2018 Orientation: Jay Shah

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., in May, scholars are required to complete a multimedia reporting assignment. Their work is displayed here.

Video: Cypher program

Rhythm and rhyme in Nashville libraries
by Jay Shah

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Music spills from the room whenever someone opens the glass doors. Hi-hats, drums and guitar riffs play in a loop as students try to keep up with the rhythm on a digital keyboard.

When they lose the beat, Jarrell Pierson steps in and catches them up.

Pierson is the music production mentor for Southern Word, an organization that uses the literary and performing arts to build skills in young people. He works at half a dozen library locations to teach students how to produce audio, record sound and write lyrics.

CQS, Chips Quinn Scholars

Southern Word mentor Jarrell Pierson loops a beat on his computer and shows a student how to keep the rhythm on a digital keyboard at Nashville Public Library’s Edgehill Branch. (Photo: Jay Shah)

“It’s hard to keep arts in Nashville,” said Pierson, who on this day is working with students in the Cypher program at Nashville Public Library’s Edgehill Branch. “Schools don’t necessarily have those programs; that’s why we exist.”

The Cypher program emphasizes collaboration among participants, who range in age from 5 years to the mid 20s: The students work together to write lyrics, create a beat and produce a song.

The highlight of Pierson’s eight years with the program is having introduced hundreds of students to a side of music they’ve never experienced before, he said. His students reconnect with him after they’ve started releasing records and albums, he added.

Carlos Shivers, manager of the Edgehill Branch library, has been involved with the program for nearly four years.

“A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to produce and this gives them (that) opportunity,” Shivers said. “Instead of just buying records that someone else has made, they can just be creative and listen to something they have written.”

Antonio Jefferson, who raps under the name “lil 80’s,” has been rapping for most of his life but first became involved with the production side of things through the Cypher program.

“The beat, the music, it’s a positive vibe,” Jefferson said. “This is what I wanted to do. This should be a continuing thing for the community.”

Southern Words operates the program with financial support from Nashville Public Library Foundation. Southern Word started more than a decade ago to promote literacy in schools, but has expanded to offer other kinds of programs.

“The transformations these kids go through is just unbelievable,” said Pierson, who recalled how, when he was in school, the library was the last place he wanted to be. By offering music production workshops at the library, he said, “it just makes it easier for a kid to get involved and stick around.”

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