Participating in The Somewhere Project
The Somewhere Project, Carnegie Hall’s citywide exploration of West Side Story, reaches young people across New York City through a variety of Weill Music Institute programs and partnerships. One lucky teenager and Somewhere Project all-star, Dysani Wanzer, is participating in the project through four different groups: She is a member of the 200-person choir that will be part of Carnegie Hall’s production of West Side Story, a participant in songwriting projects at both Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music and in Carnegie Hall’s afterschool Youth Programs, and a member of the Music with a Message Band at Renaissance Youth Center, one of the project’s partner organizations. Dysani shares about her wide-ranging experiences of being involved in The Somewhere Project.
My name is Dysani Wanzer and I’m 15 years old. Growing up, I didn’t fit in with most of the other kids because I lived with my grandma, and I was usually made fun of. In seventh grade, I just got over it and made jokes about it instead, because I felt, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” In the musical West Side Story, Maria and Tony want to find a place where they can love, be loved, and be equal—a place where people love each other for who they are. My “Somewhere” is similar to their utopia: I wish to find a place where I am accepted for who I am, where I can be free to make my own decisions, a place where I can love who I want without being discriminated against or judged.
Two choirs at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music were selected and given the opportunity to be a part of The Somewhere Project with Carnegie Hall. The project is centered around the musical West Side Story, in which two characters from opposing sides of a racial divide fall in love to only be heartbroken. In the end, they cannot be together no matter how much they try. Knowing West Side Story, excitement arose throughout Celia Cruz Bronx High School when the project was announced.
During the first rehearsal for The Somewhere Project with my choir from Celia Cruz, I was very nervous because I had never been in a musical and there were so many people involved in this project—people from all over, people I didn’t know. However, they made me feel welcome. Everyone was there for the same purpose: to be a part of a project that unites people regardless of where they’re from or what they practice. Before rehearsal, we recreated the gym scene from West Side Story, which allowed us to meet everyone and get to know each other. Leslie Stifelman—musical supervisor for the production, and also the music director and conductor for Chicago on Broadway—started the rehearsal by teaching us new breathing strategies for our singing.
I’m also participating in The Somewhere Project through Carnegie Hall’s new afterschool Youth Programs for teens. Focusing on songwriting, digital music creation, and concert production, these workshops allow teens to learn the skills needed to create, perform, and produce their own original music. Being a part of the songwriting workshop is a great experience because I am with other songwriters who help and inspire me to create more songs. This is where I met Thomas Cabaniss, who writes music for opera, theater, dance, film, and the concert stage. Tom has helped my songwriting class create a song called “A Place for Us” in which we express our feelings about The Somewhere Project and where we belong.
As if that wasn’t enough, I’m also in songwriting workshops at Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music as part of Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program. In the songwriting group led by Deidre Rodman Struck and James Shipp, our songs focus on finding a place to fit in, like Maria and Tony. These songs deal with empowerment and knowing where you stand as a whole. We were able to record our final songs in the recording studio and the songs will also be uploaded to Carnegie Hall’s SoundCloud. This workshop was a great experience because we got to know how it really feels to write and record songs like a professional artist.
Finally, I am also a part of the Renaissance Youth Center which is a non-profit organization that includes various activities and classes on music, dance, art, sports, and so much more. The Music with a Message Band (MWAM) is a youth group that spreads positive messages through music, creating differences in people’s lives one song at a time. MWAM was also given the opportunity to be a part of The Somewhere Project with Carnegie Hall. We have created our own musical inspired by West Side Story called Bronxside Story. Just a few days after the lights dim for the last time on Carnegie Hall’s production of West Side Story at the Knockdown Center, join us in the Bronx for our own take on the musical.