The Rhapsody Project tunes into cultural heritage and social justice

KNKX Public Radio | By Robin Lloyd
Published January 7, 2023 at 8:00 AM PST

Conventional music education often lacks the cultural references that can help students connect to their roots. Programs at the Seattle-based The Rhapsody Project are designed to strengthen those community connections. The Rhapsody Project started in 2013, celebrating and teaching traditional American roots music. Their students gave performances at venues in Seattle’s Columbia City and Hillman City neighborhoods. As the programs grew, students took the stage at the annual Northwest Folklife Festival and the Centrum Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival.

Local blues music diva and The Rhapsody Project Board Chair Lady A is taking on the resurrection of the long-dormant Blues in the Schools program. In American public schools, music education is generally based on a European model of orchestra or band, with a conductor or teacher standing up in front of a group of students. “That’s a totally cool method of music making, but it’s functionally a European method,” said Joe Seamons, co-founder of The Rhapsody Project, in an interview with KNKX. “American music is transmitted in social settings, in more informal spaces, in more relaxed non-academic places. So we wanted to give students that experience of music. And so the impulse was, let’s give our students the music education that we wish we had had.”

“We call it ‘DIY curriculum,” added Program Director Liana Green.

“Trying to take the gatekeepers out of education, acknowledging that in many cultures, you learn things from your elders and you don’t get a degree for that. We want to make this kind of education more accessible to anyone.”

Jed Crisologo fosters the youth leadership of The Rhapsody Project, and directs the Songsters program. He said that even though The Rhapsody Project started as a youth education organization, it’s grown to include adult-focused work in anti-racism and heritage exploration.

The organization’s website is rich with online learning resources, and they were recently approved to provide professional development courses for educators in Washington state.

The Rhapsody Project’s next act is to establish a home base. They have secured 1,000 square feet at King Street Station in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The location will include classroom space, performance space, an instrument workshop and a kitchenette. Construction should be complete by mid-2023.