A collaboration between Chicago West Community Music Center and 2nd Story aims to bring out the griot in West Side residents.

The Stories and Music program was a six-week long writing workshop to get everyday community residents to tell and share their stories. Through a series of workshops, residents received intensive instruction on writing, character development, scene setting and structure from 2nd Story writing coaches.

2nd Story is a collective of story-makers working to build community through the art of storytelling. For its part, CWCMC, a music education program, hosted the workshops where its music students worked with participants to score or set their stories to music.

The workshop culminates in a performance on Friday, June 7 at Inspiration Kitchens, 3504 W Lake St., where the stories — most of them autobiographical in nature, will be performed live to music.

The performance includes a four-course meal prepared by Inspiration Café. Seating first come, first served. Friday’s event is the final of four performances. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the performance starts at 7 p.m. Donations are encouraged.

Setting the stories to music enhances the experience similar to the way music is used in film and theater, said Howard Sandifer, executive director of CWCMC, which is headquartered at the Garfield Park Field House, 100 North Central Park.

Funded by the Chicago Community Trust, the program has a several purposes, including teaching youth about scoring music for film, theater or commercials. But the goal is to bring live performance art to the West Side while reintroducing the oral tradition of storytelling to African Americans, Sandifer said.

Sometimes, he said, the world makes people feel invisible or as if they are unimportant. But this program allows everyday people to be heard, he added.

“It’s vital that we listen to each other as human beings, but particularly that we have a voice and that we have an opportunity to express ourselves,” Sandifer said, noting that residents’ stories range from funny to serious.

2nd Story’s Bobby Biedrzycki also hopes the program and experience will help blacks capitalize on their rich tradition of storytelling. Residents, he said, are already telling stories when they gather around the dinner table and visit family. The goal then becomes how to bring that into a classroom setting, Biedrzycki said.

“It is just a matter of taking what you are already doing and sharpening it for performance,” he said, noting that program used a theatrical director to coach residents on stage presence.

“They already have this swagger to be up there. It is just a matter of getting them to be themselves,” Biedrzycki said.

East Garfield Park resident Bettina Van Pelt doesn’t consider herself to be a shy person. For her, performing is a way to express herself. And she can’t wait to take the stage, where she plans to recite a story about her “journey of my love of music.”

“I like performing,” said Van Pelt, who enjoys open-mic poetry. “I am really a quite person, and I find that performing gives me more of myself. I’m more freer. I feel like it’s necessary for my soul.”

Renetta Gunn-Stevens, 35, knew the program was right for her when a co-worker invited the Bensenville resident to a March performance. Gunn-Stevens says she has a story to tell, and “this would be the place to teach me how to share it and tell it the right way.”

She hopes her story encourages others to avoid the same relationship that was slowly killer her. She described how she spent 307,000 minutes in this relationship her parents introduced her to. But the relationship isn’t what people think.

“That’s gonna be the shock value,” Gunn-Stevens said. “That’s my goal, to make them think the whole story … is about a guy that I gave all these minutes to” but it’s not.

For more information, call Howard Sandifer at 708 386-5315. Also visit www.2ndstory.com.

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