It was 9 am, and only ArtCorps artist Andrea Shigeko Landin and Anddy, a short 12 year-old who likes break dancing and riding bikes in dangerous positions, were in the room where the youth from 48 cantones were to meet. As a musician, Andrea knows how to improvise when activities don’t go as planned.
The youth group that I was expecting to meet with didn’t seem to have an interest in ancestral practices, the environment, or art−the three themes I was planning on working with this year. I’ve learned that here in Guatemala starting times mean give or take half an hour, so I didn’t panic just yet. Sure enough, at 9:20, I heard the pounding bass line of “Sexy Bitch” from a cell phone, which meant that Miguel was arriving, with his companion Francisco at his side.
At 9:40 it was still just the 4 of us. As the boys sat outside listening to more of Miguel’s hip-hop music, I took out my anxiety on the package of cookies I had brought for a snack for the kids during our break. I had a bunch of activities planned, but all for the larger group that I was expecting. What was I going to do for two and a half hours with these three boys and their endless playlist of rap music? I figured I could sit there feeling at a loss and finish the rest of the cookies, or I could try my hardest to improvise. So I went outside and told them we were going on adventure. We walked down the road for 15 minutes until we got to the forested patch of Juchanep, the community where we had our workshops (all the while with Miguel’s music in the background). We sat down among the trees, next to a river, and I started asking Miguel about his music–what his favorite songs are, why, what he thinks makes good music. The four of us got on the topic of rhythm. I asked them if they thought that everything had a rhythm and they shrugged. So I proposed that we try to find out.
We laid on our backs and closed our eyes, focusing on the sound of the river. We stayed like that for probably 10 minutes. I thought that Anddy had fallen asleep, but apparently not because when we sat back up he claimed that there was a rhythm to the river, and starting tapping it. I was excited and started tapping what I thought I heard, which was just a subdivision of Anddy’s larger beat. We decided to try the same thing with the wind. After another 10 minutes had passed Miguel started waving his arm in correspondence to what he heard. I handed him a nearby stick, and pretty soon he was conducting the wind.
We continued to walk around the forest, opening our senses to the music of the trees and looking for patterns. We discussed our ideas for a project combining the sounds of nature with their love of rhythm and beats. And finally, we laid back down to enjoy the cookies. I was glad I hadn’t eaten all of them.
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