Apr. 20, 2016 10:33 am

This Knight Cities Challenge winner is bringing pick-up jam sessions outdoors

Little Music Studio is coming to a public space near you.

Gotta cut those strings tighter, man.

(Photo by Flickr user Giulia van Pelt, used under a Creative Commons license)

When Ben Bryant was entering his teens, his parents gave him his grandfather’s old guitar.

The guitar was a catalyst for socialization and creative expression. Bryant might not be a professional musician now, but the instrument made an impact on his development. Now, he wants other people to experience the same.

Thanks to a $334,050 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge, Bryant and his Camden-based organization, Group Melvin Design, will be launching Little Music Studio, a project to place instruments in Philly’s public spaces.

Bryant has described it as the musical equivalent of a pickup basketball game — all the necessities are in place to facilitate the interaction. All that’s needed is the people.

"The Little Music Studio is about putting out instruments in public space and letting people come up and see what happens."
Ben Bryant

“We’ve only ever used music as a performance element, and not as something that people are invited to come up and interact with and create their own content and jam with others,” Bryant said. “In some ways, the Little Music Studio is about putting out instruments in public space and letting people come up and see what happens. It’s something that’s never been done before.”

It’s something Bryant expects will break down barriers between communities, like language. If someone who only speaks Vietnamese and someone who only speaks Spanish were to meet, said Bryant, the would have difficulty understanding each other without a common tongue. That common tongue can be music.

“Music is one of the few things in life that transcends all of our normal barriers,” he said. “Whether you’re rich or poor, if you have an interest in piano or a passion for guitar and you like playing with people and you’re both competent at it, that’s a common interest you can bond over that in no way reflects your income level.”

That’s why Bryant decided to make the project a nonprofit rather than for-profit.

“It would be counter to our mission if we were charging people to use the instruments or focused on charging public spaces to rent this out,” he said. But, he said, that conversation could change depending on the success of the project.

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One Little Music Studio will be installed in a local public space by mid to late-summer, with more planned for the second year.


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