PORTLAND, Ore. — The Ivy School is a tuition-free, publicly-funded Montessori school in North Portland. Learning is student-led, but they learn to work as one.
“Music is literature. Music is math. Music is science,” said Portland children's musician Aaron Nigel Smith. Smith is the founder of 1 World Chorus, giving underserved youth access to quality arts enrichment training. The nonprofit has partnered with the Ivy School for a few years now, and Smith teaches music and movement, along with multimedia production.
“It's really cool to see them be empowered and for them to use their voices and to stand firm in their beliefs,” said Smith. “That's the thing I'm most impressed about, these particular youth, they know who they are, they know what they want to do. They know what they don't want to do and they're able to express it pretty clearly.”
Wednesday was drum practice, and Smith is helping the students find their beat in more ways than one.
“I feel like music is one of the most powerful tools. The most important thing I think music can do is it can build community and help people to come together.”
Smith recalled the first day of drums, “When you enter the room, it’s just mayhem,” he said.
Several weeks into the program, the kids have found a rhythm. Working together to turn noise into music. It’s the most rewarding part for Smith, who himself has a pretty impressive resume. He’s released nine albums in the children’s music genre and has traveled and performed on six continents. Now, he finds life in this educational space.
“We can gain a better understanding of each other when we sit and sing and drum and play together,” he said.
As of this year, you can add another honor to his accomplishments—Grammy nominee. His first nomination is for “Best Children’s Album” for the collaboration, “All One Tribe,” which was released on Juneteenth.
“All One Tribe is an album that represents 26 different Black artists that came together that all do music for families,” said Smith. For him, the award is nice, but his heart is with the kids with whom he shares his craft.
“The accolades and the recognition, that's great and it helps feed the ego primarily if I'm honest,” he laughed. “But the work is really what it's about, and I get a lot of joy out of watching the evolution of a youth that started in my class.”
Perhaps Smith’s biggest award is teaching these Ivy School students how to work and one team, with room to be themselves.
“Even more than performing, even more than recording, helping youth to gain access to the arts feels like the most meaningful calling of my life if I'm honest,” he said.