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DENMARK - What happens when two gifted groups come together? Pure magic!

Decoda, a New York City-based chamber music collective and Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall, spent a total of 14 hours working with Denmark-Olar High School students in a songwriting workshop the week of March 26-30. During the workshop, 15 students created original songs with the help of Decoda artists Claire Bryant, cello; Brad Balliett, bassoon; Dylan Greene, drums and Brandon Ridenour, trumpet.

The Decoda residency was made possible through an Arts Education Partnership Grant from the S.C. Arts Commission through its Art of Community: Rural SC Initiative.

The DOHS students were dedicated, staying after school each day for three hours to rehearse. Their teachers and mentors were right there with them encouraging them to finish strong, and they did.

On Thursday, March 29, the students performed at the school's International Night, preparing them for their final performance before their peers and faculty members on Friday.

The students performed six original songs they had written while the members of Decoda backed them up on their instruments.

Dylan Greene, the drummer with Decoda, said the group's residency at DOHS was a "wonderful introduction to South Carolina."

The performance at International Night felt like a dress rehearsal, he said.

"That was exactly what we needed," Green said. "It went all right but it definitely wasn't our best, and that's how a dress ought to be. I've always felt that if a dress goes bad or just okay, then the performance will go great. It's meant to give you perspective before the real show but not wear you out. If a dress is perfect, it becomes easy to check out or get overconfident."

"Our students knocked it out of the park Friday," he said. "I felt like the kids owned that stage. I am incredibly proud of both what the group collectively accomplished and the distance students came as individuals."

Freshman Justice Ivy was excited about working with Decoda.

“Being able to collaborate with such an important group as Decoda is something we'll never forget. Writing songs is as much fun as it is work and, believe it or not, teaches valuable lessons," Ivy said.

"Collaboration, making sure your voice/ideas are heard and being confident in not only your work, but yourself as well, are ... key to making it in this world," she said.

“The experience as a whole was just fun. One thing that I have gained from this workshop is to always be confidently creative," Ivy said.

Caylor Moody, a junior, said she enjoyed the music and sweet beats as she performed with the alto saxophone.

“The fresh energy we all put into the project pushed us forward to a successful performance; it was awesome,” she said.

Senior Daijhia Mack said she learned better social and songwriting skills.

“Performing with Decoda in front of the school was heartwarming. It felt good to share what we’ve all been working hard doing," Mack said. "Last week was fantastic. This project allowed me to learn so much and also bond so well with people in my school I’ve never really interacted with."

Bamberg School District 2 Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner said she was overwhelmed by the students' performance.

“It was absolutely phenomenal. We are so appreciative to have received the grant. We were very grateful that the artists worked with our students for the week that was more than amazing. It was really stunning,” she said.

Planning for the grant began two years ago, said Bobby Harley, a former social studies teacher at the school who assisted Decoda artist Claire Bryant, a South Carolina native, in the initial stages of the planning. 

“It was great to see former students participating and telling their stories through the arts," Harley said. "I hope it is something that they can look back on with pride because many of those students go through so much. The arts is definitely a discipline that will allow them to express themselves. I found it fascinating that the workshop was student led."

Bryant said the students were awesome.

“The students gave an outstanding performance on Friday at DOHS. We were extremely proud and amazed by their courage and teamwork," she said. "We couldn’t have imagined a more fabulous concert to celebrate the week together."

Contact the writer: shakora.purple@gmail.com.

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