Interview conducted by Mary Galime
How important was a sense of community among musicians while you were at school?
Arnetta Johnson: Sense of community was very important while I was in school. I'm from Camden, New Jersey. Sometimes it isn't the best environment to be in, the Urban stereotypes that occur. But with teachers like Jamal Dickerson, Hassan Sabree, and Nasir Dickerson, I was able to remain focused through the vision they put to action. They created a community amongst young musicians. They had us do marching and jazz band throughout the year to keep us occupied and striving for greatness. The system they had set up was awesome! First, students would start with private lessons with Nasir Dickerson while in elementary/middle, next they would go to Hassan Sabree from 6th-8th grade to play with the little Jazz Giants, and then lastly they'd be sent to Jamal Dickerson for high school jazz band. From this flow process, I was in a circle of students along the same path. That gave me a sense of security, family. From there, college was the same thing. With students from all over world I definitely went through some culture shock when I first arrived. Fortunately, a few students from my hometown attended Berklee and took me under their wing. They showed me the ropes and from there I was able to maneuver my way through my freshman year. From that I gained friends that I was able to shed and go to jam sessions with throughout the week. The community developed in school and is what really got me through.
How have you found that community to benefit you, both while you were in school, and now as you move forward?
AJ: Having the community is definitely beneficial. Through it, I was able to network and keep in contact with many people. When I returned home, the musical community that was developed, continued to play a part in my life. Through it I was able to share my experience with others that were with me along the way. The community I developed while in college is extremely beneficial. Given that in the community there are people from all over the world with many different experiences, I am able to reach out to peers when I travel and network even more!
How is your generation embracing a musical community differently?
AJ: My generation is embracing the musical community through social media. We can create groups through Facebook and chat with one another from all over the world. Also with social media we can share music, get out on to new up and coming musicians, and reach out to even collaborate with them. Before it was all about business cards, websites, and strictly meeting up (showcases/sessions) to get to know who was doing what and who was around. With the technology now we can have jams with people we've never met. Like with Farnell Newton's creation of "Jam of the Week."
In what ways did you find yourself connecting most positively with peers?
AJ: I made the best connection with my peers through talking about experiences and our current mindsets. Given that my peers and I are in a fast paste time period, it’s always good to chat with one another about future goals and past experiences. The community built from that lets us know we aren't in this alone.
How can a recent graduate take advantage of and insert themselves into the broader music community beyond school? What are some do's and don'ts of this process?
AJ: As a recent graduate it's the perfect time to get involved in a broader music community. If someone wants to be a performer, such as myself, use all of your free time to go out to jam sessions, build your professional social media accounts with video, start a blog, head out to other cities and network. Do this every day and you're guaranteed to be set. The worse thing to do as a student fresh out of college is to sit home and worry all day. It's easy to do so since you're in the state of not knowing what's next. Most people sit home and plan all day but don't take action. While we have the time and energy go out into the community find volunteer positions, find out what festivals/ free music events are happening and network while you're free to do so.