Recently, a 16-year old named Meshach had an opportunity of which many teens his age would only dream. He performed the world premiere of his song “Living The Life I Love” in Zankel Hall. The concert featured Meshach’s song alongside other original music created by high school students and community members from throughout New York City. The performance was part of Ellington’s Sacred Music, a program of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. This season’s creative learning project put the spotlight on Duke Ellington’s sacred music, some of the most ambitious and heartfelt music of his legendary career.
Meshach wrote his song in the fall of 2014 during an intensive Musical Connections songwriting project at the Harlem NeON, part of the New York City Department of Probation’s Neighborhood Opportunity Network. This project was just one of six projects which took place at a variety of community sites, schools and on Musical Exchange, Carnegie Hall’s online community for young musicians. All together, this project brought together 120 composers and performers to delve deeply and imaginatively into the theme of affirmation, which is central to the sacred works by Duke Ellington.
We sat down with him to hear about his experience as a songwriter and performer.
Tell us what it's been like to participate in the Musical Connections songwriting project?Well, before I had a lot of struggles, so people was helping me out like Orson, Victor, all of them [all Musical Connections roster artists]. So they helped me out and I just started getting better each time they would help me out. Then that’s when I said “Yeah, I can do this” so that’s why I created this song “Living the Life I Love”.
How has the songwriting project helped you as a creative outlet?
At first, I got stuck on certain things. I was told you don’t have to rhyme with every word. You just have to make it right for you. You don’t have to make everything rhyme, you just go with how you feel.
Who are some influential musicians in your life? Why?
Well, my father. He’s a reggae musician. So, I really am like my father. All of these other musicians are negative. I like positive music. So my father, all he does is make positive music. That’s what I want to do.
How does it feel to perform on stage as part of the Duke Ellington Creative Work Concert?
The more the people, the higher my energy builds. Once I see people there, my energy is just 100% positive. I just feel everybody’s energy inside of me. So that’s why I just rap. I just keep on going with their energy.
Do you plan to continue making music afterward?
Yes, I am. It’s different. I like playing instruments too. So it’s not only about rapping. I like making beats and everything. I would like to be in a studio for that. Creating my own beats instead of copying other people’s.
More opportunities for young people to explore their passions and talents in music, dance, theater, visual arts, poetry, and digital media are available through NeON Arts. Learn more about this new city-wide initiative, a program of the New York City Department of Probation in partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.
Photography by Stephanie Berger