
With our summer program being online, it allowed us all to dive into digital making and recording. We focused on using free software so that girls can recreate the process in the future and not break the bank!
For all the girls’ compositions, we notated them in notation software and showed them musescore and finale notepad. By putting their work into notation software, we were able to export the midi audio with a click track. Girls recorded their part using phones/tablets/computers whatever they had, and listened to the click track through headphones as they played. They uploaded the video files into a shared google drive. Then, we took the video files and lined them up with the click track in Adobe Premiere so we could get the squares with everyone seen. This could also be done in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. For some of the pieces there was only audio so we edited those in Garageband. Students with Windows could also use Audacity. We lined up all the audio files against the click track and created drum beats on some songs to add forward motion!
We also talked about recording techniques while at home – how to place your phone, where to point your instrument, and how to avoid background noise. I’m so glad that girls were down to experiment and learn about digital recording because it has real life applications. They can record themselves for auditions now, record their future compositions, and have a better understanding of the recording process when they go into a professional studio. Huge thanks to Ross Wightman who helped us behind the scenes with everything digital.
That’s a whole lot of learning for one week!
Nightly Salons: Herstory, Music Therapy, Anxiety, Oh My
Our nightly Salons were intended to give girls a well-rounded experience, learning different aspects of the music world. Our Salon schedule included learning how improvisation can be used in multiple genres, understanding the importance of writing our own story while musicologist Hannah Grantham talked about herstory, the purposes and power of writing music with music therapist Amy Smith, and managing anxiety when playing for others and composing with trombonist Cassie Cardenas.
Not that you should have favorites, but my favorite Salon was with Erika Madrid, who is an El Paso Jazz Girls alumna. She participated in our very first summer program and is now studying music education in college. She talked openly with participants about her journey and how you can draw inspiration from non-musical aspects of your life.
Object Writing and Musical Storytelling were our other popular composition prompts.
Object Writing is when you use an object to inspire a composition. For example, if we picked a pencil as our object, what are all the possible musical aspects we could come up with:
-a pencil is straight so the melody could be a close interval or the same note
-depending on who’s writing, a pencil could have a soft sound or a rhythmic attack
-a pencil can erase and is not permanent so the content could be winding, never repeated quite the same, or through composed
-if it was a mechanical pencil it could have some repeated rhythms similar to having to click for more lead
-if it was a regular pencil the piece could gradually slow down to represent a sharpened tip dulling as it writes
Music Storytelling is when you have an existing story or create a story and write a composition that relates to it. Think, Peter and the Wolf or the Nutcracker. In El Paso Jazz Girls’ Composition Lab, we combined Object Writing and Musical Storytelling. So the girls picked objects and created stories around them.
For example, one of the girls had a little garden gnome figurine and the group decided that the gnome was off to work with his shovel and carrot, it was a beautiful day to be working, he walked to work and all was well. That translated musically to being a waltz, in G major a bright sharp key, and having repeated 8th note lines that would signify his walking pattern. I will share this piece and the rest of our object songs soon! In the picture you can see a plush beaver in the bottom, which has its own composition as well.
Object Writing/Musical Storytelling is fun! The girls were imaginative with the stories they created, and it allowed them to explore musical territory they may not have entered otherwise.
Deconstructing: Getting to the Nitty Gritty
How to start writing? There are an infinite number of ways, but when you ask a group a question on Zoom and everyone is muted, it can feel like pulling teeth! After some waking up and some off topic conversations, our Composition Lab decided that Deconstructing was how we were going to write our first songs.
Deconstructing is when we take elements from existing songs we like and reverse engineer a composition. Some elements could include the downward motion of the chords, the feeling of a song, the content of the lyrics, or even simply that a piece starts quietly. These give us concrete things to start working with, building a form, writing a melody, and coming up with arranging ideas from there.
What I love about deconstructing songs with young musicians is how it forces everyone to listen. They know what they like! But why?? What’s the form, what instruments can you hear playing, which part is more present, what are the differences in repeated parts, what is the mood of the song, what is the tone quality of the instrument/voice, and the questions go on and on.
Genre does not matter in elements either. We deconstructed disco dance tunes, funky songs, radio pop music, and alternative rock. I will post all the songs they wrote soon and give you the exact elements that were used to compose their pieces.
aaaand We’re Off!
El Paso Jazz Girls 2020 started at 10am on Monday 6/26 online. We spent the morning getting to know each other, sharing songs we like, and talking about what’s happening in our world. We had originally planned to meet in person everyday from 9-5pm, but with the University building closed (where we meet) our schedule shifted online from 10am-1pm with 5pm Salons daily.
Girls dived into theory straight away, which featured Chrome Music Lab, modes, and triad construction. Next up was Composition Lab, where Grace Ward and I each led a group of girls with mixed ages and instruments. We discussed what it means to write a song, what is the purpose, how we can use what we know now, and went over several possible starter prompts deciding what to work on for the week.
That night, we gathered again at 5pm for our Salon after a good brain break. The topic of the night was improvisation in many forms. I showed videos of improvisers at Beyoncé concerts, free improv music venues, and the Grammy Awards. We spend the rest of the night learning about ways to solo over Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” – sounds we can make, notes that fit the changes, notes that don’t fit the changes but add to the lyric intent, rhythm that works, and melodic development.
These girls are into it. They want to learn, they have ideas they want to develop, and they are collaborating and encouraging each other ages 13 – 19. Can’t wait to show you the songs they’ve written, arranged, performed, AND recorded – all in a week.
In the last decade only 7 girls have made Texas All-State jazz band. That’s less than 2% of all participating members. There have been zero females in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since its inception over 30 years ago, and let’s face it, aren’t we tired of hearing about how bad gender demographics are everywhere??
I created El Paso Jazz Girls in 2018 to make a direct, practical intervention for gender equality in my hometown’s jazz community. El Paso Jazz Girls is a cost-free program taught by professional female musicians for female identifying students to learn about jazz, meet each other and play together, and create a support system.
Since 2018, we’ve brought together over 50 girls from 4 different El Paso school districts, brought 7 professional artists home to teach, and we are continuing to show that yes, a cello player a french horn player and violinist can play in a jazz band and here’s how. However, this year, we want to go beyond teaching how to play a lead sheet to additionally, working with students on how to write their own music.
Last year at El Paso Jazz Girls’ summer program, the number one feedback from participants was that they all wanted to play together. The second highest feedback comment was that girls wanted to compose something that they could perform. So, we’re doing it!
This coming June, at El Paso Jazz Girls 2020, we will work everyday to write music with participants. Their daily activities will include theory, improvisation, ensemble work, and special topics such as digital audio workstations and recomposition. Taking what participants have learned in the daily activities, we will gather for daily Composition Lab. In Composition Lab, we will have structured prompts and exercises where participants will write music in groups, share their work, and synthesize it into pieces that everyone can play and improvise over.
At the end of our program, we will share our new compositions at our final concert for the El Paso community. We will also make recorded versions of the compositions so that girls can share their music digitally with family and friends, and perhaps even use it to apply for other musical opportunities.
El Paso Jazz Girls strives to empower young females through music education and performance, and this year, we want to empower their musical voices! Composition can be learned, shared, and serve as a tool to foster self-confidence, collaboration, and self-expression, and we want 50 girls to experience that empowerment this summer.
This local news feature gives a great overview of El Paso Jazz Girls from 2019. Our participant, Chantal, shares that “each instructor has a different perspective and learning from every single one of them makes you absorb all of it, and you make your own unique style.”
We want every participant to embrace their own unique style through composing new music this summer.
“Women have historically been conspicuously absent from several musical genres, particularly jazz – that uniquely American music with a big beat and an improvisational spirit.
El Paso native Amanda Ekery is out to close that gap with El Paso Jazz Girls.”
Start and End Dates
06/22/2020 — 06/26/2020
El Paso, Texas