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Literacy through lyrics

‘Composer to Center Stage’ brings songwriting to students, courtesy Albany Symphony Orchestra

Ricardo Nigaglioni and Albany Symphony Orchestra Resident Composer Ted Hearne stand together after working with 12 students at the Hackett Middle School on a literacy through music project.

Ricardo Nigaglioni and Albany Symphony Orchestra Resident Composer Ted Hearne stand together after working with 12 students at the Hackett Middle School on a literacy through music project. Photo by Zan Strumfeld.

— “It was amazing to see their creativity come out,” Hearne said, who hadn’t worked with kids before. “They were very positive. They’re used to music. The only thing I had to do was show that I respected the music they made.”

Hearne said while Johnson played bass, the students played all of the other instruments on the three tracks, which each had a rap/hip-hop feel.

The project also put a big emphasis on the lyrics of the songs. The students worked with Ricardo “Ricky” Nigaglioni, a Bronx-based hip-hop emcee and rapper, who helped with the flow of the students’ words. As a literacy coach, Lisa House also helped with the students’ lyrics. She told the students to just write what they were thinking, with no limitations.

“We have a lot of great writers in our programs, but when you say music (they get nervous) … we just told them to write what they’re thinking. A lot of music is poetry. They didn’t know they could tie it together so easily,” House said. “I think it was fabulous.”

Nigaglioni said he loved working with the students and hopes if the project continues in the coming years, he would want the students to perform the songs in front of their classmates, not just hear the tracks.

“I think the most beautiful part of it, besides the music making and the sessions that we had, was they built community at this school. I know that the main thing they were worried about … but they showed so much support,” Nigaglioni said. “I definitely encourage them to take what they know and pass it onto the students in the schools. I’m a big believer in taking something that you know and make someone else better.”

Miller said he would like to continue the project at Hackett Middle School.

“They’re creating art where no art existed before and also performing it themselves. It’s a pilot project, essentially, we’re hoping to really refine and expand here at the middle school,” Miller said. “Kids got so excited by it. A lot of these kids here have challenges, troubles in school, but they were just thrilled and excited and couldn’t wait to show up and work with Ted and Ricky. It’s not just about doing art, but art empowering children to think creatively and reach beyond their comfort levels.”

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