During last week’s Bridge Music Project rehearsal, music emanates from several rooms, but no single genre can describe all four student ensembles.
A five-piece rock band is playing an original piece in the main area of the Garage: Music and Arts Center, which hosts the youth songwriting workshop each Thursday at the Shoppes at Riverside. A different vibe is in the quiet studio room in the back, where six student singers are taking turns performing spoken word, rap and sign language to a hip-hop track.
Arty Shaw, a 21-year-old from Aberdeen, started attending the Bridge program not long after his mom died several years ago of cancer. Some of his first lyrics in middle school were about wishing his mom’s condition would improve, he said.
“What I came up with was, ‘My Momma had cancer, I wish there was a better chance for her to enhance on her life,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Huh, it actually rhymes,’ and thought maybe I did have what it takes to be an artist.”
After that, he met Bridge director Bobby Williams and has since become a regular. Shaw described the Bridge as a place where he can vent about his troubles, but also as a program where he has met many other artists in a space that helped him become more social.
“Not everyone’s going to relate to your scenario, but they will relate in a mixed emotions way,” said Shaw. “It’s always reassuring and nice to hear. It’s relieving sometimes.”
In the time since he joined the Bridge, Shaw has moved from a foster home in Lakewood back to his hometown of Aberdeen. He wants to finish classes for his GED and pursue a possible future in music.
The Bridge works to help at-risk youth by offering music workshops where they can hone their skills rapping, singing or playing instruments. The nonprofit is run by Williams, a rapper who brought the Olympia songwriting program to Aberdeen last fall. The local class is now wrapping up its second of three grant-paid sessions.
Each week, the students work with a handful of volunteer music instructors who coach them and help with their songwriting. Some weeks a special musical guest visits, such as Wanz, aka Michael Wansley, who performed on Macklemore’s 2012 hit single “Thrift Shop.”
At the end of each eight-week session, students record original music with professional recording equipment, and they stage a concert. The next Aberdeen concert will be held this Friday at 7 p.m at the Garage.
Along with those who might be considered at-risk, the Bridge welcomes any youth looking to improve their songwriting chops. The group in Aberdeen started out a little larger at the start of the session, and has now narrowed down to 18, all between the ages of 14 and 21.
In some cases, they attend because they see it as a place to improve as musicians and connect with similarly dedicated artists, which can be difficult otherwise, some students said.
Josh Holman, an 18- year-old guitarist who plays with vocalist Elliot Loudenback in a group called Just Us, attends Grays Harbor College and has been taking lessons for many years. He said the Bridge plays an important role in developing their artistic abilities.
“I think it’s a great way to show people who might not realize they’re capable of being musical that they can be, because it doesn’t take much to write a song,” said Holman, who resides in the North Beach area. “It’s a great outlet for a lot of people, as a way to express yourself and get off whatever might be on your mind.”
Others are a little less experienced, like Gabe Turpin. The 17-year-old from Hoquiam just started playing bass guitar in January, but already sounds natural in the five-piece rock band. Turpin said he likes the Bridge because it’s a safe space for people to collaborate and learn music, and because it gives him a “cohesive unit of jamming buddies.”
“It is hard to find others who are good, and have the same interest and the drive,” said Turpin. “It’s about the passion and dedication to showing up.”
There’s no cover charge for Friday’s concert, but the Bridge will be accepting donations. Williams added he would like to keep hosting songwriting workshops in Aberdeen into the future.
“We want to continue on and be a presence here for a long time,” said Williams. “Because people are into it. It’s like, ‘We’re on to something, let’s keep pushing.’”
Anyone with questions about the program can email Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.