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Branson School News, Sports, Life and Opinion

The Blazer

Branson School News, Sports, Life and Opinion

The Blazer

WORD makes its debut with spoken word open mic session

London Mullarkey
Joaquin Aguillon ’24 recites poetry at Branson’s WORD open mic event. The session took place on November 16th, showcasing student literary works.

WORD, Branson’s new literary salon, made its debut with an informal open mic session Nov. 16.

English teacher Evan Schnair, one of three faculty leaders of WORD, says the door is open to any student, regardless of experience, interested in participating. 

“The invitation is for anyone in the Branson community to write on a given prompt and then have an opportunity to share that,” he said.

Schnair heads WORD alongside fellow English faculty Neha Kamdar and Maddie Lesser. The aim was to create a space on campus where the community could share a passion for language and writing of any genre.

The open mic also featured spontaneous music from music teacher Jaimeo Brown and his students.

“The energy with Evan and Jaimeo combining poetry and music really brought some life to spoken word that I haven’t experienced before, and that I think a lot of people had a lot of fun doing and experiencing,” said Joaquin Aguillon ‘24, one of the students who shared work.

The prompt of the first open mic was to “write a letter to your future self,” chosen by Schnair. The session, taking place in Maxwell during lunch, drew student and teacher performers.

“I was nervous going into it because I didn’t know how many people were going to be there,” said Kamdar, “and then so many people were there. It was so beautifully received, and that makes me hopeful.”

The leaders, in addition to a love for language and literature, were inspired by a faint history of a literary salon of the same name existing before their time at Branson. Jeff Symonds, director of studies, had more details.

“WORD began about 15 years ago, I think, as a space for students and staffulty to share their creative work,” he said. “It started as a one-off in the library common room and was such an immediate hit that it became a regular event.”

“Some of us had been talking about bringing back the idea of a literary salon,” Kamdar said, and thus WORD was reborn as a space dedicated to creative writing on campus.

The name WORD, naturally, was adopted from the original salon, but also chosen by the faculty leaders to show that writing of any genre is welcomed.

“You can write prose, you can write poetry, you can write a spoken word piece, you can write a scene for the play. The prompts are open enough that we invite all the genres,” said Schnair.

Spoken word on campus has frequently featured collaborations with Jaimeo Brown and his students. Most recently was a performance with the jazz band at the Dec. 3 Winter Concert, where a few students read poetry alongside improvisational jazz. Brown said the collaboration “came from a conversation at lunch.”

“We’ve done some collaborations in the past that were pretty light, but we focused the Winter Concert on actually taking some time to really build a collaboration and to discover ways that we could integrate the different concepts around my future self into music,” Brown said.

The collaboration allowed the teachers and students to create an innovative and moving piece showcasing the students’ talent. 

“Working with Jaimeo and the musicians in the jazz band class, we were able to create this very dynamic moment of sharing letters, sharing poetry, sharing story, with a live improvised session, which is amazing because, literally, art is happening in the moment,” said Schnair.

The improvised musical performance paid tribute to key elements of jazz as well as to the self-expression innate in both arts, music and language, said Brown.

There’s no wrong, so you can kind of say whatever you want. It’s a space to just say whatever’s on your mind and speak your truth.

— Jaimeo Brown

“In jazz, in general, the purpose of learning different fundamentals of music [is] to be able to be in situations in which [students] can use those fundamentals in their own way,” he said. “Jazz is a special art form because it is designed to allow for individual improvisation, and I’m really excited about that because when students understand that freedom, they are able to express themselves in very creative and unique ways that they’re not able to…in other areas of life.”

The need for a meaningful presence of the arts in the Branson experience — as part of a well-rounded education — is the idea underlying the founding of WORD.

“It’s important to have a space like WORD at Branson because I think that creativity, fundamentally, is really important,” said Kamdar. “I think narratives, fundamentally, are really important. There is something incredibly generative about being able to come together in a group to tell that story.”

As Aguillon noted, it also allows students a space to feel heard.

“There’s no wrong, so you can kind of say whatever you want,” he said. “It’s a space to just say whatever’s on your mind and speak your truth.”

An openness to sharing, to being vulnerable, is what brings people together, said Schnair.

“It’s about trying to build community around creative writing and not being afraid to take a creative risk and share work, because part of sharing, I think, is what builds a beloved community,” he said.

Brown finds the aim of creative risk-taking to be paramount in his music classes.

“The goal of our classes, Evan’s and my class, [is] really about creating an environment that felt safe to take risks because, within improvisation, you are always going to have to face the risk of falling or failure,” he said. “If you’re truly improvising, you are putting yourself at risk.”

“[When] you make yourself vulnerable, or you take that step into the space of taking a risk, you learn the most, and you build a community around that,” said Schnair. “And if everyone does that, then we all open ourselves up to something magical that we can’t even plan for. And, to me, that’s the spirit of having an open mic session like WORD, making that magic.”

There is a sure future for WORD at Branson. Schnair and Kamdar say there will likely be two more open mics this spring for students to look forward to. They call on the Branson community to experiment with spoken word and see WORD as a glowing opportunity to foster a creative spirit.

“You don’t have to be a poet, you don’t have to be a writer, you don’t even have to feel like you have a story to tell. Maybe you just want to be there in the audience. Be there, and if you feel inspired, there are absolutely no limits or restrictions or anything such thing on what you might share with the group,” Kamdar said.

She also said students are free to send their work to any of the WORD faculty leaders to read over and receive feedback before sharing.

Brown hopes an excitement around WORD and the larger arts scene on campus can become integral to Branson.

“I want the community to be as excited about these opportunities in the same way that they’re excited about sports,” he said. “I want the community to understand the value of these presentations and concerts because they have very profound value to the students who present, and to the community as a whole.”

“I hope that it creates a momentum about something that’s really special and unique,” said Schnair. “And I’d like to see a lot of people out there.”

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About the Contributor
Alexa Warrin
Alexa Warrin, Life Editor
Alexa Warrin serves as life editor and first joined The Blazer in 2022.