Gladden House Experience

August 2023 | Jasmine Spitzer, Jazz Academy Teaching Artist

I was thrilled to be asked by The Jazz Academy to write a blog post about the Gladden Community House summer camp residency I did in July! I love nothing more than sharing experiences like this with others, and our partnership with this incredible organization makes it even more exciting.

First, let me tell you a little about me! I was born and raised in North Dakota by two music teachers, and two of my grandparents are music teachers too. I moved to Central Ohio in 2017 to finish my degree in music education and make my own footsteps on the path my parents had started me on. I currently teach a class about the interaction between art/music and culture/society at Wedgewood Middle School in Columbus City. Really I just get to talk about social justice, art, jazz, and hip-hop all day while hanging out with kids who think my shoes are weird and my laugh is funny, which is a dream come true! During my evenings, weekends, and summers, I teach a variety of programming with The Jazz Academy and maintain a pretty active calendar of singing around the city.

Back to The Gladden Community House! Gladden has been serving the Franklinton and Columbus communities for over 115 years, providing everything from pre-school and rent assistance to senior citizen outreach and summer camps for kids. When I walked into the building for the first time, I could feel the love, support, and positivity exuding from the space. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, and almost impossible to understand until you’ve experienced it. I knew this residency was going to be filled with learning, excitement, and FUN!

The Jazz Academy facilitated a partnership with Gladden for my teaching team and me to present four sessions of two hours in length over the course of a week. The goal was to teach some jazz history, listen to a wide array of examples, play instruments, sing some songs, and ultimately spread the love of jazz. My teaching team was made up of Jake Smith (saxophone), Anthony Dake (drums), and Ben Maloney (piano). Each day of camp, we started with all students (grades K-8) together in the gym, and we played some music for them. After our time together, we split into groups according to grade so we could spend a little time with some more age-appropriate activities, although something tells me the 8th graders could’ve outdanced me during “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”.

We learned about the birthplace of jazz (not New Jersey, as a very adorable 3rd grader would like you to believe), some important jazz figures (such as Duke Smellington, according to an equally adorable 1st grader), and even the blues (which can apparently be written about fried chicken)! It’s sometimes hard to tell if students are retaining the information you’re presenting them with, so I made them a deal: if they could collectively answer 15 trivia questions about everything we’d been learning, I’d bring them Jolly Ranchers the next morning. If you’ve never worked with kids, then you can’t fully understand the bargaining power of sugar. It worked, and not a single answer was missed! What was missed was my trip to Kroger that night to get them. After a stern scolding from a child whose voice I will now never forget, I learned that you can DoorDash Jolly Ranchers for the low low price of $20!

My favorite part of the week had to be the time we spent learning about the blues. We were able to have a very meaningful conversation about how the blues was inspired by the Black American experience during and after the period of enslavement in this country. We talked about and listened to the direct influences of the blues: field hollers, work songs, spirituals, code songs, and chants. There is something about the blues that just sits right in the soul–it sounds and feels ingrained in our minds. When I asked if anyone had heard a song that sounded like that before, every single student raised their hands. We discussed how both jazz and blues were created out of a struggle for freedom. After having their voices suppressed for so long, there was finally a way for Black Americans to speak their truth and uplift one another in the form of communal creativity. Students shared things that made them feel “blue” in their lives: siblings stealing from them, being bullied at school, running out of chocolate, friends not being able to come outside to play, missing a family member, and being spoken down to.

Students were asked to write their own lyrics to blues songs when we split into our age groups. The younger group wrote one song together with my and Jake’s help, and the older group wrote them individually or with partners as Anthony and Ben walked around and helped out. Unsurprisingly, the younger group’s song had to do with not getting what they wanted and being mad at their siblings:

I wanna go outside but my friends all went away

I wanna go outside but my friends all went away

I was having fun but that just ruined my day

My brother and my sister are annoying me today

My brother and my sister are annoying me today

They’re making me mad but I love them anyway

When the young students and I returned to the gym to rejoin the older students, we performed our song for them. They even taught the older students the words! A few older groups wanted to perform theirs as well, and we heard a song about chicken, my favorite line being “my fingers are right for the licking”, and one about chocolate, which pretty much just went “I want some chocolate//I don’t have any chocolate//I wish I had some chocolate”. Ah, music. A vehicle for truth. Then two girls who called their group “Independence” shared their song about the way they view men’s treatment of women:

We stand up, they try to put us down

We stand up, they try to put us down

But we just stand in our crowns and our gowns

They think they do all the work

They try to kick us to the dirt

But we know our worth

They don’t understand

The life of a woman

Is not in their command

It was wildly inspiring to see the support these students had for their peers. Not a single snicker or giggle was heard, just smiles and whoops of support as their friends took to the microphone and shared their voices. Whether we were singing, playing boomwhackers, or writing songs, the energy brought to each day’s activities was unlike anything I’ve experienced throughout my work with Jazz Arts Group. In fact, I had SO much fun I was almost tempted to crash their field trip to the zoo! Our time at the Gladden House was intended to wrap up with a PBJ & Jazz performance at the Topiary Park, but it was unfortunately canceled due to the weather. Something tells me I’ll sing with these students again though!

I want to say a HUGE thank you to The Jazz Academy for facilitating such meaningful and fun work in the community. It’s truly special for me to feel so fulfilled and find so much joy in what I get to call”work”. Furthermore, THANK YOU to The Gladden Community House for their dedication to this community for over a century. Without the work they do, thousands of people of all ages would go without the necessary (and sometimes lifesaving) support they need to make it through life.

If you enjoyed what you read, please consider making a donation to The Jazz Arts Group on their website to continue allowing programming like this to reach students in every corner of this great city. Without support from people like you, there is no ColumbUS!