On April 30, 2018, the sounds and stories of the New York City subway filled Manhattan’s Symphony Space with another Subway Moon performance. On stage were Roy Nathanson’s band, Sotto Voce, and students from New York City schools: The Institute for Collaborative Education and City-As-School in Manhattan, and High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. Over the previous several months, the students wrote poetry, composed music, recited lyrics, and rehearsed the songs for the concert. The students involved in the project, especially those interested in careers in the arts, derived many benefits of the event—from having a space to build creative skills as well as by working with professional musicians, poets, and filmmakers.
Franklin Sim, Principal of High School for Violin and Dance said, “There are not enough words to express our gratitude, excitement, and appreciation for the consideration and opportunity to collaborate [with Subway Moon]. Whenever I visit the work sessions, students are actively and eagerly engaged in writing and performing their poems. With smiles on their faces, pens in their hands, ideas in their heads and respect for each other and the writing process, they remain focused in their work. When my colleagues and I walk into the Subway Moon studio we never cease to be in awe of the interactions among students as they excitedly encourage each other. Students are engaging in peer to peer discussions and they are providing relevant feedback to each other in a relaxed manner while using their own experiences and their individual ways of expressing themselves via both writing and spoken word.”
In 2008, Nathanson brought Subway Moon into music classrooms, working with his students at the Institute for Collaborative Education, as well as assisting students and teachers in Paris, France, to write and compose original songs about their experiences on public transportation. The first collaborative concert featuring student groups alongside The Jazz Passengers and was performed at Paris’ Banlieues Bleues Festival and at The Cooper Union (NYC) in 2008. To date, Subway Moon has been presented in more than fifteen unique venues, including in England, Munich, Hamburg, Detroit, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and on Staten Island.
Of the England performance, Philip Johnson wrote in his review in The Independent, “Subway Moon, must have been a life-changing experience for its participants... It was the most inspiring performance I've seen in years.” In his review of the Munich performance, Dirk Wagner writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung, “The result was not the one that we usually applaud at conventional school concerts, but a summit meeting rightly celebrating three separate bands....Together with the impressive videos projected onto a large screen they delivered a total work of art.”
The Subway Moon project focuses on building community and connection through art. Zuri Gordon, Subway Moon alumna and teacher said, “All of the students involved in the performance attend New York City high schools, but they likely would not have met and interacted in an artistic way without the Subway Moon collaboration. Being a part of Subway Moon forces them to look at their subway experiences in a new way and encourages them to find artistic inspiration in the ride. Everything from a late train upending one’s schedule to catching the eye of another passenger becomes a story, then a poem, then a song.”
Funding for the April 30 Symphony Space performance was made possible by the Augustine Foundation of New York.