Freedom is a universal value. That is why, in respect to Juneteenth, Trenton Music Makers (TMM) will celebrate its strength and creativity over the past year with the premiere of a short documentary film, Freedom: Stories of Innovation, Resiliency, and Connection. The powerful film will feature interviews with TMM and their families, orchestral selections, and much more.

This is no ordinary film. The documentary, produced by filmmaker Nick Donnoli, will not only feature the talented young musicians performing excerpts from Mozart’s Symphony #40 and Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, but it will also include the debut of a new music video for Trenton hip hop artist Josue Lora’s composition “Simple.” The remix will feature musicians from TMM as well as the dancers of Trenton Education Dance Institute (TEDI), making this a true Trenton collaboration.

“It’s a big deal,” said Carol Burden, Executive Director of TMM. “It points out what kind of community we actually have. The only thing that we did was say yes when opportunities emerged; we opted to go ahead and say yes to everything and see what we were able to do.”

Initially, TMM reached out to Lora and local DJ Ahmad Shakir about working closely with the youth involved in the program. The plan was to diversify the musical teachings at TMM by exploring the wide-range of cultural music within the capital city.

“We really want to lean into our teaching artists for core strength and classical music, but it’s 2021, there are a lot of types of music that sound great,” said Burden. “The cultural reaches of Trenton is amazing – the mix of different types of music from different parts of the world, and how much access we have, to not only people who really resonate with different forms of music that comes from the parts of the world that they originally come from, but people who are really making great music in those forms. So, it would be a lost opportunity if we tried to stay in a little stuffy orchestra, classical music bubble.”

The TMM soon began working on the remix to Lora’s song “Simple,” a spanish tune that Lora wrote about the feelings he experienced leaving Trenton and returning home to the Dominican Republic. Essentially, the song embodies the feelings of home and what it means to be surrounded with deep culture and a loving family.

“It’s such a great theme of what we’ve all been living through for the last year,” said Burden. “We’re spending too much time at home and, obviously, people are living through unthinkable health effects and economic effects, and yet, we’re going through it with the people that we’ve sort of chosen this life to go through it all with.”

She continues, “It’s been a great opportunity to reinforce that among ourselves and to really honor it among our kids – that their families are such sources of strength to them, and it’s certainly our hope and our goal that in return for that, our kids playing music becomes a source of strength for family.”

As this music project came to fruition, TMM and Lora wondered if there was a way to broadcast this remix to the community. The group started to dream of a music video to showcase this collaboration. However, even with Lora being a videographer himself, a music video would involve serious funding.

Luckily for the team, the I Am Trenton Community Foundation, an independent non-profit organization committed to the mission of making Trenton even better through community-focused giving, rose to the occasion and funded the project for TMM. From that point, the project took off.

It was at that point TMM received an unexpected call from TEDI, who asked if TMM was interested in doing a project associated with choreography and student composition. Without question, the organizations agreed to partner up and the youth began to feed off of each-other’s talents. TEDI was then invited to take part in the music video production.

“So it started as a remix, which then grew into a video, which then added dancers, and when we were done, as the project started to take shape, we thought, ‘How shall we really present this? We can’t do another concert. How about we really make hay with the circumstances that we’re living with right now and go ahead and make a film rather than trying to have a socially distanced concert. Let’s do something that really reflects what we’ve done all year, which is so much use of technology,'” said Burden.

TMM reached out to filmmaker Nick Donnoli of Orangebox Pictures, an individual the organization has worked closely with in the past, to see if he’s be willing to combine the community efforts together into one documentary. Donnoli loved the idea and the project’s final goal was set.

To combine elements of music, choreography and theme of resilience into one Juneteenth celebratory documentary, TMM enlisted three families of the players to discuss the challenges and obstacles those in the Trenton community have overcome this past year, as well as the effects of music and how playing music helped get them through the emotional challenges of last year.

“I don’t want to diminish, for one second, the importance of Juneteenth in marking the end of race based involuntary servitude in this country, at least at the legal level. We need to keep the focus of campaigns on that,” said Burden. “However, for our children, who were born in the last eight or nine years, and who know the things that enclose them and what they have to be free from; this gave us a good centering point for our conversation about where we are now.”

As the community nears closer to the premier date (Saturday, June 19  at 6 p.m.) of Freedom: Stories of Innovation, Resiliency, and Connection, TMM, TEDI, Josue Lora and the rest of the project team look forward to seeing the final result of this Trenton, community arts collaboration.

To learn more about the premiere and how to tune in to the premier of Freedom: Stories of Innovation, Resiliency, and Connection, click here.

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