RANGELY I In a large, open room framed by mirrors, a group of children and adults huddle, count to three. In unison, they belt out the chorus of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
The group opposite them considers the choice, gathers up, and responds with a boisterous rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
The back-and-forth continues until the leader, Stephen Brackett of Denver-based band the Flobots, draws both groups together in joint song.
This is no traditional song battle. Rather, the exercise, much like the song-sharing workshops that frame it, focus on the power of shared experiences, musical expression and close listening.
The themes resonated with many Rangely locals, college students, children and church congregants who gathered Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 for three workshops and time in The Tank during Colorado Creative Industries’ Detour program.
The pilot tour, hosted by musicians in the Flobots, 2MX2 and Lolita Castaneda, traveled to 15 Colorado communities this month with the aim of shifting “music-making from an emphasis on consumption back to cooperative creation,” according to a program description.
At Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) Monday night, in Parkview Elementary School’s fifth-grade band class Tuesday morning and at Rangely Christian Church (RCC) Tuesday night, that aim looked like call and response, small group sharing and a certain willingness to be vulnerable around friends and strangers.
“I loved their excitement and passion to bring people and communities together through music,” Giovanni’s Italian Grill owner Sandy Payne said. “I was a little skeptical at first, but knowing what I know now about the experience, I would be really disappointed with myself if I hadn’t participated.”
Activities varied depending on the group, but elements overlapped in each session. Musicians encouraged participants to tap into different musical “technologies” that could take the form, for instance, of memories evoked by certain songs or musical experiences.
Music, they said, can prompt “emotional state shifts” from distraction, stress or anger to focus, calm and peace. Music can interweave with people’s everyday experiences, enriching or enhancing those moments in the process.
The musicians emphasized that, above all, sharing these experiences can create empathy, joy and common ground.
“I’m a cop here in Rangely, and I know that cops right now have a very bad light throughout the nation,” Rangely police officer Will Pena said after Monday night’s workshop. “We all come from different walks of life, but as we all communicated, the feeling that I got – to sing with you guys and to actually be one with you all – was amazing. If this could happen more often, we’d be better off.”
Sometimes, Brackett said, when words aren’t sufficient, music can be.
“I think that songs might have a way of conveying all the information in a way that the most beautiful speech might not,” Brackett said while speaking of his grandmother’s battle with dementia and his family’s expression of sorrow and hope through song.
After a shared meal at RCC on Sept. 15, the musicians and participants headed out to The Tank, where Detour musician Megan Friedel, Flobots lead singer Jamie Laurie and others led more than 30 community members in favorites like “Amazing Grace” and “Wade in the Water.”
The evening song session was Rangely resident Brittny Campos’ first time in The Tank.
“I have never experienced anything like it,” Campos said. “I have been in music most of my life, and the acoustics in The Tank are phenomenal. The little time I was able to spend in the Tank is something I will remember for a long time.”
Several members of Detour said they intend to return to Rangely to explore The Tank and further engage with the community.
Musician Adam Baumeister said The Tank was “the most amazing deep listening session I have ever experienced.”
Many spoke of the Tank’s potential future not only to the world of music and sound but also to the local community.
Friend of the Tank Bruce Odland, who connected to Rangely and The Tank in 1976 during The Chautauqua Tour, a traveling arts festival, said the Detour project has its roots in Chautauqua, from engaging communities in the arts to getting to know individuals and towns personally.
Tank liaison Beth Wiley, who organized the local events, said the work was well worth the effort.
“It was great to see so many facets of the community come together to embrace this unique opportunity to host, house and learn from the Detour group,” Wiley said. “As diverse as we seem on the surface, people really are more alike than they are different, and sharing music and songs is a great way to bring that message to the surface.”