We are an open band, with new members joining us every week. Here are a collection of our members; click on their images to bios—in their own words—explaining why they play with School of HONK and how they came to love street, brass music.
Music has always been my home. From wailing about hammers and rowboats with my mom at cribside to singing sappy seventies songs with my brothers in the car, I’ve had a tune in my head and a groove in my heart since forever. Once I picked up the trombone in 7th grade, I played along to any music, anywhere, with anyone who would have me. I played in all the school bands and city orchestras, but I also played along to my record collection, and covered pop and blues tunes with my friends in their basements. I bought a car shortly after my 16th birthday, and started playing in local hotel and party bands, until i found myself in heaven, playing college summers in a wandering clown band at a popular amusement park.
Eventually, I found myself in JUMBO, a large collection of local alternative rockers and others who played barely-recognizable versions of the most ubiquitous circus tunes (think Over The Waves, etc.), usually on old high school wind and brass instruments pulled out of the closet, or toy pianos and the like. Open to anyone who wanted to play, it was a a huge cast of characters, and showed me how a big group with a thoroughly playful attitude can be a bulwark against both musical dissonance and a fear of wrong notes. We were an instant and lasting success, with rooms full of people wondering if we were going to make it to the end of the song… song after song. Eventually, JUMBO went the way of so many other elephants, but that emancipating sense of big, diverse, playful music stuck with me.
Ten years and as many bands later, I joined the Second Line Brass Band, part of a street band revival sweeping the country. These bands have taught me that home is anywhere and everywhere street bands play. They opened my eyes and ears to the real power and possibility of music as action. Not just as a genre, or art form, or even a way of life, I’ve come to imagine brass and drum street bands as perhaps the most accessible and successful expression of collective imagination, with their own, autonomous power to effect real social change.
Street bands get the party started by putting everyone in a playful mood, and ignite the musical and social imagination in others. To play with others in this way is to nourish a deep connection with our kin while simultaneously nourishing love and respect for our own selves. By being playful, we don’t just become our most authentic selves – we glimpse ourselves through the respecting and adoring eyes of our bandmates. That awakening — mutual respect and adoration through play — is the gateway to all other progressive values — love and trust, justice and respect, peace and sustainability — and it is at the heart of our School.
School of HONK takes its name from Somerville’s annual HONK! Festival, when bands from around the world not only play for each other, but quite naturally and easily, with each other, as they share their favorite tunes. Without any of the usual trappings (conductors, sheet music, rehearsal space, sectional practices, home-study) musicians of all stripes soak up new songs, new ideas, and new inspiration from every corner. It’s the most inclusive, edifying and musical music education I’ve ever known, and it was the initial inspiration for the ear-based, mentor-led approach and the riff and groove-based repertoire of our School.
A home I built with friends, our community of players has introduced me to so many new friends and fellow travelers I never would have known otherwise, along with countless spontaneous, precious musical moments, week after week. Sunday afternoons are sacred to me now, and I cannot imagine a more welcome place to play, dance, laugh, love, listen and grow.
When I was a teenager, my mom and my high school band director had a tiff. My mom thought I would be a teacher, but Mr. Bastien knew I’d be a musician. “There’s music in her bones!” he said. And I did love music. I played in marching band and concert band and orchestra and all-state and clarinet choir and impromptu chamber ensembles at my church. I did finger exercises and etudes and scales and played all kinds of longer pieces. I practiced every day, but I never made music.
When I was 20 years old, playing in the MIT Wind Ensemble, I was sitting in Kresge Auditorium at one of our performances. I didn’t know anyone in the audience. I was getting my music in order to perform a piece called The Isle of Man by Percy Grainger. I think he’s most well known for Children’s March, but we were playing this more obscure piece, and we’d played it a million times during rehearsal. But, when our band director lifted up his hands and we lifted up our horns, I played that song for the first time. When it ended, I couldn’t believe what had happened. For the first time in my 10 years of playing clarinet, I’d made music. Collaborative, elated, out-of-body music. And it was then I decided to stop.
I realized in that moment, with my breath gone and the last notes of the Isle of Man still hanging in the air, that I loved music because it was transcendent. Or, better said, I loved music when it was transcendent. And, if I had to dedicate another decade of focus and practice for one more such experience, it wasn’t worth it. I left school and started sprout, and for a number of years, I thought my mom had been right. And then I discovered street music. Funky bass lines, pop covers, New Orleans rhythms, irreverent volume, dancing, yelling, joy, and spectacle. I picked the clarinet up again to play with Second Line, where I also learned sousaphone, be ear and rote. Boycott grew out of jam sessions with some other girlfriends looking to kill on their horns. I joined the organizing committee for the HONK! Festival and, after years of talking and dreaming with Kevin, joined him in starting School of HONK. Ultimately, I think it’s the unraveling of a more than decade-long feud between Mr. Bastien and my mom and an expression of my deepest musical, social, and educational values.
So, why do I come to School of HONK? I come to School of HONK for music, politics, connection, and joyful noise. I come to be free and loud, seen and heard, to have quiet moments inside myself amongst the ecstatic ritual of brass music and street revelry. I come for friends and for a better world. And I come because I find it — every, single week.
On a bright and unseasonably warm Saturday in October of 2012- my first HONK! Fest experience- I found myself dancing in the heart of Davis Square to the driving sounds of a renegade brass band from Detroit. Out of the entire wild spectacle, I found myself watching one trumpeter in particular, his face smeared with eyeliner and gold glitter, his playing shockingly intense on an instrument I had only thought of as producing poised and disciplined music. My ideas of what it was to play the trumpet shattered on the bricks below my feet; this fellow’s simultaneous playing and dancing were comparable to a rockstar shredding on a guitar.
The next day, I rented a trumpet from a local music shop and began the (very noisy, far-from-dignified) journey of teaching myself to play. I had played piano, guitar, steel drums, other percussion and various instruments, and done a lot with voice throughout my childhood and adolescence, but brass was a new adventure. Very soon thereafter, I found myself playing percussion for Second Line Brass Band, where I met Kevin, Shaunalynn, Paul, and others who, a few years later, united to bring Kevin’s initial vision School of HONK into being.
As a mentor at School of HONK, my foremost interest is in enabling people of all ages and ability levels to experience 1) the joy of making music in a group by feeling empowered to take risks without fear of judgement or failure, and 2) the exhilaration of performing HONK!-style – sometimes on the move, sometimes standing still, to a crowd of unsuspecting onlookers as part of a spontaneous, crazy, but cohesive group; and to see onlookers engage with smiles and dancing, and maybe even having them join us the following Sunday after witnessing our fun. The ever-growing community that is School of HONK is an unending inspiration to me. I look around each Sunday at that session’s unique group of individuals and I am flabbergasted time and again by the talent, courage, silliness, good-heartedness, and generosity that is practically bouncing off the walls. Come be a part of what we’re all creating together!
Photo by Leonardo March
I have been a percussion mentor since the beginning of the School of Honk. I also play snare drum and percussion with the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band. I have played drums since my teen years when I dreamed of being the next Elvin Jones. When I realized I had neither the talent nor the ability to stay up for the late set I set my sights to the streets. School of Honk has been an amazing opportunity to share the experience of playing for whomever happens to pass by, to draw them in, and to make them smile. It has been life-changing for so many folks, including me, and I look forward to the future of this project.
I am from Vermont and other than being a musician I am a dancer, music promoter, environmentalist, teacher and scholar. I am a percussion mentor for School of HONK and I have been here since the beginning! I am profoundly happy and proud to be part of such a positive and enriching educational program. I have been playing percussion and drum set since I was 8 years old and performing in bands since I was 15. I have a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology from Tufts and my focus was on African and Afro-Latin diasporic music and migration. I am currently a full-time music teacher: snare technique, drum set, piano, ukulele and songwriting. I also lead a rock group called Paper Waves based in Somerville with 4 other ladies. I play with Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, when my schedule allows. I run a concert series called Afropop Night Live, which is Boston’s monthly live Afro-centric music and dance party. Building community is extremely important to me as I can see that it allows people to thrive. I love School of HONK because it creates such a wonderful community and spreads joy when we are learning together or performing in the streets together. I love that any musician of any level can come be supported to learn while pushing themselves to the next level, having fun and being spontaneous.
I’ve been playing the trombone since a moment of epiphany at my Grandfather’s funeral led me to the instrument in spring 2013, after a spotty musical past. I’m famous for practicing wherever I can, such as at dozens of interminable Boston-area youth baseball and hockey events (where my kids were participating; you may have seen me; I now use a mute). I’ve always preferred to play with others, however, and had organized a few bands or concerts in different settings until I stumbled onto School of Honk. School of Honk for me is a complete godsend–a chance to play invigorating music in a friendly, supportive community, and to parade, which really is remarkably fun. I enjoy the camaraderie of the group, and like helping make the trombone and music accessible to others who are just beginning (as I am myself). I am particularly interested in the inter-generational promise of School of Honk (you can learn together with your kids!) and so I’ve also volunteered in the Honk! Amigos afterschool program and the Camp Honk summer program. My children Leah (drums) and Isaac (trombone, baritone horn), both grade 5, are now frequent SoH contributors.
My name is Ezra, and I’m 14 years old and play the trumpet. When I was little, I played the piano, and even wrote a few of my own melodies. I also loved the HONK! Festival; I would go to the parade every year and march alongside the bands, attempting to play a harmonica (with varying degrees of success) to whatever the band was playing. I started playing trumpet in school band when I was 10, and have loved trumpet ever since. Since then, I have started formally composing music, and now compose more than ever. For a few years, I played trumpet in the pickup band at the HONK! Festival. I also participated in various attempts at creating a HONK! kids band, all of which died because of a shortage of young musicians that could come to practice with any degree of regularity.
School of HONK started just after the 2014 HONK! Festival and I quickly joined. Unlike the kids bands, SoH is still alive after over a year! I instantly loved SoH because of the way songs are taught. In school, music is taught by forcing kids to play the most boring and monotonous songs that teachers can find over and over until every single person gets it exactly right, and then we move on to the next boring and monotonous song. (You wouldn’t think music could be monotonous, but somehow the schools manage it.) This is why SoH is so great. The idea that someone still learning how to play an instrument can play good music and have fun at the same time seemed too good to be true after playing in school band, but School of HONK has it figured out. Not to mention that we have three times more members than school band and still manage to learn harder music twice as fast.
After regularly coming to practice for about 8 months I was invited to become a mentor, an invitation which I readily accepted, mainly because I thought that I could help the other members learn new songs, and I had a personal desire to learn the intricacies of our songs and other parts besides the trumpet parts. (Also, being a mentor gives you more opportunities to play music, and who doesn’t want to play more?) I have enjoyed being a part of organizing SoH practices and figuring out ways to make the practices more enjoyable. I also enjoy listening to recordings of songs and trying to find the notes by ear. SoH also helps me compose music and has taught me how to improvise. Thank you for reading this, and I hope you will join School of HONK!
I’ve been having fun on the trumpet with School of Honk since its first meeting! Each week I look forward to spending time with all the great School of Honk members, exploring how this thing called a trumpet works, and making great music together in the practice hall and on the streets. When I’m not honking I can be found spending time with my family and building robots to operate the world’s farms and mines.
In 2nd grade music class I was given the choice of violin or flute. So I played a violin for 13 years and then stored it in a closet. I sang with choirs and chorus groups and went to concerts to watch others perform music. Part of me always wished I could have tried the saxophone but the band director told me I was too young for sax.
I remember the year I stumbled upon the very first HONK! festival. I danced and sang along and boy was I jealous of those musicians! They were having so much fun and entertaining so many people. That was 11 years ago.
Fast forward ten years and my husband (Matt D.) joined School of Honk with his trombone. He came home after that first week so excited that I knew I had to try this myself! It turns out it was finally time for that saxophone! With help and encouragement from everyone in the band, I started figuring out my new horn. One year later and I now play in four different groups! School of Honk has provided me a wonderful place to grow as a musician. What a gift! Where else can you join a band without knowing the first thing about your instrument?!?
I love School of HONK! It has brought the joy of music back into my life after a long hiatus, introduced me to an amazing community of interesting, unusual, funny, crazy, supportive, and lovely people, and at times saved my sanity. I sometimes call it music therapy.
My music education began inauspiciously in the 4th grade trying to learn clarinet through group instruction. It was not a good experience. I quit after a year.
When I was 13 I picked up an old guitar that was laying around the house, learned to play it by watching a PBS TV series that taught folk guitar, and then took lessons for about a year. The most important thing I learned from my first teacher was that you could figure out the chords to a song just by listening to the record. My next teacher was a student of Stefan Grossman, a member of the 60s Greenwich Village folk scene who was also a musicologist interested in delta blues. This is how I was introduced to the finger style blues of my first guitar hero, Mississippi John Hurt.
When I was in high school I started singing in a rock and roll band. We had a ton of fun hanging out together and making music (and getting paid for it, which sure beat baby-sitting 🙂 ). We started out as a cover band but with members heading off to college, we reformed as a new group called Theatre doing original material. We were together for about one year playing some NYC gigs, the highlight of which was playing as the opening act for Sea Train at the Cafe Au GoGo in Greenwich Village. That was pretty exciting for a bunch of teenagers.
There were a few more bands that came and went but I began to have doubts about surviving the rock and roll lifestyle and instead started a career in the tech industry, got married, and had a family, all the while wondering how I would ever get music back into my life. I performed at the occasional coffee house but something was missing.
Then my friend Charlo told me about the School of HONK. I was so ready to learn a new instrument and a whole new style of music. I showed up at an early SOH session, was handed an alto sax and showed a few notes, and embouchure pointers, and although my early efforts triggered uncomfortable flashbacks to the noises that came from my 4th grade clarinet, I persevered. I love that we learn by ear, that we perform every week, and that the SOH community supports you no matter what your aspirations are or where you are on your musical journey. It’s also great to have a cadre of buddies who break into dance at the drop of a hat!
Hi, I’m Charlo, a financial advisor, a mother, a gardener, and very recently, also a trombone playing musician. I am 63, and I had never played an instrument before School of Honk rolled around in 2014. I had many musician friends, including my husband Paul, but it wasn’t what I did. I never even questioned that fact. Then School of Honk opened and turned my perspective upside down.
I can’t read music, though I am slowly learning how to, so I learned how to play by watching the trombone players next to me in School of Honk. I borrowed a trombone from the school initially, then I rented one from a local music store, and about six months in, I decided that this was actually working and I bought a used trombone. I have taken lessons to speed up my learning, I put in some time practicing, and now I have become one of the trombone mentors in the school who teaches others how to play. I’m not great, but I can play all the School of Honk songs and I’m getting better at soloing.
Miracles can happen. Old dogs can learn new tricks. I have, and I love it. Playing at School of Honk is always fun. What a joyous feeling it is to make music with our big band and to make the people on the streets so happy when they hear us. I love to dance also, and when I’m real happy, sometimes I have to put down my trombone and just dance to the music.
Hello! I’m Nat Hefferman, the tall skinny guy who plays baritone sax. I started playing the sax in 4th grade, because I thought it was the coolest-looking instrument in the school band, and because my dad had played sax when he was in school. I started off playing alto sax, but since I was the tallest kid in my class, the gave me bigger and bigger ones as I kept growing, which is how I ended up on the baritone. I added the bassoon when I entered high school, and continued on to college as a bassoon major at Ithaca College. I took a break from music after college for a few years when I entered the working world, but decided to get back into it once I had married and settled down. I bought a cheap second-hand bassoon, and soon found myself in demand to play in numerous community bands and orchestras. I’ve attended every HONK! in Boston since the beginning in 2006, and decide I missed playing the sax so much I bought one, and joined up with the Extraordinary Rendition Band in Providence. I’ve been coming to the School of Honk since I also enjoy playing in a Honk band closer to home.
If you get a chance, ask me about my sarrusophone – a 19th Century mutant hybrid of a bassoon, saxophone, and a paper clip.
Photo by Leonardo March.
I joined School of HONK about 6 months ago because I was looking for a good way to improve my musicianship. Over the past couple years, I have been extremely serious about music and have taken classes at colleges such as Berklee and NEC. When I heard that School of HONK taught members the songs mainly by ear, I knew that this was something that would help improve my listening skills and ability to pick things up by ear. As soon as I arrived to SoH on my first day, it was clear that I would be sticking around; I immediately fell in love with the environment as well as the repertoire that we played.
Another thing that I absolutely love about School of HONK is the way that members help each other. As someone who is interested in pursuing a career in music education, I felt more than honored when I was asked to be a mentor about a month ago. Although I am still learning just like everyone else, one of the main reasons why I come to SoH now is so I can have fun helping others who are newcomers or just unfamiliar with their instrument. Everyone in this community has contributed to helping me become a stronger leader and I cannot thank them enough for that. School of HONK is truly a special group!
I first heard School of Honk at Porch Fest 2015 (if you watch the aerial videos of that show on YouTube, you can see me bopping around in the crowd, mentally clearing all future Sundays in my schedule), and I’ve been a fan ever since! My first musical experiences include singing “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” duets with my father at family functions, writing wordy folk songs on my mom’s guitar, and contributing a very loud cornet to middle school concert band. More recently, I was a member of the World Music Ensemble and co-president of The Lymin’ Lyons steel band at Wheaton College (MA), where I studied Creative Writing and Ethnomusicology.
The WME and Lymin’ Lyons taught me a lot about music that can be felt instead of read, and I’m now a firm believer in rote learning and using muscle memory as a way of acquiring new music skills. I love that School of Honk creates a friendly music-making environment where much of our learning comes from listening, watching, and sharing insights with the musicians beside us– it inspires a distinct form of teamwork and encouragement that makes us groove musically and interpersonally. It’s a pleasure to know there’s a community as fun, inclusive, and joy-inducing as School of Honk, and I’m thrilled to be part of the ride!
Patrick Johnson is a Somerville-based filmmaker and teacher who discovered School of Honk while developing a documentary film project. Soon after, he dusted off his saxophone (in storage for sixteen years) and started playing. Inspired by the community that was forming, he also began documenting the band’s parades and practices.
As a filmmaker, Patrick likes to tell stories about artists, musicians and alternative lifestyles and sees his craft as a way to connect with his local community. His work has screened in art galleries, film festivals and has been featured in the blog BoingBoing.net. You can watch some of it here: https://vimeo.com/patrickhjohnson Patrick also teaches at Wheaton College in Norton, MA as an Assistant Professor of Filmmaking.
Photo by Tom Hazeltine.
I don’t think I would have continued to play music if it wasn’t for the incredibly inclusive, fun, stress-free ethos of honk. Coming from a small public school band program, I was lucky to have some really dedicated teachers, but the structure of a couple high pressure performances a year in front of a silent, stationary (and probably very bored) crowd seemed to be missing the point.
Honk changed my entire perspective on what music is and should sound and look and feel like. Learning simple but groovy parts by ear, trying different instruments, soloing without complicated and long lectures on theory, and playing outside for random strangers has given me confidence I didn’t think possible as an amateur teenage musician.
Playing with people of different ages and musical backgrounds has instilled in me a sense of respect for everybody, regardless of experience, who puts themselves out there and plays music for all to enjoy.
I have been up to various musical shenanigans since I started playing the piano in the first grade. Eight years of piano lessons was headed in the direction of assistant to the church organist when I escaped as 2nd trombone once removed in the middle school band. After that, I spent years tinkering with everything from banjo to guitar to ukulele to mandolin. More recently I have played electric bass in a group called the Hardy Boys, playing covers for local street fairs and elementary school events. I started coming to School of HONK last April with my dad’s old trombone. I switched to the sousaphone when it was clear that not enough people were sufficiently terrified by my trombone playing. I am willing to wear ridiculously polka dotted pants in the name of great music! In my free time, I run a consulting company that engineers prototype hardware for renewable energy startups. I also design and build custom tandem, recumbent, cargo, and kids bicycles.
I began learning to play clarinet in a high school band. Instruction however was brutal, like the military men who had taken over the country. I came of age listening to the revolutionary songs of the New Chile under Allende, and drinking the bitter wine that destitute peasants drank as they marched on dusty streets chanting old Indian songs: Music became my weapon to resist and fight back.
I sang and played in a Chilean band in exile and when that went out of fashion I took my guitar to California to organize farm workers. Illiterate peasants taught me to write and to sleep in a hammock. They also taught me a bunch of songs I took to Nicaragua where, thanks to a dubious US education, I taught college during war time.
The world is a wonderful and horrible place and when David strikes Goliath one ought to cheer: I played my guitar at a small festival in Vieques, Puerto Rico, when the US Navy got kicked out of that small island. And I played it in New Orleans after long days of helping folks rebuild, a year after Katrina. Happily, after removing Katrina mud we also paraded through N’awlins streets singing ‘We got that Fire.’
Parading in New Orleans after Katrina was an affirmation of life and illustrated for me the possibility of living to build a better world. I met my current band mates at a demonstration demanding better wages and there and then decided I’d rather carry a musical instrument than a picket sign. Music for me is an affirmation of life and of our humanity. And yes, music is still my weapon to resist and fight back.
Photo by Leonardo March
Hey there! I’m Matt – I’m one of the mentors for the low brass section. I wear many hats – but I also take on many roles in various parts of my life (nailed it). I am a learning technology specialist, social activist, musician and/or improv comedian (see: previous sentence) depending on what time of the day you find me. One of my hats my Mom made for me, and another one is a bear and has ears on it.
I’ve been playing trombone for most of my life, from school orchestra to activist brass bands. I personally find playing music in groups to be a unique and beautiful way to build relationships. School of HONK is not only a uniquely fun experience in my life, but a meaningful place to build community and meaning.
I co-lead the School of HONK Dance Troupe, and one of the things I love most about SoH is that there is space for you here, even if (or maybe especially if) you’ve ever felt that dance or music “isn’t for me”. As for me, I always I loved to sing, but I didn’t know how to play an instrument or read music, so I thought I wasn’t allowed to think of myself as musical. Similarly, I always liked to move, but I “didn’t dance” (and thought I couldn’t dance) until I was about 20.
Up until then, I thought that dancing was one of those “you have it or you don’t” kind of things, and that I didn’t have it. In retrospect, all my peers who I thought “had it” took dance lessons after school or practiced on their own. Isn’t it amazing to discover that just about everything in life is actually a learnable skill rather than an innate gift?
I went to school for theater and I got to take a lot of movement classes, which made me more aware of my body, how it moves, and how to “play” it. This led me to discover that I LOVED dancing—which I think is really just a mildly intimidating word for “moving your body in relationship to a rhythm”. I spent a semester studying classical Indian dance-theater in southern India, and when I got back, I discovered international and American folk dances, and later got into things like swing/blues, tango, etc. I also work in professional theater, especially movement-based styles like puppetry, dance-theater, clowning, etc., and my idea of what counts as “dance” is pretty broad.
At this point in my life, I’m pretty darn passionate about the belief that dancing and music are for EVERYONE, and I love facilitating dance experiences at School of HONK. I love that we have a mixture of kids and adults, at all ability levels, and yet we can all come together and dance joyously, in unity with each other and with the music!
So blessed to be a part of an amazing and open community! I’ve been playing percussion since I first listened to music with my family and started banging away, and since then I’ve played in all sorts of bands with all sorts of individuals. I was originally asked by some folks to come to SoH and help support the newer musicians. I was welcomed with open arms and was immediately hooked. There’s so much positive energy, passion, and love. And we get to play & learn some really awesome music and share it with the world! I wish my schedule was freer to show up to all the exciting events and practices, and whenever I can join I get so excited and enjoy every moment.
[Photo cred Leo March]
I have been drumming with the Chicago-based performance art marching band Environmental Encroachment since 1998, integrating circus arts, dance, multimedia, and custom costumes. We were fortunate to have been invited to the first HONK! Fest 10 years ago and have been hooked on HONK! ever since, traveling to other HONK! Fests in Seattle, Austin, NYC and beyond. I have studied global grooves in Chicago, Morocco, and South Korea and love to teach hand drums and percussion, especially to beginners. My day job as a grant program coordinator in the Harvard Semitic Museum supports my music habit. I was a mentor with this summer’s first-ever Camp HONK. School of HONK is a great expression of community-minded musical activism and I’m happy to be a part of this fun and experimental process of teaching and learning.
My parents were officers in The Salvation Army and while I no longer follow the fold their British brass band tradition gave me my start on tuba. I combined those bands with a pile of high school and college groups – concert bands, orchestras, jazz bands – but the marching bands and pep bands were where my bass-y heart got its beat: simple, driving music with a bit of funk, and ever-blessed by the Bb Blues Scale.
In 2013, after a decade and a half in the (figurative) wilderness, I finally got hold of a sousaphone but still had nowhere to go. I ran into the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band doing a gig at Harvard Square, and from there Shaunalynn played matchmaker and set me up with The Jamaica Plain Honkband, a community-oriented, open-membership street band with whom I am still very active. Folks from the JP band joined up with School of HONK for a march on Cambridge City Hall, and I’ve been attending ever since. (I think I dig how the School’s every Sunday parade and concert echoes The Salvation Army’s old “Open Air Meeting” tradition…)
School of HONK has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn new songs and instruments, as well as have fun playing for lots of people – making them dance and dancing with them! My first encounter with School of HONK was the Winter Solstice parade of 2015 — I played bucket and had so much fun, I immediately put 3-5pm on Sundays on my calendar! Since my humble beginnings on the bucket, I’ve progressed to washboard, bass, snare, and other percussion — and one time, I managed to make a sax bleat! School of HONK has inspired me to practice and improve, and I continue to marvel at the patience, wisdom, and skillz of the mentors and section leaders.
Like many other members, I’m a lifelong musician — singing since childhood and starting piano lessons at age 8, playing in bands in high school, and beginning to play African and Latin percussion in my early 20s. I’ve performed solo as a singer-songwriter (on vocals, guitar, and mandolin), as part of several jazz duos (on vocals), and as a member of a cappella quartets and choruses. When I’m not playing with SoH, you may find me jamming with the all-female Batucada Belles of Cambridge (on djembe/snare).
I think I have the most amazing luck in finding super spirited musicians, social activists and community all in one place. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the School of Honk and the wonderful atmosphere of learning, music making and pure joy that happens each and every time we meet. I came upon the School of Honk with their open invitation to play and as an active member of the Honk Festival (formerly playing Surdo with AfroBrazil) I have always been super excited by the HONK Festival! Prior to that I studied West African drumming in Chicago and have drummed with the Batucada Belles, Rhythm Revolution (Chicago) Women Spirit Drummers (Chicago) SheDrums (Chicago), etc. well you get the idea.
Not only do I believe in the absolute healing power of music and community, there is scientific evidence that now backs this up! As a mental health therapist, I’ve worked with children in a mental health setting developing a therapeutic drum curriculum. I also have a documentary that needs to be finished “Drum On” about the New England drumming community. For about 17 years I have been a part of these music making communities and it has changed my life in the most positive way. I have met the most interesting, genuine, intelligent, funny, creative, cool, fun people of all ages and all walks of life and feel very fortunate. I am so glad that School of Honk exists, as it fulfills a need we all have to belong. Learning to play songs with instruments other than drums is new for me and I like that. I am new to the repinique and hope to learn snare as well. I wore my thumbs quite a bit with all the over use, so it’s been a slow recovery but School of Honk was there when I could only play with one hand and welcomed me with two.
My Dad was a jazz drummer and I imagine him watching us and swinging, especially when people solo- he would love that. He used to blast his jazz music and it drove us kids crazy, “turn that music down Dad!” But now, I GET it. I don’t have any real formal training, can’t read music and sometimes my hands won’t do what I want them to do, but as Kevin says every week “we don’t worry about wrong notes, we are just here to have fun” and I do.
I joined School of HONK in May 2015 when Maggie convinced me to stop talking about wanting to learn trumpet and actually give it a try. I had met many of the first mentors through the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, and I was intrigued by a community brass band with an almost nonexistent barrier to entry. I got hooked when I was empowered to play songs and take solos on an instrument I had never played right on the first day.
I am a lover of many genres from concert music to jazz. I have played amateur saxophone since childhood and work as a professional composer and software developer. You might be surprised to learn how similar composing and coding are. I would wager these threads of music woven through diverse walks of life is part of what attracts so many to our beloved little school.
I believe strongly in the value of learning to appreciate a wide selection of music. When I want to feel shivers running down my spine or experience a melancholy catharsis, I seek the orchestra or the opera. When I want to sense the palpable connection with my fellow concert-goers over a uniquely American art-form in an intimate setting, I haunt a jazz combo in a tiny club. But when I want to engage the singular sense of playfulness and energy riding an irresistible urge to move, I play in brass bands like School of HONK.
As a composer, I spend many, many hours perfecting the few minutes of music that a piece of mine comprises. I am pleased when I craft a work of inventiveness and nuance, but it can be a daunting task. Our community of players here provides a wonderful musical outlet to balance my world of theory and orchestration with a refreshing group of friends who don’t take themselves or their music too seriously.
Photo by Mike Lovett.
From an early age, music has been playing in my life, a continuous soundtrack, from Hair and Sergeant Pepper on the Victrola as a boy in New York City, to concerts at the Palladium and Bottom Line as a teenager, to cassettes in rusted cars on Mass Pike road trips, but I was always on the outside looking in, in the audience facing the stage, on the sidewalk saluting the parade….
Until School of HONK. School of HONK finally offered me a chance to be in the parade- which turns out to be whole lot more fun than watching the parade. But not only a chance to be in a parade, nor just a chance to bang on a drum and learn a whole new vocabulary of rhythm. It also offered me a chance to be liberated from my natural inhibitions. To connect with a joyful, inclusive, accepting community. To revel and marvel as Kevin, Maggie, and Shaunalynn summon us to the sound in their heads. It’s called the School of HONK, but it could just as easily be called the Church of HONK for the feeling of communion and love that circulates when we gather in the round. As Kevin said at HONK! Fest 2015 when I was still on the outside looking in, if more people could do this, the world would be a much kinder, gentler, more peaceful place. Amen!
I have loved HONK music since the first HONK! Fest I went to years ago. I felt a little conspicuous singing along and dancing, though it seemed clear that that should be the response to music sooooo lively and danceable and people wearing such wild and wonderful outfits.
At the end of the summer of 2015, I was at a benefit where some HONK folks came to play. As we gathered around food afterwards, I said that I’d consider playing the sax again if I could find one. Before I said that, I didn’t know I was even thinking that. And the response was, “we have a sax for you! just come on Sunday!” Such a clear leading could not be refused, so I came that Sunday and indeed I honked. I hadn’t played for about forty five years. The invitation came at a time when I was recovering from a period of mourning. It was as if my departed friend said, “look! I found some fun for you!”
School of HONK has a way of just pulling you in. Such open generous people create an energy field with music that changes the world. How could you not want to join?
Oh, and now I get to wear an outfit, too, and dance around and also play. S O M U C H F U N.
I come for the way it sounds.
I come to dance.
I come for the chance to delight a stranger.
I come because partying week after week with the same crowd of people is something I needed in my twenties and thirties and continue to need as I move into my forties.
I come because I think alternative modes of education, and community self-education are a good thing to explore.
I come to School of HONK every week because once I was a teenager who was very serious about learning how to play the saxophone, and he’s someone I like to remember.
I come because I think we need life, joy, and a bit of subversion on our streets.
I come because I want my three year old son to have something wild in his life.
I come because I want to get to know a lot of musicians.
I come because I’ve spent time in music scenes where most of the participants weren’t formally trained, and I think it’s a great thing.
I come because I think School of HONK makes folk music and future music and we need both.
I come because the art I’ve made has always been about blurring the lines between audience and creator.
I come because it’s literally the best way I know of to meet new people, and I want a life where I meet lots of new people.
I come because I need to experience loud music and be around people but don’t like to stay up late.
I come to combat the increasingly asynchronous nature of modern life.
I come because for years my wife (Crissy, percussion) and I have dreamed of starting a daytime techno dance party. School of HONK is a big step in the right direction.
I come because I’ve never seen anything like it.
I come because it feels like home.
I came to the school via my friend Big D. We had been playing music together for a few months when he told me about something amazing: the School of HONK. He was absolutely correct about the amazing part. My musical background was diverse but usually tied down to electricity: electric guitars, electric bass, keyboards, and music generated using programming languages on computers. Fortunately, I was able to start playing percussion with the School which was not only a new instrument for me but also a new section. My lucky star must have been shining on me that day, because playing percussion has brought so much happiness into my life. I keep coming back because there is nothing at all like playing funky New Orleans-style music with 40-90 other enthusiasts. And also, I just love parading around making a racket with my bass drum. Thank you School of HONK!
I’ve dreamed of being a drummer ever since I was 17 when I was still living in the land of eternal cold, vodka, and bears. However, having no prior musical training (except for a few piano lessons) and not knowing where to begin (do they even have drum lessons in Siberia? Of course, they do, but I did not feel brave enough to try), I had to put it on a shelf and just keep on dreaming for a while – exactly 10 years. So one decade and one move across the world later, a miracle happened – I saw School of HONK perform at Somerville Porchfest 2015, and that’s how it all began. A week later, I came to take pictures of the band, two weeks later I started playing auxiliary percussion, three weeks later I was playing a snare drum! Just like that, School of HONK made my dream come true. It’s been a year and a half now and I can’t imagine living my life without it. I have learned so much about music, met so many amazing people, and made some really great friends. Thanks to the musical instruction and support I have received at School of HONK, I got comfortable enough to perform with other bands as well, such as Bread and Puppet Circus Band, JP Honk Band, and Extraordinary Rendition Band. Currently, I play with JP Honk Band which is just as warm and welcoming, and of course my Sundays are dedicated to School of HONK, come hell or high water. School of HONK is like one giant musical-dancing-performing-parading-polka-dotted family, so every Sunday I feel like coming home.
Photo credit: Kirk Israel