Milica and her ‘kids’Detouring from his Continuing Adventures In Software, Rich Tozzoli brings us the story of one woman’s mission to bring music-making capability to children in the Third World.
Milica Paranosic is a woman with a unique mission. This Serbian-born composer/producer/performer, who currently resides in New York City, does something unusual with her spare time. Her organization, called Gift to Grow, brings music technology to the children of Ghana.
Traveling to the African nation on her own dollars and fundraising efforts, she brings laptops to the kids and teaches them GarageBand, Logic and Ableton Live. She also produces a performance where the kids showcase what they’ve learned. “At first, I went there just to study drumming, for my own performances,” she said. “But in my studies, I discovered a place where I could both teach and learn. I met the headmaster of the school, and he agreed to let me give English lessons to the kids. I then realized I have a laptop, and they had one classroom with electricity. I proposed the idea of teaching them how to record their own music and compose using computers. At first, the headmaster didn’t understand, but he agreed.”
Milica noted that after a few sessions, there were kids coming in through the windows asking about when their class was. “We recorded clapping and singing, which is something they do all the time anyway,” she continued. “I showed them how that could be preserved and presented on the computer. They were amazed and excited, but they were not threatened. They connected immediately, and it just flew from there.”
She then went back again the following summer in July 2010. During the year in between, she collected six laptops, which were then brought down to the school. “I had more structure this time, and at the end of my stay we again did a live performance,” she said. “I hired sound guys from a different village, who had a small PA and some mics. We did it on a soccer field in front of the school. The whole community was involved, and it was a big cultural show. It was more than just music.”
I first ran into her at Ben Chadabe’s opening of the Electronic Music Foundation (EMF) recording studio in New York City. After hearing about her efforts, I volunteered one of my old laptops that I had sitting around. It’s a perfectly good G4 titanium laptop that has Reason, Logic, Live and some other programs on there. This summer, she’s taking it to Africa to teach the kids music technology. It truly makes me count the blessings for what we all have at our fingertips here in the U.S.
“The first time there, it was simply me finding my way with this program,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know how to behave with these kids. I had to learn the etiquette of the country. For example, you don’t shake someone’s hand until you’re gestured to do so. You also don’t offer anything to another person with your left hand. The kids are also beaten on their hands when they make a mistake or misbehave. They asked me why I don’t do that, and I said no way I’ll do that!”
On her second trip down, the challenges were diminished, but there were new issues. “The officials from neighboring villages heard I was coming, and they expected me to bring computers for them,” she said. “It’s political, and not easy. But the focus was for the kids, and I didn’t let it frustrate me.
I bought some really cheap mics, and we used the built-in inputs on the laptops. I also bought a Zoom digital recorder and Yamaha POCKETRAK 2G to use when recording in the ‘computer lab.’ It’s noisy there because there are goats, dogs, cars and sometimes a fan, if the electricity is on that day. We would also bring those recorders out to the cultural center to record clapping, singing, poetry and so on. Then we would go back to Garage Band or Logic and edit the recordings, add additional layers and rehearse their performances.”
With these compositions, she plans to produce CDs for the purpose of raising funds to go back to teach more classes. “I’m hoping to work with Ghana’s native singer Rocky Dawuni,” she noted. “His brother/manager Bob made visits to the school and was impressed. The children were also amazed to meet someone from the ‘business’ and shake hands with him.”
She also has her hands full with paperwork. “I need to finalize the 501(c) status to get more substantial funding to continue with this mission,” she pointed out. “While that is under way, I’m ‘fiscally’ sponsored by EMF, Electronic Music Foundation. That means they can accept money on my behalf and provide the donors a tax deduction.”
“It’s so difficult, but it’s also so simple,” she said. “After 15 years of teaching music technology at Juilliard in New York, I feel there has to be a better way to use my knowledge in places that don’t have the opportunities we have.
I would love to bring better mics, interfaces and computers down there next time. But I also plan to expand the program into other villages. Really though, it’s all about the kids learning.”
So if any of you have spare gear sitting around, and feel like doing something positive with it, consider donating it to Milica’s cause. She can be reached via email at [email protected]. There are films from performances, photos and more information at give2grow.org, and milicaparanosic.com.