What does the song of Northeast sound like to you?
Neighbors and friends of the Logan Park Neighborhood Association mused together on what they thought it might be. One spoke of being smitten by the sound of church bells ringing through the streets every Sunday when she came into the neighborhood for singing lessons. Others discussed the different languages spoken by communities that all coexist here: Ukrainian, Spanish, Somali, Hmong and many others. For a couple of hours, the neighbors of Logan Park just talked and reminisced about their neighborhood, spinning up context for the songwriter seeking to tell their story.
Reinaldo Moya came to the U.S. from Caracas, Venezuela, when he was 14. He did his undergraduate work at West Virginia University, then college in New York, earning his doctorate from the performing arts college The Juilliard School. These days, he teaches music at Augsburg University and lives in Northfield, where his wife teaches at St. Olaf.
He was contacted by Mixed Blood Theatre earlier this spring to write a collection of musical pieces to go with a series of performances they will put on throughout Minneapolis, all themed around the many neighborhoods that make the city what it is today.
“I’ve given up encapsulating each neighborhood. There’s just too much to tell; it’s never going to happen!” said Moya. “I’m trying to capture all of Northeast, however foolish that might be.”
In addition to meeting with the Logan Park Neighborhood Association, Moya has also been working with Edison High School students who have been making a podcast about stories from around the neighborhood. Their knowledge has been indispensable for giving him a good shorthand for the history of the area, he said.
“What [Mixed Blood] wants is a journey,” he said. “They don’t want a polished masterpiece, they want to show a portrait of the neighborhood. … What started to emerge for me was not telling a particular story, but focusing on the themes that arose.”
Moya focuses on four major themes for his compositions: The impact of religion on the community, the businesses and foods that shape the face of the area, immigration and ethnic relations and the artistic community that gives Northeast its contemporary heart. The churches and mosques so densely packed into our neighborhoods tell the stories of the immigrant communities who founded them when they settled here, and the niches they each carved for themselves in the city. The same goes for the stores and restaurants that give our corner of town its unique flair. The mention of church bells at the Logan Park meet-up especially inspired Moya, giving him a musical foundation on which to build ideas, and seeing the space we make to allow artistic communities to make a living here inspired him as well.
“Those spaces became even more important to bring those communities a sense of home, and that they weren’t an aberration,” said Moya.
As an immigrant himself, the impact of immigrant communities on Northeast struck a chord with him. “And art has shaped the community in a really positive way and given them something to root for. … I had no idea there was that much space for artists to work here.”
All told, Moya hopes to have “four-ish” pieces written in time for Art-A-Whirl. They may not be four individual songs, but he wants to at least touch on all four of the major themes he described. The performance venue will be Logan Park; see below for details. While the songs will be performed at Art-A-Whirl, they are technically for a much larger project encompassing 12 performances put on by Mixed Blood over the course of the year. While each show will be hosted individually in the respective communities they are focusing on, they will all be brought together for a festival around the theater Aug. 19-20.
“I wanted to take the time to get to know people and the community,” said Mixed Blood artistic director Mark Valdez, who moved to Minneapolis recently and wanted to put together a series of shows that would allow him to get to know his new home. “And it’s also an opportunity for the community to get to know themselves as well.”
A performance of Moya’s work is scheduled for Saturday, May 20 at 3 p.m. at the Logan Park Pavilion. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets.
Composer Reinaldo Moya worked with Logan Park residents to create a musical portrait of Northeast Minneapolis for Mixed Blood Theatre. (Provided photo)