For years, Associate Professor of journalism and professional writing, Kim Pearson, and Associate Professor of music and interactive multimedia, Teresa Marrin Nakra, admired each other’s work and wondered how they might one day collaborate. At a Performamatics workshop conference at the University of Massachusetts in June 2012, they finally had an answer: Trenton Makes Music.
“At that conference we dreamed up Trenton Makes Music,” Nakra, said. “I think Kim really had the idea to begin with, and she and I started riffing on it and it just kept snowballing. It’s one of those ideas that you know is a good one when you hear it.”
Pearson, who directs the project alongside Nakra, said Nakra was interested in finding Trenton’s sound, but before they could do that, they have to map out its musical past. According to Trenton Makes Music’s website, the project aims to piece together the people, places and policies of Trenton’s music through oral history, pinpointing the important locations on a map and documenting the history for future use.
Pearson said Trenton has a rich music history, as it was a popular destination for musicians for its festivals, venues and concert series.
“I became aware through my formal contacts with members of the Trenton community that Trenton has this cultural asset that it hasn’t been capitalizing on,” Pearson said. “There’s a remarkable number of people who come out of Trenton that made contributions to the music industry… Trenton is as much of a music city as Nashville and nobody knows it.”
Through a series of tweets, Pearson was able to get the attention of someone who has been trying to revitalize Trenton’s music scene: Sarah Dash, a singer born and raised in the city and one of the founding members of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles best known for their 1974 hot “Lady Marmalade.” Dash became an integral part of the project by working with Pearson and Nakra’s students, creating the Trenton Makes Music theme song and participating in the project’s event series throughout the fall semester.
Hosted by Dash on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in the Conservatory Mansion in Trenton, “Classic and Sacred Traditions” kicked off the series with a panel discussion of classic music in Trenton from 19th century until the present. Then, “Blues and Jazz” was held in Mayo Concert Hall on Wednesday, Oct.12, where panelists performed and discussed the history of jazz and blues music.
“School of Pop” on Wednesday, Nov. 16, in Mayo Concert Hall featured a concert by the Trenton Central High School orchestra, which included noteworthy member Alphonso Jones II who played Simba for two years in “The Lion King” on Broadway. The orchestra’s performance was followed by a panel of Trenton luminaries who have worked in the music industry, locally to nationally, who discussed the Civil Rights movement, music education and more before a musical interlude led into a second panel centered on rhythm & blues, disco, punk and hip-hop.
The final event, “Where do we go from Here?” on Friday, Nov. 18, in Mayo Concert Hall, touched on the impact of the arts on the local economy and community.
Before these events could happen, Pearson and Nakra, along with a few students, participated in a MUSE project this past summer, where they researched, recorded podcasts, worked on the project’s website and archived information on the website, according to junior interactive multimedia major Gabe Salazar.
“Pearson called me one day last March and asked me if I wanted to be a part of a project about music,” Salazar said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into until the first day of MUSE and we just started working on the project. It was a surprise, but it was a good surprise.”
Salazar said he is also a part of Nakra’s interactive multimedia podcasting course this semester that collaborates with Pearson’s journalism podcasting class. In these classes, there are four podcasts ranging from Trenton’s punk rock scene to music education.
Through her teaching, Pearson aims to give her students the chance to practice the tools and skills applicable to the real world and engage with a community of people, in this case Trenton.
“I also hope that it gives our students especially a way to connect with Trenton and with people in Trenton that make them more comfortable than some of the traditional ways in which we connect students with Trenton… and I hope they have fun.”
Trenton Makes Music aims to counteract the negative view people have of Trenton, according to Nakra.
“Basically the main message of this project is to turn that (negative) story upside down to talk about the rich cultural history in Trenton and to focus on some of the aspects that are working well,” Nakra said. “We’ve heard enough about shootings and socioeconomic distress. We know that it’s there and now we’re just going to stop focusing on that and start focusing on some uplifting things that will help us all get through our day. It’s just a message of hope.”
-Story by Chelsea LoCascio