Tag Archives: Homewood

Artist Vanessa German’s Blessings

Photo courtesy Heather Mull

“We put no margins on what can and can’t be a blessing,” says Vanessa German, a visual and performance artist living and working in Homewood, PA. She recently shared three powerful blessings, as ringtones, with Locally Toned.

When asked about her approach creating and contributing her sounds to the project, she said, “I thought we could all use more blessings in our lives.  Perhaps in a ringtone, a blessing can also come, and influence more than we think it can, on this device which plays everywhere. Maybe blessings can be everywhere. Any of these sounds are good for repelling depression, for repelling any negative force. They’re good poems to have for putting around yourself–a kind of an aura, a corona of positivity and incandescence.”

Photo courtesy Heather Mull

About her blessing, Stay On Your Grind, German says, “Within the tumult of hard times, I want people to just to recognize that you can stay on your grind. If all you can do is focus on one or two things that can bring you love joy and truth, than you will rise strengthened.”

Google Map image of corner in Homewood, PA

Her blessing When They Offer You (the Opportunity to Be Mediocre) was written for young people in her neighborhood. “Up on Frankstown Avenue, in Homewood, there’s all these places where you see people standing–on crates, under trees–they will set up a tarp and sell incense and CDs, or sometimes shiestier things. I would leave one of the schools I was teaching at, and realize how much pressure there is for young people to do things fast. I wasn’t sure that the young people were hearing enough that they could turn down [the opportunity to be mediocre]. I wanted to speak to them directly, to say, ‘It won’t be easy, but tell those people that you have dreams! Recognize the choices that are given to you. Realize your power to stand, your right to say, ‘I’VE GOT STUFF TO DO, and I’m going to do it.’

I also wrote this blessing because you see street lights around here wrapped with baloons and teddy bears, where people were shot and killed, and I think about the young or older black men, standing around, holding up those poles where those lives were lost.”

Image of “Power Figure to Keep Me Alive” (sculpture) by Vanessa German / photo courtesy the artist. The sculpture is inn the permanent collection of the Progressive Contemporary Art Collection, in Cleveland Ohio

Her third blessing, If My Hands, is a powerful poem written to cure cancer. “It’s as if I could make a medicinal non-toxic chemo through sound, to attack tumors and to push cancer out of body. I imagine that every time I read this poem–that it attacks cancer cells–and I imagine that the cells rise up, and push out of people’s bodies, through their tissue, and dissipate in the air. Like fog, you can see it in the morning, and then it goes away. ”

I wondered how German came to write and perform her blessings. “It’s important to note,” she said, “that I try as much as possible, to write ‘in blessings.’ It can be very difficult for me to fend off negativity–my own negativity–and the sorrow, grief, and short tempered meanness that just seeps in around me. I am not a blessing mastermind or anything, but I do Believe, I have Faith, and when I’m at my best, I can tap into it so thoroughly that it lifts me. I hope that in any way small or momentous, that these tones might move forth to do this also [for others].”

Thanks to Vanessa German for her soulful contribution to the project. Read more about the artist’s work in this article. See a sample of her performance work here.

Interested in other ringtones within this project that take the form of prayers? Read about contributor Heather Mull’s Buddhist Chant Ringtones here.

This ringtone recording session was made possible by a generous grant from The Fine Foundation.

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AAMI Boys’ Choir Tones (Teresa’s Tone)

AAMI Boys Choir Members

It is difficult for me to describe how grateful I am for the contributions that members of this community make in the name of sharing freely with others, when they allow me to record and amplify their sounds (Pittsburgh’s sounds).  If you are a jazz fan, you know that there’s very powerful music coming out of Pittsburgh all the time.  It’s a city with deep, deep roots in Jazz History, and therefore, important American and African-American History.  The Afro-American Music Institute plays an integral role in the Pittsburgh’s Jazz scene.  AAMI is a musical institute located in the neighborhood of Homewood, founded and is directed by Dr. James Johnson and his wife, Mrs. Pamela Johnson.  Last year, the Institute celebrated its 25th Anniversary.

Dr. James Johnson and Pamela Johnson

When I asked the Dr. and Mrs. if they’d consider contributing an AAMI tone to the project, they said yes, and invited me to come and record during a Boys Choir rehearsal.  The approach they took to designing their tone was improvisational–scat singing!  The 2.5 minute session I recorded that evening was so good that I’ve decided to post the complete unedited track and to excerpt tones from the recording (so that you can pick the tone or tones featuring the soloists you like).

Near the end of the rehearsal, Dr. J thanked me for coming to make a ringtone.  “Now we have a new piece to take on tour, thanks to Ms. Teresa,” he said to the choir members.  Then I heard him say he needed a day or two to think about what to call the tone.  When I checked back in with him on the name for the tone, he said, “I think we’ll call it Teresa’s Tone.”  I told him I’d shortly be in tears–I couldn’t believe it.  Thank you, AAMI.

Teresa’s Tone-Full Length Track is almost 2.5 minutes long–you can download it and import it into an mp3 player of your choice.  The file includes scat singing by 5 young soloists who are members of the Boys Choir, and solos from Pittsburgh Jazz Greats Howie Alexander, Dr. James Johnson, his son, James Johnson III and Dr. Nelson Harrison.

As for the ringtones, here’s my re-mixed version from the session that I’ll put on my phone–Teresa’s Tone (Remix).

Since I wanted every soloist to have a tone to use and share from that recording, so excerpted ringtones in soloist “track” order follow:

Boys Choir Soloist 1 Tone

Soloist No. 1 (Pictured in White Shirt)

Soloist No. 1 (Pictured in White Shirt)

Boys Choir Soloists 2 and 3 Tone

Boys Choir Soloist 4 Tone (With Solo Remix)

Boys Choir Soloist 5 Tone

Howie and Dr. J Tone

James III and Nelson Tone

If you’re wondering what approach I took to recording, I figured out, during our second take or so, that it might be interesting if I traveled around the room with my portable equipment, to get the mic close to each soloist.  It worked–as you listen to the unedited track, you will walk around the room with me–you can hear the choir and musical instruments I’m standing near as I record each soloist in a different spot of the room.

If you like these tones, wait til you hear the tones that Pamela Johnson requested for Locally Toned by Dr. Nelson Harrison.  He happened to be at AAMI that night, and he contributed Trombetto Tones to the project.  They’ll be posted soon!

Dr. Nelson Harrison and Choir Member Robertson

Dr. Nelson Harrison with Choir Member James Robertson


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