Collection of Original Student Songs is Created in Partnership with LiveConnections
Listen to the Album
On Thursday, June 7, Hill-Freedman World Academy (HFWA), a public high school in the School District of Philadelphia, will release the original album WHAT’S GOING ON, the second offering from the school’s Hill-Freedman Records label. The label, and the album, are part of Hill-Freedman’s IB Design/Music Technology curriculum. The album will be released at a ceremony at 9:30 AM in the school auditorium.
WHAT’S GOING ON was created in partnership with Philadelphia non-profit LiveConnections, which is dedicated to inspiring learning and building community through collaborative music-making. The collection of original student songs (and one cover) is the culmination of a year-long project led by HFWA Music Technology teacher Ezechial Thurman and a team of LiveConnections teaching artists: noted songwriter/producer Andrew Lipke; Grammy nominee Kristal Oliver; 2017-18 Kimmel Center jazz resident Luke Carlos O’Reilly; and past Phildelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher.
The release event will feature live performances of several student-written songs, showcasing student performers along with the LiveConnections artists who have collaborated with them, including O’Reilly (who was a year-long leader of the WHAT’S GOING ON project) and Lipke.
WHAT’S GOING ON takes its inspiration from the songs and themes of Motown, while also drawing on contemporary R&B, pop and hip-hop. Over the course of the school year, under the direction of Thurman together with the LiveConnections artists, all of HFWA’s 10th and 11th grades dug into the songs of Motown, including legends Marvin Gaye (whose song inspired the album’s title and its lead track), Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and the Temptations.
With guidance from Grammy-nominated songwriter Oliver and Wisher, the students wrote poetry and lyrics, crafting their own songs. Some of the album’s tracks feature a band of LiveConnections artists, inspired by Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band. Some tracks feature original student musical composition and production, a hallmark of the Music Technology program led by Thurman.
The album features 23 original tracks, plus a cover of the Temptations’ Motown classic “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” The songs explore themes of love, personal struggle and courage and, true to Gaye’s influence, the students’ views of “what’s going on” in their world now. The lead track “What’s Going On(Still Wondering),” written by 11th grader Alliyah Dokes, proclaims “We all want equality/Whether it’s you or me/Man, woman, transgender/A saint or a sinner/We’re all holding onto the dream.” 11th grader Gabrielle Beard’s “Woman,” a powerful anthem in praise of a black woman, pleads, “Let the pages of her history not be scorned.” “Perfectly Imperfect,” by 10th graders Rajah Goldstein and T’Nia Napper, is a ballad urging self-acceptance in the face of outward criticisms.
“The Music Technology program, and this project in particular, shows off what Hill-Freedman students can do, given the opportunity and resources.” said HFWA head of school/principal Anthony Majewski. “We want the program and the school to be a platform that allows them to take risks and open their hearts through music.”
Thurman came to HWFA in 2016 to launch the Music Technology program. Last year, in partnership with LiveConnections, the school launched its record label with FIRST VERSE, an album of student spoken word poetry and digitally produced compositions. Thurman says WHAT’S GOING ON represents a next phase of the journey of the program and the Hill-Freedman Records label.
“WHAT’S GOING ON is full of songs that grab you, can inspire you, can bring you joy,” he said. “We want to give students the chance to be creators, producers, advocates and engaged citizens. Our partnership with LiveConnections is a cutting edge opportunity that has really given our students a chance to find their voice.”
LiveConnections Founding Director David Bradley noted that this project exemplifies the ways LiveConnections wants to create music. “We see collaboration as a great opportunity to cross boundaries and highlight what can happen when a diversity of voices come together,” he said. “These young artists deserve to be heard, in all their passion, sharp questioning and creativity.”
Direct support for this project has been provide by Philadelphia City Council members Allan Domb (At-Large), and Cherelle L. Parker (9th District), and The NBCUniversal Foundation, NBC10 and Telemundo62, as well as additional foundations and individuals. LiveConnections is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support for LiveConnections is provided in part by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
About Hill-Freedman World Academy
Hill-Freedman World Academy is a special admission middle and high school in Northwest Philadelphia. We proudly serve students with a variety of backgrounds, talents, and needs. Hill-Freedman World Academy provides a rigorous academic environment that inspires individuality and fosters lifelong learners who are committed to being knowledgeable, caring, internationally-minded global citizens. Hill-Freedman is a school where “All Means All” and where students are challenged and encouraged to develop their talents, even those yet to be discovered.
LiveConnections, a nonprofit organization in residence at World Cafe Live, creates programs that inspire learning and build community through collaborative music-making. In 2008, a team of artists, educators and entrepreneurs founded LiveConnections to address declining music education in Philadelphia schools and tap into the people-connecting power of music. Across all of our programs, LiveConnections is committed to artistry of the highest caliber, collaboration, community-building and accessibility/inclusion. We approach live music as an essential social and educational experience that helps create engaged and well-rounded global citizens.
Each year, LiveConnections reaches 5,000 participants with our dynamic educational programs. Bridge Sessions, our signature interactive performances at World Cafe Live, blend live music with hands-on activities. Sessions introduce students from Philadelphia public schools and youth and adults with disabilities to diverse musical cultures and build skills in listening, expressing ideas and synthesizing new information. We also offer in-school and after-school residencies at partner schools, providing sustained, in-depth music-making experiences for young people from under-resourced schools.
LiveConnections prioritizes accessibility for people with disabilities who face barriers to participation in the arts. We present Bridge Sessions and in-facility workshops targeted for youth and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities, and our interactive, adaptive approach means individuals may fully engage at their own ability levels.
In addition, LiveConnections curates a critically acclaimed concert series featuring adventurous, boundary-crossing collaborations. Our LiveConnections Presents concerts feature Grammy winners, local talent and rising stars; we frequently commission new music that blends musical styles and cultures; and our concert artists participate in our educational and community programming.