My Voice Music: A Face That Cares. A Place to Share Your Voice
My Voice Music: A Face That Cares. A Place to Share Your Voice
by Mary Masla, OregonASK Field Correspondent
“Anything you do on stage is awesome.” Ian Mouser, creator of My Voice Music, teeters on the edge of a drum set, guitar in hand. He is in rocker stance. He jumps off the drum, turns around, and winds up to bang his head on the symbol. The crowded practice room erupts in laughter. The jam session ends, he concludes his short set with this lesson: “anything you do on stage is awesome. It doesn’t matter if you mess up, or if your instrument is out of tune. The fact that you are up on the stage, that you have devoted your time and effort into learning those songs, that you’re having fun-that is all you need, and you should be proud of it.”
My Voice Music, created in 2008 by Ian Mouser, is a nonprofit organization based in Portland that engages youth in music and performance in order to promote self-esteem, social skills and emotional expression. My Voice Music provides struggling youth with an opportunity to learn, and express their voice through music, by facilitating three types of community programming: partnership programs that bring music programs to youth service organizations such as alternative schools, treatment centers, and after school programs, Independent Programs where youth can attend various music classes and participate in year-round music mentorship, and Summer Rock Camps that are offered at a “pay what you can afford” basis for youth experiencing significant challenges.
I was lucky enough to spend the final day of Summer Rock Camp with Ian, and MVM staff, student leaders and students in Northeast Portland last month. My day with MVM started in a park nearby. It was a sunny day, one of those you savor as August comes to a close. The park took up an entire city block, basically an open field with a baseball pitch in one corner, and a playground in the other. As this is the first summer MVM has hosted Summer Camp they’ve been sharing a music space, which means sometimes the group is outside the recording studio. But no matter, as Ian said later on, “music can really transform a space”. And it’s true-there we were in the outfield of a baseball field, standing in a circle around one guitar, creating a practice room. Ian played in the background as the group created lyrics. “We’re rockin’ and rollin’, we’re rockin’ and rollin’”.
As the day progressed I witnessed the community and caring culture that MVM has created at an “encouragement battle.” Like your typical rap battle, students stood opposite each other on stage, mics in hand, the group creating a beat to back their creative rhythms up. The difference between this encouragement battle and a traditional rap battle was stark though. Rather than throwing insults across the stage, and receiving the “ohhhh!!” of the crowd, MVM students were throwing out compliments. Topics ranged from shoes and shirts, to musical abilities and character, but everything was a compliment. The compliments, however, are not the only thing that makes these battles different. It’s the acceptance, and the appreciation of EVERYONE. A young girl, probably about eight years old, took the stage multiple times. Despite her excitement before climbing that one step to the stage, the minute she took the mic stage fright hit. For minutes the entire group stood around the stage, keeping the beat, waiting for the young girl to throw down a compliment-but nothing came out. Eventually, an MVM facilitator began the guffaw… “ohhhh!!”. The entire audience followed. It was like the arms and heart of the MVM family were opening, taking this eight year old in, just for climbing that stage, and taking a hold of the mic.
At this moment I saw how MVM supports its students-they take them in, teach them how to share their voice, and accept and encourage them, even when the lyrics don’t flow. Later in the day I spent time interviewing some of Summer Rock Camp’s Student Volunteers. These young men and women-all around sixteen or seventeen years old-have had rough pasts. They’ve struggled through foster care, treatment centers and homelessness. They are also talented artists. They are rappers, singers, guitar players, composers and writers. Diamond is one of these young people. In her own words “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without My Voice. Before, things weren’t working out for me. And now, everything is much better.”
Ian Mouser’s story sounds fairly similar to those of his students. Substance abuse, violence, and poverty, made Ian’s life at home unstable as a young boy. By 7th grade Ian was failing school, and beginning to identify with violence and substance abuse in his own life and was enrolled in an anger management class with five other boys. He considered himself a rebel, and he was headed down a dark path. But with the help of a youth development program called Wilderness Trails Ian changed, and has since become the successful man he is today. Ian is the only one out of those five boys in anger management class to have graduated from High School. Two of those boys died before High School was even over. Wilderness Trails took struggling youth on camping trips, provided them with an opportunity to grow and change. As Ian put it, “this was the first time adults saw the best in me.” This experience, and the support and care he found at Wilderness Trails inspires Ian to give his life to youth. Ian sees his role as providing opportunities for youth to experience the same thing he did. And it truly does.
It doesn’t matter where you are, or who you are, or what you sound like-if you’re on that stage (whether it’s at Mississippi Pizza, or in the middle of an outfield) you’re a part of the MVM band. There was a magic that happened that day at Summer Rock Camp. As kids took the stage, the adults opened their hearts. The individual attention, and acceptance the kids received told them they mattered. They knew their teachers, their band mates, wanted them to come back to Rock Camp, to continue practicing at home, to meet up with their new friends even outside of My Voice Music.
My Voice Music is a culture. It gives youth a place, and the means, to express their emotions. This expression of emotion through music gives youth a place to say who they are, what they believe, how they feel, what matters to them in a safe and caring setting. This is what sets My Voice Music apart. And this would not be possible without the passion Ian Mouser has for providing that opportunity to youth.