The Rhapsody Project
The goal of the Rhapsody Project is to strengthen communities through song and spread the gospel of folk and blues music. Rhapsody is the integration of performance and teaching through public events and school workshops designed to facilitate cross-generational, cross-cultural interactions through the medium of music. We want regular folks–especially the youth–to understand that America’s folk and blues music is not a relic, but a thriving tradition. It’s not only about the fantastical, deeply mysterious recordings that we can all hear now on records or online. Music is a playground for the imagination with no barriers to entry.
Even if you don’t have a voice to sing with, you can drum out rhythm with your limbs to talk about your sorrow, tell your story, and drive your blues away. We’re trying to bring back something that has almost been lost. That is the understanding that you are not a spectator watching the tradition, you are a participant who can grow and expand the tradition. We are working towards the day when every student has their instrument of choice available to them. They are in touch with the musicians in their neighborhood, and they are afforded regular opportunities during which they can study, jam, and perform with those musicians.
The various dimensions of the Rhapsody Project all share a common goal. We aim to inspire homemade music making while we spark or spur young folks’ curiosity about their culture and its history.
“Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons recently made American roots music come alive for students of the University of Washington’s “Music and Community” seminar. They musically expressed in nuanced ways the meandering traditional melodies, be it in ballads, blues, or folk songs of 19th century Americans whose music they have listened to and learned well. Their research on the songs was evident in the tales they told to deliver cultural meanings and functions of the music in the lives of historic rural and urban people of the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and the American south. As we exchanged with them on issues and ideals of musical communities, it became clear to all present that they hold in high esteem the historic American musical communities even as they are actively engaged in bringing the music home to living communities of listeners today. Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons are remarkable musicians who are making their mark in the honoring of American roots music for our listening pleasure.”
– Patricia S. Campbell
Donald E. Petersen Professor of Music.
Head, Ethnomusicology – University of Washington.
Chair, Smithsonian Folkways Board
3 – 5 consecutive days of in-class teaching sessions paired with all-ages public workshops after school.
Over the course of a single week in a middle or high school, our instructors share their delight and love of music from a chosen region of American. We have taught Washington Middle School students how to play fills and solos over New Orleans marches. We have taught local logging ballads to high schoolers in Aberdeen, WA. We have composed and performed new lyrics to a Blind Boy Fuller ragtime song with English students at Rowe Middle School in Portland, OR, who contributed their own lyrics. Through all of these experiences, our central message to students remains the same:
This music is not exclusive–it is our shared musical heritage. We can experiment and interpret it any way we please, because that was how classic recorded versions of the songs we love were created in the first place.
After we have shown students the freedom and the fun involved in playing music together–using our voices, body percussion, and any other available instruments–we invite them to perform with us at a free public concert that takes place in the early evening on the final day of teaching. The goal is to unite the participants of the in-school and public workshops together in a performance that brings home the concept stated above: cross-generational, cross-cultural interactions through the medium of music.
Please click below to view detailed descriptions of our workshop offerings:
Our instructors have extensive experience performing educational concerts for young people of all ages. After a planning meeting with educators to determine their desired outcomes, we design a set of 45 – 60 minutes of music interspersed with concise stories of where the music comes from. We incorporate Pacific Northwest folklore, southern acoustic blues, ragtime, fiddle tunes and early jazz into each concert, working with teachers and administrators to highlight dimensions of this music that resonate with their curriculum goals. Each audience member walks away from the performance invigorated by the idea that there is valuable folklore and music waiting to be discovered in one’s own community.
If we host a concert, or perform a house concert, the ultimate goal is to end up playing music with everyone involved by the end of the event. Sometimes, we dispose of the concert dimension altogether, and just have ourselves a jam:
Youth Scholarship Fund
The Blues and Folk tradition is an integral part of America’s history that many of today’s youth don’t know about. One of the main reasons for that is the lack of opportunity for youth to play and understand this music. This is even more important in regards to students of color.
We are happy to partner with Centrum, a Port Townsend based nonprofit organization that hosts artist residencies, music workshops, and festivals year round. One of their annual workshops is the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival. This fantastic program brings nationally and internationally recognized blues musicians together to teach a week long workshop on the Blues. Instruction is in guitar, mandolin, harmonica, bass, piano, violin, ukulele, and percussion.
CAC has partnered with Centrum to create a Youth Scholarship Fund to send aspiring youth to this program free of charge. 25% of all proceeds brought into this program will be placed into this scholarship fund. Based on the funds available by the end of the school year, instructors Joe Seamons and Benjamin Hunter, will choose select students to receive these scholarships to attend the Blues festival. Cost includes tuition ($535) and room & board ($455). We hope to be able to raise enough money to send 5 students of color to this program for the summer of 2013!
The Rhapsody Concert Series
Our monthly concert series at The Hillman City Collaboratory features roots musicians of various styles sharing their music and their stories with audiences of all ages. Each concert is followed by a jam session, so bring your instruments! Check in at this page to learn about upcoming educational concert events in SE Seattle.
Who We Are
Joe Seamons is a musician and teacher who grew up in the woods of Northwestern Oregon surrounded by the folk music of local sawmill workers, loggers and fishermen. After studying music and English literature for four years, he earned his undergraduate degree from Lewis & Clark College in 2007. While studying British folk songs in London during one semester of 2006, Joe slowly realized that the Northwest folk songs he grew up hearing were just as vital and valuable as those ancient ballads. He began studying those Northwest folklore in earnest when he returned, and eventually recorded many of those local songs with a group called Timberbound. As this was happening he developed a friendship with Ben Hunter, who joined him in another musical project, Renegade Stringband, in 2010. The two both maintained side jobs as music educators and community organizers while they developed their musical partnership. All three pursuits–music, teaching, and community organizing–culminated in 2012 when they established the Rhapsody Project.
Ben Hunter grew up in Phoenix, AZ after being born in Lesotho, South Africa. He began studying the violin at the age of 5, eventually majoring in music at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. He chose to stay in the Northwest, and soon began fiddling after he discovered Seattle’s lively bluegrass scene. His love of stories combined with his burgeoning interest in American roots music to draw him into the worlds of folklore along with the music of the 1920’s and 30’s. As his work with various Seattle bands increased, he formed Community Arts Create to support the art made by his friends while breaking down the social barriers between the diverse populations of southeast Seattle’s Rainier Valley. Thus, Ben’s impulses as an artist and teacher–to explore connections between a wide range of musical styles and cultures–is connected to his work as a community organizer who breaks down artificial and unnecessary barriers.
Click below to download a detailed list of our work as performers and teachers: