Tag Archives: Community

Artist Feature: Adam Hopkins

Adam Hopkins is a composer and bassist living in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, Maryland. As part of thriving music scenes in his hometown and his current city of residence, Adam tells an artistic tale of people coming together to create great music and community. Some of the groups he’s involved with, such as Signal Problems, have been around for years and thereby boast a unique group dynamic and musical language developed over time, which add intricacies to their exciting improvisations. Here, Reflection serves as the collective memory of the artist, while Response is a collective sharing and exploration of each participant’s story through sound. In our dialogue below, Adam delves specifically into two tracks, Pogo Stick and We Turn Around, and presents a video of the Adam Hopkins Quartet. He stays busy in New York and has various upcoming records with the several bands he participates in as leader and sideman. Peep the conversation below!

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own…it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.

– Adam Hopkins

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at? 

AH: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY–Ditmas Park specifically. I don’t think I’d normally mention the neighborhood as part of a response to this question, but I really love where I live! A lot of my closest musical collaborators live within 3 blocks of me, and also there are trees. Lots and lots of trees, which is a bit different for Brooklyn.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I left for college and grad school, but found myself back there in 2005. I consider that time in Baltimore until I moved to NY in 2011 to be the most formative years artistically of my life to this point. The music scene in Baltimore, specifically the creative and improvised music scene, is very small but at the same time full of talented and inspiring people. We started a bunch of bands, wrote new music for them, rehearsed a LOT (something that is much more rare in NY currently), made records, and played shows. It was the best, now that I think of it. In 2011 four of us decided to move to NY from Baltimore, and settled into a house in Bushwick with a great rehearsal space in the basement. That group of people, who basically moved up on the same day, was already a band called Signal Problems led by my former-roommate-but-still-friend Danny Gouker. We continue to rehearse all of the time, and still play regularly. In fact we just released our debut album on pfMentum records which can be checked out right here: http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD080.html. There are no subs in the group ever, which has helped maintain it as an actual band and not just a rotating group of potential people. So, you know…Baltimore sticks together wherever we are. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AH: As an improviser, reflection and response are at the very center of what occurs any time I play music, be it solo or with a group.

Reflection to me is everything that has happened in my life, musically or not, that has gotten me to where I am in that very moment. At my absolute best I am able to look inwardly and draw on all of those experiences to present a statement or vision that is uniquely my own.  

The response can be looked at from a number of angles, but primarily a response is what comes out of my instrument as a result of those experiences. Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own. It’s what makes improvised music like nothing else…we all bring our experiences from vastly different places to a performance, and as a group we find a way to make it work.

How does your work specifically fit in with that definition?

AH: This first track isn’t one of my own compositions, but I think it is a great example of this concept. It’s from Signal Problems, written by Danny Gouker who plays trumpet, with Eric Trudel on saxophone, Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums, and I’m playing bass. 

It is 30-seconds or so of written music and then we immediately launch into an improvisation. This band has been playing together for over five years, and we’ve developed our own sort of group language as a result. The entire improvised section is the band responding in the moment to everything going on around us. So again, it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined. 

This second track is a little bit older, but it’s one of my own compositions from 2011. It is a band that was started in Baltimore called Turn Around Norman, with Cam Collins on saxophone, JJ Wright on keyboards, Nathan Ellman-Bell (again) on drums, and myself on bass. 

There was a time when this entire band lived in New York as well, but life choices spread us out a bit and we don’t get to play together nearly as often as we’d like. It is a good example of my compositional approach, so I figured why not include it!? There is improvising in the track, but I think it is mostly influenced by the grunge rock of my high school years and my earliest musical experiences playing in dive clubs and wearing funny hats. There’s maybe a little disco at the end as well, and I’m not sure where that came from. It seeped into my musical being somewhere along the line. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Kate Phillips

We met up with Kate Phillips through LIFESTYLE Collective member Steve Laciak. The two have been performing together for some time and it was dope to hear more about Kate’s creative story. Originally from upstate New York, Kate has lived all over the United States performing as a singer and dancer and in musical theater. Kate brings up various dope fresh ideas to the Collective touching on creative reflection and response and growth within artistic communities, the important role of the performer as a provider of solace for an audience, and other themes from the perspective of a creator that has always stayed true to the craft. Kate Phillips continues to forge a creative path filled with new and exciting projects  in her current home of Tennessee and we are lucky to feature encouraging words of wisdom from an experienced and invigorating creator.

Kate Phillips

 An entertainer provides a moving sound, a fresh look, and quite often a new perspective. That role is essential in our society, allowing imaginations & expressions to cultivate change and growth.

– Kate Phillips

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

KP: I lived in upstate New York as a child, riding my bike to the village library and along the Erie Canal, through a lovely town called Fairport. Growing up there was a wonderful experience, but since I couldn’t wait to live in a big city, I moved to Manhattan on my 18th birthday. After spending 6 years in “the big apple” because of a couple of dance scholarships, I was fortunate enough to begin a career that involved travel. For 2 years I sailed around North America, while performing on cruise ships as a singer and showgirl. I have lived in 8 different states and toured the country as a “triple threat” in musical theatre. The latest adventure I took a leap for has led me to a beautiful place, nestled in The Great Smoky Mountains, as I’m thrilled to now call Tennessee my new home.

Kate Phillips

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

KP: Recognizing that all of this is a true gift that I was meant to share and ultimately ‘giving back’ to people in my community. First, I give credit to the creative education I received; understanding how I have been influenced by such amazing teachers. Then, I recall moments of excellence I’ve witnessed, gathering inspiration from other talented artists and friends… always studying their methods. I was, and still am, surrounded by people who dedicate their life to their art, and I believe we are all reflections of each other. 

Listen to more of Kate’s music here: http://www.reverbnation.com/KatePhillips

How do your performances fit in with that definition?

KP: All of the extensive training and sacrificing a singer-dancer goes through can be difficult at times, but I have a personal theory about this. For the duration of the show, each member of the audience is given a chance to escape. They are encouraged to sit back and relax since someone else is “on” for the moment. Whatever may be causing them grief, sadness or pain, just disappears for that short amount of time.  An entertainer provides a moving sound, a fresh look, and quite often a new perspective. That role is essential in our society, allowing imaginations & expressions to cultivate change and growth. That person on stage is what I call “Brasilient” (brave and resilient). Considering numerous auditions, disappointing rejections, painful injuries, missed holidays with family, and ongoing challenges, we continue developing as a seasoned professional, because it is our purpose.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

KP: This has been a pretty exciting journey! Last year, I performed at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. A holiday song I recorded played on the radio for 2 years in a row. Recently I reunited with the love of my life after several years apart, and together we have fulfilled a life-long dream by combining our musical talents as a duo. This year I began volunteering again with at-risk children & teens in my community by teaching workshops in the evenings. Next, I look forward to announcing a few new projects that are still in the works, including a music video and more collaborations with local songwriters.

Kate Phillips

Who or what inspires you?

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Feature: Michele Jules

This week’s Reflection and Response featured artist is Brooklyn-based writer, educator, academic, and social entrepreneur Michele Jules. With a focus on youth empowerment, Michele utilizes dialogue grounded in historical truths to build toward the future. We’re excited to have her voice participate in the ongoing global conversation on Reflection and Response. Check out her interview and an excerpt from her writing below!

Reflection: Is being able to take in and respect all aspects of art, word and music…

– Michele Jules

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

MJ: Originally from California, Westside! My dad was a Marine… but was raised in Brooklyn, NY. Both, my parents families are live in Brooklyn. Im a New Yorker at Heart!!

I’ve grown here, failed and succeeded here. I still reside in Brooklyn, but I believe my time here in this city is ending, its time to start another chapter in a new setting, set a new foundation. My family will always be here, New York City is my home.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

MJ: Reflection: Is being able to take in and respect all aspects of art, word and music seeing life through others’ eyes. If you can’t relate, you can in some way understand the emotion or point the person is trying to project.

Whether you agree or not, and how it makes you feel and think, your overall reaction is Response.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

MJ: I’m writing my first book, Yay!! I’m all about empowerment of youth, focusing my attention right now on young black women of all ages from their teens to late 20’s and maybe even older.

I see the world through a bigger picture, I’m not the only one on this planet, and I’m at point in my life where I’ve realized, I have to leave something behind and help in projecting better reflections, for the black youth in this world.

And I need help, so I’m sending out a global S.O.S. to black youth, women and men, all over the world. Its a basic interpretation of “If you don’t know where you came from, you’ll never know where your going”, aspect.
I love working with young kids they have so much energy and love for life and laughter. Its important to let them be themselves but be disciplined in teaching them realities of life, their world and the importance of education overall, starting with who they are and where they come from, with no holds barred honesty. That’s the first start to success and the best love story, which starts with yourself.
Young black children have got to see not just their world, but the whole world as a playground. There’s just so many morsels of beauty and genius to take in on this planet.
I’m in total love of this world, my history and I’m also aware of how small we all are compared to the universe, (Let alone the planet Venus), I think that keeps me grounded along with my brutally honest family and friends.
Keeping all this in perspective, I try my best to write realistically and honestly, no sense in sugar coating whats real.

What have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

MJ: Working on a business with a great partner, catering to fitness and pursuing my M.A. in adolescent psychology. Staying focused with writing, which is so hard when there are so many other distractions.

My next project would be focused on young black men, they are harder targets to reach, but i’m gonna give it a shot, with help of-course!

Who or what inspires you all?

MJ: Faith, inspires me, I have a real relationship with God, we have deep conversations. I also, have a great support system filled with family and friends that keep me on track when I lose focus.

Writing, watching children learn, and empowering confidence in youth, by educating them on their history. I feel I’m doing a devotion to my ancestors by educating young children and families.
And of course to me “life” is so great, If I wake up I’m a happy person, I don’t need much to be happy, it’s the little things that count. If it can be fixed, fix it!.. Life is hard..get a Helmet! 🙂

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

MJI have a dire, deep love for animals, they are they only living creatures on this earth who do exactly, what they were put here to do.❤❤

I am big on Education, it’s power, it’s key and it’s the only thing the government can’t take from you.

Shout out to…

MJ: President Obama and Michelle, I Love you Guys! You show us the true meaning of hope, determination and family…

My family and friends and anyone who have helped in anyway to get me where I am today… You’re Awesome! Hug A Tree, peace! God is Love!

The LIFESTYLE for giving an aspiring writer this opportunity…. You’re Awesome too!

Do You Know Your “Real” History? I Know and Love Mine!

Hello World! 

I’m a proud black woman with a passion for the betterment of my fellow black people, especially our children. I love all people, the world is full of beautiful people, but I hear a cry for help within our communities and in black youth and I’m destined to answer that call or at least reach a few cries before they become silent. I hope you enjoy the topics and please comment as your comments are what keep me aware and connected. 

An 80’s baby doing her part to help…. 🙂

So… I have come to realize so many black people, no matter what background have no idea about thier history and how great it is. And as some of you may not understand how this comes to bother me so much, I say in my defense that it sets a person back when they have no knowledge of where they come from. The struggles of our people were the highlights of our education, while the unbelievable accomplishments and contributions we have made in history were seldom or irrelevant. I come to understand this from working with black children of all ages, now I single out black children only because I relate to them personally. Our futures are merely a reflection of our pasts and so many young children have a dreadful reflection to look at, but that does not determine who they will be if surrounded by the right influences. “It takes a village to raise a child” parents can do what they can, but sometimes it takes someone else to see the value in that child and encourage achievement.
Community is almost completely lost, hard times are getting harder and uniting seems out of the question! Get your hands dirty, learn about yourself , your history and what qualities you bring to the table. Improvise on them! I was once told if you can do something good then perfect it! Your twenties allow you to get to know yourself and the world around you, as young children our parents guide us the best way they know how, in adulthood is where you truly find your own balance and knowledge for your life ahead.Be proud of who you are and especially of where you come from, if you have children teach them this, dont leave it to the television or other young children to knowledge your child. Get involved! I know that it can be challenging to be a parent but with all brutal honesty, you made the choice or was given the blessing to have a child… Now lets get to work!
We must encourage our youth to love themselves, educate themselves and represent themselves!

Peace and love


Reflection and Response.

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The Evolution of a Performance: Peter Muller Live in León

Tonight I’m playing a show in León, España at my guy Fran’s Bar Agustín. The name of the event is The Crazy Peters Present ModBlues. ModBlues standards for Modern Blues, because the bar plays this kind of music we had to cater the name a little bit to the audience. I’m not sure if Acoustic/Electric Singer-songwriter hip hop would really work in this case.

The comic together of this show represents the power of community and support in the León music scene. After arriving too late to play at the open mic at the Gran Cafe, my singer friend Mary and I ended up at our friend Fran’s joint, the Bar Agustín. Mary asked me if I’d like to play some tunes for both of them. After jamming through The City and some other tracks Agustín asked if I’d be down to play a show at the bar the following Monday.

Fran then talked to a friend who used to play in one of the first punk bands in León and he  made up the event poster:

I then spent the next few afternoons practicing with Mary who has a killer voice on her roof overlooking Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral:

Next Fran talked to other local business owners and put up some posters around León’s Barrio Humido. This poster is at a local favorite spot known affectionately as “Lo de Patri,”:

Finally Fran reached out to my dude Jota who is the lead singer of Los Platillos Volantes and Jota agreed to lend me and Mary a PA system that his band uses. I will be playing music mostly from Shake This Maze and the Radio Leon Broadcasts.

From the idea of the show, to the artists involved, venue, promotion, equipment, and rehearsals  this is a Collective effort and demonstrates the power of the Leon Musical Community.

I’d like to thank all those involved and see you tonight Live! at Bar Agustín in León!

Reflection and Response

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Feature: Ellie Cross

the LIFESTYLE is a place for a global dialogue on creativity, Reflection, and Response associated with the arts. This week we are proud to feature Ellie Cross, whose commitment to community arts has led her to opportunities to interact with people around the world. She currently is part of a team that is starting an International School in Mumbai, India where she will become an art teacher after the school opens its doors in August. Check the dialogue below and view some recent work Ellie has been a part of in Mumbai!

That’s why I love community art projects and arts education, because it challenges the myth of the artist as some talented genius-loner making things that regular people can only appreciate.

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

EC: I’m from Seattle, but I’m living in Mumbai, India at the moment. My day job is helping start up a new International School, where I’ll be teaching art once we open up in August. This has fed my brain as I’ve explored the educational landscape here, plus supported and grounded me as I feed my insatiable inner appetite for community art projects.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

EC: Reflection means your brain thoughtfully digesting things, and according to the dictionary, it also means “the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it.” I believe the most powerful art does both of these. It shines some truth straight into your face by revealing something that’s been in front of you, previously unexamined. I think that’s what James Baldwin meant when he said: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

As for response, I think art is response. The way I see it, humans are like little dust bunnies that roll around collecting tiny sparkles of dust, aka inspiration. Sometimes a dust-sparkle punches you in the stomach and you lose your breath with the truth of it. Sometimes it just gets filed away unceremoniously into your fold of pre-accumulated dust and it doesn’t germinate until much later. Sometimes it swirls around the tip of your tongue until something else catalyzes it, and art is born! We might create the art as individuals but it’s always the product of much more than that. Which is helpful to remember as an artist, because it takes the weight off of you a bit. 

How do your current artistic endeavors fit in with that definition?

EC: That’s why I love community art projects and arts education, because it challenges the myth of the artist as some talented genius-loner making things that regular people can only appreciate. I do think some artists deserve disproportionate acknowledgement for putting in the 10,000 hours and challenging some incredible ideas into beautiful music/dance/visual arts, etc. I’m just more interested in awakening/nourishing creativity in kids and people that aren’t being celebrated as artists. I also love using art to change spaces, which I see as reflecting back a different reality. Especially in the murals we’ve been doing in Children’s Home, which was previously a jail and no changes have been made to make it feel like a home for kids. Even though painting the walls seems like a relatively superficial solution to a challenging situation, I think that spending the time and investing the thoughtful creative energy into those walls fundamentally alters the space. Especially when the kids have painted it themselves.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

EC: I’ve been taking a bunch of art classes in the traditional Indian arts. One of my favorites is Madhubani Painting, which is a tribal art form in which anything living gets a double outline. The outside line is the body, and the inside one is the soul. My friend and I wrote a Children’s Book about a kid’s tumultuous relationship with a bean plant, which is based on real life. We’re trying to get it published, so if anyone’s interested I do hope they holler. Also, I’m super excited to do a series of murals called “Blanks” in which certain sections are painted in chalkboard paint, so that passer-by’s can participate in the mural by contributing their chalk art.

Who or what inspires you?

EC: Abdul Sattar Edhi, this 84 year-old Pakistani that has only driven an ambulance in his life because he’s dedicated to helping people. Also, a Ghanaian man named Professor Smiles who believed in art the way religious fanatics believe in God. Caine’s Arcade and all the people that flashmobbed it. Great art blogs, like http://www.thisiscolossal.com/ and kids’ fearless faith that magic is pretty real. And definitely the Christian the Lion video when the lion hugs his long-lost human friends. I always cry with delight at that one.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

EC: When I tell people I’m either an artist or an art teacher, they quickly respond by telling me they “can’t draw.” I don’t know when being an artist got smooshed into the tiny box of fine motor skills and training associated with drawing, but I’m continually saddened by the fear many people face in the pursuit of artistic endeavors. I also think it’s important that visual arts get added to that often cited proverb from Zimbabwe, “If you can talk, you can sing.  If you can walk, you can dance.”  And if you can make any mark on any surface you can draw. Maybe you can’t draw the way you want to or the way you think the world wants you to. However, when you try and draw a horse and it looks unlike any horse anyone’s ever seen before–you’ve got to respect that horse. Because no one else living or dead could have made it. That doesn’t mean you have to like the horse, and you can definitely try again to make one you like more, but please stop hating on your horse and yourself. You’re not a camera and you’re not a photocopier. We have those now. You’re way more interesting than that.

Shout out to…?

EC: All the friendships, particularly the Art or Choke Collective and my amazing India collaborators that have helped make all the public art possible. The absurdly great family, the steady sweetheart, the internet, revolutionaries, manatees, and all the people doing the good work daily to cultivate love, justice, and magic.

Children’s Home mural project (Mumbai, India)

Check out Ellie’s blog for more information on the Children’s Home mural project and more photos documenting the process!

Also check out Ellie’s website to learn about powerful community arts projects she has facilitated in Ghana, Thailand, Malaysia, Tibet, Cambodia, United States, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala!

Reflection and Response.

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