Port Townsend WA
“I was singing before I could talk,” says Judith-Kate. “I’ve always loved to harmonize, dance, and jam with whoever wants to join in.”
Judith-Kate teaches community-based songwriting, and has been a teaching artist since she was 16 years old. “I started out teaching 11-year-olds to play guitar.” By 1990, she’d begun facilitating community-based songwriting projects, which evolved into the Songwriting Works™ method. “My goal is to bring together everything I know and love about people, melody, lyrics, and that amalgam of magic and meaning called Song — so that a new song can be born. The aim is to collectively write a sing-able, memorable song that has meaning for all involved.”
Over the years, she’s co-written music with more than 3500 people, including K-12 youth, ‘at risk’ pre-teens, women in prison, artists with developmental disabilities, and elders across the physical and cognitive continuum. Judith-Kate has brought intergenerational songwriting to 17 regions of the United States, and trained hundreds of artists, musicians, and health professionals to “facilitate (a.k.a. instigate) music.”
“We jump in, find a theme, gather phrases, sounds, and stories through conversation, imagination, reminiscence, and word play. Verbatim speech, melodies, truths, and a variety of elements (inflection, tempo, humor, history) are retained.” The group then begins to craft and complete each song by consensus.
“As isolated and unsung individuals find their voices — and help others to do so — honor and dignity is restored,” she says. “After 25 years, I’m as jazzed now as ever.”
“Every one of us is inherently intelligent, creative, and musical. Each person has important gifts to give. Students of all ages enter a level playing field in a ‘fail-safe’ zone – every answer is the right answer. They gain skills and musical relationships through hands-on play, inquiry, applied theory, and practice. My code of creative ethics is Songwriting Works’ 8 Principles of Creative Engagement: access, inclusion, originality, authenticity, respect, reciprocity, restoration, and celebration.”
Participants have repeated opportunities to hear and be heard, experiment freely, suspend judgment, share, honor, appreciate, and receive. “I trust the natural musicality in all of us. People know when a melody catches fire, and when a lyric works, even if it’s unconventional. And the group knows instinctively when a song is complete.”
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“I start by saying, ‘We’re in a failure-free zone. As the Machado poem goes, if there are any mistakes, we’ll make sweet honey of them all – so don’t worry!'” Judith-Kate also uses body language and “a constant trickle of gestures of encouragement. This is a group process, not competitive, but collective. Everyone is valuable and welcome. We make the space as physically comfortable and accessible as possible. Everybody always gets a turn. Plus, I keep the rowdies and agitators in, sometimes as leaders to channel that energy.” Last and not least, every song is celebrated, with families, schools, and the larger community.
How do you encourage youth leadership?
“Each young person leads a jam session, and everyone throws in ideas. I invite them to hear their own music, honor their own curiosity, and then share it. We need each other more than ever. Showing youth what they already have, honoring them for their intelligence, taking away judgments, giving them a platform for voicing their reality – that’s powerful for everyone.”
How have you evolved as a teacher?
“I’ve become more comfortable with surprise. I have more capacity to catch ‘Aha!’ moments with people and slow things down, pulling out teaching moments that we can share together. And I keep learning – that’s what’s so exciting – that we learn from and teach one another all the time.”
video interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od19Hb0OJgk