So much of contemporary life is underscored by music. How often do we turn to our streaming apps to listen to music? According to one study, In 2021, the total number of on-demand audio music streams in the United States hit an astronomical 988.1 billion. This is an increase of nearly 100 billion from the previous year, reaching the highest number of streams ever. While the power of listening to music is undeniable, we cannot dismiss the power of playing and performing music.
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In generations before our own, it was commonplace for families to have a piano, and for members of the family to gather around and play and sing together. This practice, however, has been eclipsed by the demands and quick pace of contemporary life. But, the fact remains: playing music, or participating in a musical group helps a person unwind and de-stress. The collaboration and teamwork required to perform with others has many benefits. Research has shown that music affects the brain and can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. This practice leads to increased self esteem, improved listening skills, and creates feelings of belonging and a sense of security.
Project Best Life spoke to Griffin Brady, ethnomusicologist and founder of the SlyBoots School of Music, Art and Dance, Dr. Robert Strauss, Artistic Director of the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus, and Joe Maniaci, owner of Allentown Music about performing with ensembles, music lessons, purchasing instruments, and the power and importance of performing music.
Griffin Brady discovered the healing power of music first hand. After suffering the loss of a close friend at 16 years old, it was suggested to him to see famous musician, Bernard Woma from Ghana, play because it might help him process some of his grief. “My teachers thought, this guy is clearly into music as therapy, he is skipping all of his classes and hanging out in the band room, maybe he could benefit from meeting [Bernard Woma].” That meeting changed Brady’s life. “I had an out of body experience. Everybody in the room disappeared, and I felt as if I was connected to this music. I had never seen an instrument like that before and I knew I needed to learn more about it.”
Brady went to Fredonia State University, where he studied percussion education under Woma. After visiting and studying at the Dagara Music Center in Ghana with Woma, Brady hosted the Saakumu Dance Troupe of Ghana in Buffalo. This visit provided the inspiration for the SlyBoots School.
“[It was] basically created to help facilitate the work with Bernard when the [Saakumu Dance Troupe] would come over, in order to get the company around from school to school we needed to come up with something. So, I bought a short school bus off of eBay motors and we retrofitted it to be our tour wagon. Whenever we weren’t on the road, we had the SlyBoots School of Music, Art, and Dance where everyone would stay and where we would do Community classes. It wasn’t a ‘real official School of Music,’ but rather one ‘a little on the sly.’ The idea was, the dream didn’t have to be simply a dream, we just had to be a little ‘sly’ about it, and we had to be clever. We had to cut a couple of corners. It came up because it needed to. We needed an institution that would help facilitate the work… bringing cultural representation from Ghana and other places to share their music and dance, and to entertain, educate, and inspire and ultimately to promote positive social change through Cultural Arts, education, and performance.”
Slyboots currently offers a Tuesday night class that features juggling, drumming, and African dance. The three skills are taught in a progression, and build on each other. Brady said,
Slyboots School of Music, Art & Dance
700 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14203 | 315-771-1414
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The Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus is a Buffalo institution that has been in existence since 2001. Currently, the group is led by Dr. Robert Strauss, who serves as the Artistic Director. The BGMC is a choral family of LGBTQIA+ members and straight allies and aims to be one of the best LGBTQIA+ focused choral ensembles in Western New York, but balances levity with the seriousness of their work. According to their website, “the Chorus is a great place to meet people and make new friends, while doing something enjoyable and worthwhile.”
Members of the chorus attend rehearsals one night a week. Dr. Strauss works with all levels of skill and musicianship, from skilled readers of sheet music, to those new to choral singing. Dr. Strauss said that some rehearsals will be “working on vocal technique, some will be cleaning up notes and rhythms, and some will be reading through text and talking about the meaning of the text. We also will be drilling [vocal] parts separately, so there’s a lot of variety in a rehearsal. We are singing the notes and rhythms, but also singing the meaning of texts”
Dr. Strauss said, “singing in a group can help people’s mental health and well-being in a lot of different ways. Just interacting with other human beings with similar interests, like singing and perhaps the mission of the group is one way. A large part of this is breathing, and so we’re all breathing together, and being mindful about our breathing and being deliberate about how we’re doing it. We are also communicating with each other about ‘How does this text make you feel?’ ‘Why do you feel like we’re singing these words?’ or ‘What does it mean for a group like us to sing Abba’s Dancing Queen?’ There will be a discussion of what it means to us to sing, and we learn more about each other, and have more empathy for different points of view, even within the context of people who presumably have a lot of the same ideas.”
Performing for audiences also has a positive effect on the members of the chorus. Dr. Strauss said the choral members “love looking out and seeing people smiling as a result of our concert. If the concert is meant to move people and they are moved, that has an effect on the singers. The chorus is just so proud of what they have accomplished, and that makes them happier and feeling more complete.“
Rehearsals for the group begin on January 10, 2023. Any person, regardless of gender expression or sexual orientation who can sing tenor, baritone, or bass is welcome and encouraged to audition for the group.
533 Amherst St., Buffalo, NY 14207 | 716-883-1277
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Joe Maniaci, Owner of Allentown Music describes his shop as “a full-service Combo music store, where we sell a lot of guitars, amplifiers, drums and keyboards and violins and any kind of musical instruments and accessories including brass and woodwinds, and orchestral [instruments]. We try to have as much covered as any musician might need. Any supplies that they might need, we try to have that covered. We buy, sell, and trade, and deal in new and used [instruments], we do rentals, we do repairs, as well guitar, bass and piano lessons.”
Maniaci shared “When some people come into our store, it is kind of their happy place. They have had a rough day at work, or just their job in general, then come in and see the instruments, and kind of forget about some of their troubles… and that makes us feel really great. That we can be here for people like that. We are providing a store they can go to locally, where they can come in and purchase [an instrument] without going online or going very far away. It’s almost therapy for some people. They feel welcome when they come in, and the musical instruments make them feel welcome, and happy.”
Allentown music is a fantastic place for a first time buyer to purchase an instrument. Shopping on the internet allows people to purchase instruments without touching or holding them, which can lead to disastrous results. Maniaci feels it is important to get a feel for an instrument, and his team is well equipped with information, and armed with suggestions to make sure the buyer is happy and is comfortable with their purchase. “Photos online can’t tell you if an instrument plays or not… Some instruments online are not much more than wall decorations. They are not really designed for play. That’s why it is important to go into a store. Emailing back and forth is not the same as talking to someone.”
Currently, Allentown music offers lessons in their store.
497 Amherst St., Buffalo, NY 14207 | 716-886-8742
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This series is sponsored by Project Best Life. Buffalo Rising and Project Best Life have teamed up to produce a series on wellness inspiration and advice to direct readers to the people, places, and experiences in Buffalo and beyond that will help them fulfill their health, nutrition, and wellness goals. For more information on how you can live your best life, subscribe to the Project Best Life newsletter.
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