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Despite surviving a brutal civil war and having made a successful transition to democracy, the Salvadoran people face unprecedented levels of violence and rampant poverty. Arts education has fallen to the bottom of the priority scale.

MIMA led a 2-week songwriting program to build community, social cohesion and self-esteem among youth in which group music-making doubled as leadership training for local music teachers. An original music video was produced.





Public Affairs Officer US Embassy San Salvador

Project coordinator FUSALMO, El Salvador

What type of educational or cultural activity was this? Arts/Culture Educational or Cultural Activity Format: Leadership Training Primary Theme(s) Strategic: Reaching New and Youth Audiences with New Media Activity Description This ECA Cultural Envoy Project for at-risk youth and their music educators was sponsored by PAS and several local partners, particularly Fundación Salvador del Mundo (FUSALMO), and was carried out by four instructors from the US NGO MIMA Music. The program consisted of a 2-week Music Education Workshop for children and a 2-week Leadership Workshop for educators and young leaders, as well as a four 2-hour “inspire” sessions in communities facing high levels of violence. In total, 150 children and young adults ages 7 to 25 participated. A show was arranged for the participants in the Music Education Workshop to debut the original song they produced over the course of the workshop before an eager audience of parents, family, teachers and media. Activity Significance This activity reached out to the target audience of youth and future leaders of El Salvador, promoting Mission Goal of Improving Public Security by involving at-risk youth in healthy activities through the arts. The program’s 2-prong approach of working directly with children, but also with youth leaders was chosen to use music as a means of promoting self-esteem and creating a sense of community among at-risk youth, while also providing the tools to their adult leaders to ensure sustainability of the program goals. The project also encouraged musical creativity, risk taking, self-discovery and an appreciation for American culture, while also promoting a positive image of the US.

5 words to describe this experience: Innovative, fun, educational, effective, great What was your favorite part of the two weeks? The playful, dynamic improvisation exercises and learning at all times. Was there a time or exercise that was particularly memorable? Songwriting and then the video production. What would you have liked to do more? Learn more about the MIMA Method. What part of this week was the least interesting and / or constructive? Nothing. Everything was very interesting. How did you hear about MIMA? Through the US Embassy in my country, El Salvador. Additional thoughts, suggestions or questions about your experience with MIMA? Maybe it would be important for the children and youth in the program to feel more empowered through the program by doing more work at home, thereby encouraging their participation. Another thing that would be important to include in the future program is a budget for promotional printouts about MIMA, instruments, T-shirts, hats or similar objects. The website should offer a forum like a MIMA Club for boys and girls to exchange their experiences and their ideas about music and art. Personally, I’m very interested in making an affiliation in El Salvador to help me offer more programs in El Salvador that focus on social inclusion, development, education, arts and recreation for for youth in El Salvador, which are funded by government, NGOs, foundations and others.

Xiomara sang, but her parents wouldn’t let her. She arrived in a magical world, singing and dreaming, in search of a friend. The only thing she found was a lot of chaos and some gnomes. And the chorus of gnomes told her; Kiwi kiwi kiwi Bunny bunny bunny Tiki tiki tiki Mango mango Chivo chivo chivo Juela juela juela Dale dale dale Chula chula The gnomes sang. Xiomara listened. And so they said what they told her before. Frustrated and angry, searching for a way out, desperate, this is what she said to them; Why don’t they speak like me? I’m feeling confused!


Why doesn’t anybody understand me? This world is in reverse!


An original MIMA song Composed and played by the students of FUSALMO

The rain is falling upwards, I’m feeling adrift! Understood, I understood my world! Understood, I understood my world!

Top row: Cultural affairs assistant Veronica Våsquez briefs the MIMA team; Kevin Wenzel facilitates a breathing exercise; Magali and Jonathan exchange musical ideas; Middle row: Nelson practices his violin; MIMA’s first songwriting brainstorm in El Salvador; FUSALMO students practice harmonization with Alan Gaskill; Bottom row: Roberto records his drum track; Jonathan Barnes teaches Carlos and Carlos to record each other; the FUSALMO students receive their MIMA certificates.




Jonathan Barnes is a founding trustee of MIMA Music, Inc. and oversees the daily operations of the organization as its Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. A graduate of Stanford Law School (J.D. 2007) and Princeton University (A.B. Philosophy 2003), Jonathan has

also worked as an associate for the Boston Consulting Group in New York City. Jonathan plays guitar and piano, and DJs. Jonathan has managed MIMA projects in Brazil, El Salvador, England and the USA.

INSPIRATION: A Process Cultural Envoy Report by Jonathan Barnes In this report, I will focus on the topic of “inspiration”, because it is the element of a MIMA program that we try to sustain through every moment that we are together, and even beyond the program’s conclusion. For many people, beautiful moments of inspiration come all too infrequently, and are easy to forget. One of our primary goals in El Salvador was to bring lasting moments of inspiration to the students, by showing it, teaching it, encouraging it and giving them a foundation to recreate it beyond our departure.

The process of “creation” and recording is an essential experience that we want to give all of our students, regardless of their musical aptitude. In MIMA programs like the one we completed in El Salvador, the process is as important as the final product. One of the products of the program is an original song in the form of an audio recording, a music video and a final live performance. We divide the process into four phases: inspire, transform, create and celebrate. A good celebration is inspiring, starting the process over again — as we witnessed during the students’ final performance at FUSALMO.  This cyclical and selfperpetuating relationship between celebration and inspiration is the root of the MIMA Method. We spent the first half of the program focused purely on inspiration: playing improvisational games and teaching classic MIMA musical exercises in order to get everyone comfortable

with expressing themselves, being in the moment, listening to one another, reacting and feeding off each others’ creative energy. Only by the start of the second week did we begin to create the original song, which was our intention. On the second Monday and Tuesday the students wrote the song, and on Wednesday and Thursday they recorded it.

tracks playing in headphones. We set up a makeshift studio space at FUSALMO, to give the students the experience of recording like professional musicians, in a studio with a professional engineer. The students learned that in the world of audio recording, you don’t hear the final product until after the engineers have edited and mixed the tracks together into a complete song, which involves post-production time after the musicians The process of “creation” and recording is leave the studio. We asked our students if they an essential experience that we want to give all of had ever recorded before; they all said no. That our students, regardless of their musical aptitude. made it all the more gratifying to give them this Recording is a creative process and a transforma- experience. tive experience: the song evolves during recording and so does the musician. Recording can be January 18, 2011 marks the online debut of intimidating, and like any new skill set, uncom- our recording. It will be a moment of celebration, fortable at first.  But it becomes exhilarating and much like the final public performance of the song empowering for the musician when she hears her at FUSALMO a month earlier. The entire process own contribution played back to her and realizes has become the inspiration and foundation of the that it plays a valuable role in the group’s compo- larger idea of creating a lasting MIMA program in sition. the community: the process of growing our students into confident, fulfilled and inspired com Over the course of two days, each student munity leaders. recorded his or her part individually, with backing




Alan Gaskill specializes in arts education, employing theater, music, martial arts and dance to help others develop their inborn creative powers. Over the last 5 years Alan has directed social outreach programs for MIMA in the US, Brazil, China, and El Salvador. Alan is a graduate

of the Northwestern University Theater Program (B.S. 2004) and the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language studies in Beijing, China. In addition English, Alan speaks and teaches in Mandarin and Portuguese.

younger students’ class, our adolescent/adult class and in ourselves.

There were some very pronounced, observable changes in the children over the course of two weeks: they began shy, and ended engaged.

TRANSFORMATION: A collaborative journey Cultural Envoy Report by Alan Gaskill Public Affairs Officer Marti Estell states that the purpose of the Cultural Envoy program in El Salvador is “to connect Americans and El Salvadoreans.” Under the auspices of this spacious charter, something very specific took place during the MIMA program: we transformed each other. We gauged the transformation by comparing the class on day one with day fourteen. I will explore the changes undergone by the participants in our

pated in numerous musical and improvisational activities, they wrote, rehearsed, recorded and performed an original song together before a camera for a music video. The learning process occurred as students agonized through chord changes, tried to find the right lyrics, learned dance moves and collaborated with one another on entire sections of song. They took it upon themselves to teach each other to deal with stage fright and the unease of standing before a camera and a microphone. In short, they demonstrated the important commitment of an ensemble to each other, which fortified their relationship to each other as members of the same community.

The experience of a MIMA class is absorbed into the complex, hidden and near-magical process of a young student’s mental, emotional and spiritual development. We can’t immediately quantify how the experience has affected the students in the kids’ class, and how it will play into their human development. In order to ensure that From an organizational and personal perwe left a good impression we brought a lot of pa- spective, the opportunity to apply our exercises tience, love and variety to bear upon the musical to students of all age groups has been immensely learning process. valuable. Additionally, the benefit of working with There were some very pronounced, observ- a new culture cannot be over-emphasized. I arable changes in the children over the course of rived in El Salvador half-expecting another Brazil, two weeks: they began shy, and ended engaged. and was somewhat surprised when our students We sang together, played comical games, learned turned out to be conservative, polite, shy and rhythms, learned to improvise and passed through soft-spoken. In the crucible of the two weeks, and the experience of rehearsing and publicly perform- working within a new culture, I discerned that the ing a prepared body of music. All the while, they MIMA Method is universally applicable; it can be remained attentive, respectful and interested recalibrated and adjusted according to the needs in what we were doing — and it was predicated of any culture, age group or environmental conon the fact that as the days went by, they be- text. This is testament to the fact that the MIMA came comfortable with us, and by the time the Method is nothing new at all, but a replay on the first week was over we had created our own little most ancient human social instinct of banding incommunity. In the course of the two weeks, the dividuals together through music and dance. The kids overcame their hesitation and reserve about State Department, the Public Affairs Office of the performing, participating in exercises and making US Embassy of El Salvador and the Ambassador their voices heard during improvisational exer- gifted us with this fabulous opportunity to sharpcises. They revealed themselves to be joyful and en our skills in the field, accrue more experience, hone our teaching method still further, experienthusiastic. ment with new approaches to media and leave a At the end of the two weeks, the adoles- positive impact on a Salvadorean community. cent/adult class become a functional performing ensemble. Deeply connected after having partici-




Kevin Wenzel specializes in adolescent and adult music education. As the music director of the Cristo Rey High School in New York, Kevin launched the school’s music program in 2009 using the MIMA Method in nine different classes. He plays bluegrass on the mandolin, along-

side jazz piano and accordion. A graduate of the University of St. Louis in Sociology, Spanish and International Studies (B.A. 2006), Kevin has participated in MIMA productions in Argentina, Brazil, England and the USA. Kevin speaks fluent Spanish.

CREATION: Songwriting Cultural Envoy Report by Kevin Wenzel Every time I stand in front of a group of students — no matter what age — and explain that they will write a new song about anything, in any style they want and with whatever instruments they want, I am greeted with the same reaction: a blank stare. In this report I will explain why songwriting is a daunting task for students and teachers alike, but it is a task that everyone can get excited about, participate in and take ownership of. The songwriting process begins by constructing a group conciousness. Many of the techniques we used in the “inspire” and “transform” stage of the MIMA Method are designed to lead participants to this phase of collective consciousness. One of the most effective ways of finding out about how the group is thinking is to compile huge lists of words through a group brainstorming process. We created a relay race to induce spontaneous self-expression; for example, “what is a word that starts with L that you associate with your family?” This exercise demonstrates how each person is essential for the success of the group.

The primary benefits for students that take part in the songwriting process include: 1) a new understanding of group dynamics; 2) ownership of a work of art; and 3) critical thinking.

brainstorming session and synthesize them into a song, primarily through experimentation. At this stage, the students begin to take ownership of the collective work because they realize that they are responsible for its outcome. In our adult class in El Salvador, the chorus of the song took shape when one student created a simple melody without words and started singing it over and over. Another student added the word “mango.” After singing the melody with the word for a while, the instrumentalists created a rhythmic call and response in the pauses between the melodies. Another student liked the idea of singing about a tropical fruit and began singing a countermelody along with the word “kiwi.” This organic process of group listening and musical exchange was possible because the students truly feel comfortable as an ensemble. The third and final step in the songwriting process is revision. Students begin to consider the aesthetics of the song. They ask themselves, does the story make sense? Does the transition work? What is the significance of changing musical styles? There is an endless list of questions that the teacher can ask the students. The songwriting process is deductive and produces immediate satisfaction among students when they take note of their own progress, or see it in the form of a video. The primary educational benefits include: 1) a new understanding of group dynamics; 2) ownership of a work of art; and 3) critical thinking.

The final product of the creation process in our song entitled “Kiwi kiwi” was a story about a girl who didn’t understand the musical language but wanted desperately to participate. Her musical world is a dream world filled with chaos and gnomes who speak a language she doesn’t under The second step of the songwriting process stand: “why doesn’t anybody speak like me?” She is to take the stories and themes from the group gets frustrated, but the gnomes teach her a

rhythm and she slowly begins to understand their language and movements. In the end, through learning bit by bit and by being open to new experiences, she is able to play music with these strangers. There are clearly many ways in which one can interpret this story and the music — the sign of a true work of art. On one level, the song is a reflection of the world the students live in. What does it say that they wanted a magical world different from this one? That she doesn’t belong to this other world? “Nobody understands me!” The students did not necessarily intend to create such deep artistic meaning, but because of the process of group creation, they did so. Most importantly, each student walked away with a new perspective on his or her own creative abilities, in addition to a heightened sense of self-worth and communal sensibility.




Christoph A. Geiseler is a social entrepreneur, filmmaker and musician from Los Angeles, California. As the founder and executive director of MIMA Music, Inc., Christoph oversees the implementation of community impact programming in the United States, Europe and South Ameri-

ca. The brainchild of his senior politics thesis at Princeton University (A.B. 2004), MIMA uses improvisational music-making as a tool to empower people, train leaders and build stronger communities. Christoph speaks fluent Spanish, German, French and Brazilian Portuguese.

CELEBRATION: A dance with social media

of the first week, she was recruiting to people to come to class.

Our students in El Salvador are all first generation internet users. Facebook has become their public identity and a valuable form of communiCultural Envoy Report cation outside the classroom, especially because by Christoph A. Geiseler they live in a violent area where congregating in the streets is not safe. Many of them, like the Our repeated contact with the same 8-year old Josué, do not use email or cell phones, group of students in Soyapango, San Salva- but they access the Internet in cybercafés and dor during our two-week Cultural Envoy pro- visit Facebook through the accounts of parents or gram permitted us to initiate friendships and older siblings. Our mobile media production stuhave a deep educational impact that would dio permitted us to film, edit and publish three not have been possible in a single day.  This re- sixty-second videos each day. Our videos helped port will focus on the role of social media in our build cohesion among the group of kids that we were working with.  When we posted videos onOur students in El Salvador are all first line, the students shared the videos and looked at them repeatedly through social networks.  Our generation internet users. videos provided them with a personal and emotional validation of the importance (and beauty) project and how it helped us build community. of their work, which reinforced our constructive Kids in El Salvador have a very conserva- intentions. tive (and Catholic) educational upbringing, so for Social media provides an opportunity for us to come and set-up MIMA musical exercises or “ice-breakers” provided them with a novel ex- parents to share remotely in their kids’ activiperience. Some of the activities that we used in- ties. Building community was our main objeccluded “Harmonization”, the “Name Game” and a tive, so we created open lines of communication “Songwriting Relay”. These exercises had a trans- and transparency for parents. The parents of our formative effect on the participants in the pro- students in El Salvador also used social media to gram. For example, Samuel, a shy 14-year-old boy, follow our project. We often found them waiting couldn’t keep his eyes closed during a group hum- at the end of our public presentations and daily ming exercise at the beginning of the first week. songwriting sessions where they complemented At the end of the second week, he shouted into us on our daily video posts. The positive reinforcea microphone without any concern or consterna- ment of parents made it easier for us to gauge our tion while being filmed and recorded for our music impact and to receive feedback. Clearly, multimevideo. Another student named Aura also shed a dia technology can help people take ownership of layer of inhibition. Over the course of two weeks, their work in a public way. It will help to confirm we built a creative environment for her to feel free, our value as educators when our students create so she started to dance and sing enthusiastically, their own media content, and we can observe the while urging her peers to follow along. By the end replication of our teaching exercises and the cre-

ation of new works of art from a distance. Over the course of two weeks, we promoted group solidarity, the democratization of education and access to arts education. We celebrated our love and appreciation for both of our cultures. The final performance for parents and special guest US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte brought us together in a public place. During our final celebration, we handed out certificates to all of the students, in order to publicly recognize their accomplishments and their dedication to a challenging creative process. It was a pleasure and joy to work with so many enthusiastic people: the MIMA team, the Embassy staff and FUSALMO’s network of coordinators, administrators, teachers








© Creative Copyright 2011.



MIMA Magazine February 2011  

Featuring MIMA's report from its El Salvador Cultural Envoy program.

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