Kelli Makenna Kuttruff
The first part of a collective songwriting event called “Cultivating Songs in Our Gardens” took place on Saturday morning at Huerta Del Valle, a nonprofit community garden in Ontario.
The purpose of the event was to bring people from the Inland Empire together to recognize different issues impacting their communities and work together to create a song about it. There were four sets of workshops in this project that addressed community issues such as building warehouses, people being displaced, and consumerism.
This is the second community this workshop has been held in, and the first time it’s been done at Huerta Del Valle. Those in attendance were encouraged to bring an instrument, a special object, or even items that can be used to make percussive sounds.
About 20 people were in attendance at the workshop organized and led by Xóchitl Chávez, an assistant professor at the University of California Riverside in ethnomusicology where she uses her research of indigenous communities combined with the study of music across cultures. She used a methodology that originated in indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico, further developed by Professor Martha Gonzalez at Scripps College, who then taught Chávez. A few graduate students also assisted her and brought their instruments to eventually accompany the song.
Wooden tables were lined up together in the Huerta Del Valle garden, surrounded by green trees overhead and natural plant life all around. The fall leaves were crunching beneath the feet of the collaborating guests and roosters were crowing almost in song, as a film crew documented the event.
The event began with a brainstorm where guests were asked what their favorite music was and why. Each person was given notecards, and Chávez asked everyone to write down how they identified themselves.
As people brainstormed together, the light melody of the guitar and drums played by the graduate students radiated throughout the garden.
Chávez then asked the group to give up a card, or a part of their discovered identity.
“We’re living in a moment where certain resources are being taken away from us,” Chávez said.
After brainstorming, the group began to fine-tune different elements of living in the Inland Empire such as family, peace, community, preserving culture, and spaces of learning. The most memorable parts began to form a chorus. Translated to English, a line that eventually emerged was “support and unity will lead us to the solution.”
Filmmaker and teacher of media studies at the Claremont Colleges, Ann Kaneko, was in partnership with different communities and received the 18th Street Arts Center California Creative Corps grant to drive this creative research project.
Kaneko explained the idea of these workshops as a magical convergence between herself and Chávez, who had a long history of organizing different community events to bring awareness to issues present within communities.
With a goal of making a larger film about the Inland Empire, Kaneko has been reaching out to different communities to see how they have been impacted by certain changes.
“I just hope that it’s affirming for people that feel inspired to be part of the community,” Kaneko said.
“I think that this is the beginning of a long relationship that I’m hoping will be fruitful in the years to come, and that I can help to reflect what people are experiencing in the Inland Empire,” Kaneko said.
This second collective songwriting event in the project was very successful in bringing people together, and the brainstorming board was filled to the brim with ideas to develop into song lyrics.
“This is a way for people to come together and find another way to create something,” Chávez said.
“We can all be musical, we all have abilities to create music… This is one way of, ‘how can we hear from the community, and how can the community speak for themselves?” Chávez said.
Graduate student Jorge Calaf explained that the goal of the first part of this workshop was to make the lyrics as a community, so that in the next part of the event next Saturday, they can all play and sing their song together.
“I am here for the people,” Calaf said. “I’m here to do whatever I can to bring a little of what I do to help them express what they are feeling in this moment, and what they want to put together in a song.”
In attendance was Maria Villa Selor, who discovered the event from her husband, and is a member of the garden at Huerta del Valle. She believes that community events are very important and hopes to continue to learn more.
“You learn a lot more, and you become a better person when you attend different socializing events,” Selor said, translated from Spanish.
Nancy Del Sol also attended with her husband. She runs a women’s group and heard about the event from a group member.
She believes that this event is a healing experience and that the exercises about identity help you get to know yourself more.
“I think that (events like this) are really important because you get that sense to share with other people and I think, experience other people’s outlook in life,” Del Sol said.
The second part of this event will take place at Huerta del Valle on Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. No musical experience is needed, and Spanish and English speakers who want to create music in fellowship with their community are encouraged to attend. Registration is still open on the Eventbrite website.
Chávez said, “This is where we are going to be in community, and it’s about being part of a collective… we’re continuing on because there’s many stories that need to be told.”
Kelli Makenna Kuttruff can be reached at, email@example.com.