Upswell sounded different…

Upswell sounded different…

// By Jacqueline Brennan

/ by Christian Clansky /

There’s a wonderful quote about music that’s attributed to Billy Joel.

It’s one of those quotes that appears on a suspicious number of tacky memes and sends you on a wild goose chase through a maze of “best sayings” websites if you try to seek out the original source. But it’s a great reflection on the power of music and seems like something he could have said. This is, after all, the guy who wrote the post-modern existential masterpiece “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” so let’s give the benefit of the doubt that this bit of wisdom is his:

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.

Well put, (probably) Billy.

We knew that music had to be an essential element of the Upswell environment for exactly the reasons that the piano man identified. Upswell is a space for healing the wounds of injustice, intolerance, and inequity. It’s a space for expressing the diversity of our lived experiences in creative and innovative ways. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a space for building community and affirming that – no matter what – we’re in this world together.

After spending a lot of time thinking about the variety of musical experiences and styles, we crafted a soundscape that invited both appreciation and participation. Here are some of the ways that Upswell Los Angeles sounded:

  • At the Upswell Leadership Awards Dinner, MacArthur Fellow and violinist Vijay Gupta delivered a stunning performance of the Irish classic “Danny Boy.” It only took a few opening notes to totally captivate (and hush) a room that had been loudly celebrating over dinner and drinks moments before. Vijay, who self-identifies as an “advocate for the role of the arts and music to heal, inspire, provoke change, and foster social connection,” told stories about individuals whose dignity and sense of purpose had been restored through music.

    After dinner, the hush was replaced with the roar of hundreds of changemakers ready to party  on the 73rd– floor rooftop of the Intercontinential LA, one of the highest buildings in the Western Hemisphere. DJ Zest rocked the rooftop bar, complete with panoramic LA views and an infinity fire pit. With a mix of LA sound, Golden Era 90’s hip hop, today’s top hits, and a little something extra, DJ Zest kept the dance floor filled and the party pumping throughout the night.

  • The sun-soaked terrace outside of the Public Square, which floated midway up the LA skyline with views to match, twice transformed into an inspiring space for musicmaking. On Thursday, a few dozen drums of various sizes and sounds formed a circle. Some brave souls followed the lead beats of facilitator Alan Bruni and, as the noise level grew, curious changemakers began to join in. Within 15 minutes, more than 40 people were pounding out beats. It was cathartic and fun – and fostered a surprisingly meaningful sense of community among the drummers.The trend continued the next morning, when the drums were replaced with ukuleles. Under the guidance of YouTube star Ukulenny and his custom-made-for-Upswell Songs for Change music book, happy changemakers strummed in harmony and belted out the songs of Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and the late, great Ben E. King. The Recording Academy might not have noticed our rendition of Stand by Me, but it sure sounded great to us!

  • Toward the end of a long day, the young members of the Fernando Pullum Center Jazz Ensemble took the Spotlight Stage in the Public Square. If you didn’t know better, you’d be forgiven for seeing this on the schedule and assuming that it was a relaxing and melodic way to unwind. Instead, the musicians unleashed a spine-tingling performance that absolutely commanded the sprawling room. Their performance caused changemakers from every corner of Upswell (and there were a lot of corners) to suddenly gush toward the stage. Words like “unexpected” and “awe-inspiring” simply don’t do it justice.


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    The Fernando Pullum Center Ensemble Performance dazzles the #upswell2018 Public Square from the Spotlight Stage! #losangelesyouth #lamusic

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  • And, on Friday, hometown heroes (and Grammy Award winners) Ozomatli closed out Upswell with a truly incredible concert. The band, which has played many of the same iconic venues as Billy Joel himself, drew every ounce of energy from the hundreds of changemakers surrounding the stage. The crowd waved their arms, they sang, they danced – and they cheered as 200 beaming student musicians from Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, instruments in hand, joined Ozomatli on stage. In that moment, the age range at Upswell was its widest as it spanned from 6 to…well, decades older than 60. That diversity of life proved that, just as Billy Joel said, everyone loves music.

Our ears are still ringing with joy, but we’ve already got them tuned for the next Upswell. What should it sound like in Chicago? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Christian Clansky is the director of marketing and digital strategy at Independent Sector

1600 900 Jacqueline Brennan
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