In 1997, trombone player/composer/improviser David Dove began facilitating an improvisation workshop for a group of teenagers at MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts), an arts community center in Houston’s 6th Ward. Dove was interested in addressing something that he felt was important, but missing in traditional music education – the opportunity for creativity. He identified improvisation as the most immediate and inclusive way to collaboratively engage young people in creative music making. And he found that through improvisation, this diverse group of kids was able to immediately participate in meaningful collaboration, regardless of the fact they came from such different musical backgrounds. He also found that those with less musical experience could get as much from the process as those with extensive instrumental training, and that the technically accomplished could find just as much to challenge them as the beginner.
Dove had encouragement and inspiration from his mentor, the groundbreaking composer and founder of Deep Listening, Pauline Oliveros. Dove had originally gotten to know Oliveros through her mother, Houston piano teacher Edith Guiterrez. And it was Oliveros, on a visit to her home town in 1996, who first introduced Dove to MECA when she invited him to join her in a workshop that she was giving for the students of Houston composer (and MECA piano teacher) Robert Avalon.
Shortly after Dove began working at MECA, he was asked to join the Advisory Board at Houston art organization, Diverse Works. As a member of that board, he had the opportunity to organize a few performances by some of the most important names in contemporary creative music. And when these artists came to Houston, they wouldn’t just give a performance. Dove would also bring them to MECA to lead sessions with the kids in his workshop. The first of these projects were with saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee and saxophonist/vocalist Arthur Doyle. This residency model, a public performance combined with community workshops for young people, would continue to be a vital element of Dove’s curatorial practice all the way through Nameless Sound’s work today.
Oliveros not only encouraged Dove to continue this work, but she urged him to create a framework and structure for it. She felt that this model, a concert series of experimental music intersecting with a youth improvisation ensemble, fit perfectly within the mission of the non-profit organization that she had founded, Pauline Oliveros Foundation (now called Deep Listening Institute). And she invited Dove to start a Houston branch of her New York State-based non-profit organization.
In 2001, the Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston was born. Nine concerts were presented that year, the youth improvisation workshop continued as a co-sponsored collaborative effort with MECA, and an ongoing campaign of improvisation workshops in public schools (known then as The Houston Tour) was initiated. Not long after that, the Houston organization would change its name along with its parent organization, and it became the Deep Listening Institute Houston (DLI Houston).
In 2005 Jo Ann Williams, art therapist and founder of ArtBridge Houston, invited DLI Houston to start giving workshops for children in some Houston homeless shelters. This was an important turning point for DLI Houston for many reasons. It greatly widened the age group that the organization worked with. It began a practice of facilitating workshops for people who previously had no experience playing music at all. Perhaps most importantly, through this engagement with children dealing with the traumas of homelessness (as well as domestic abuse, drug addiction and other related traumatic experiences), Dove and his colleagues began to develop a deeper sense of the therapeutic and community-building potential of creative and collective music making. They began to witness the potential for social-emotional learning in the improvisational process. And they began to understand how a secure framework for creative music making could also provide a safe-space for emotional vulnerability. A licensed therapist, Williams guided DLI Houston in this process, and an understanding of its potential and its stakes. Not long after this, through partnerships with Catholic Charities and the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, the organization began workshops with children from refugee families at a number of after-school programs in the Houston area.
In 2006, with the blessing of Oliveros, DLI Houston broke off from its parent organization and became Nameless Sound, a fully independent 501(c)3 non-profit based in Houston, Texas. Since then, Nameless Sound has continued to evolve. Its concert series has become known for a diverse range of international artists who represent the most important and influential names in the music, as well as the emerging cutting-edge. The series features commissions and world-premieres, as well as special projects that entail collaborations between visiting artists and local musicians. Site-specific events in some of Houston’s most interesting art environments often bring in visiting audiences from outside of the city. Occasional interventions bring ears to seemingly unlikely public listening spaces. And one of our ongoing projects outside of Houston brings audiences to The Hill of James Magee, a monumental and visionary work of art on private land in the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert.
Nameless Sound’s workshop program continues to evolve as Creative Music Communities. Our pedagogical philosophy was published by Routledge in the anthology Improvisation and Music Education: Beyond the Classroom. Our Facilitator’s Handbook guides a roster of practicing artists who collaborate to shape our workshops with their own experiences and creative approaches. Extensive training in trauma-informed interventions, an assimilation of Restorative Justice Practices, and regular trainings in the pedagogies of various artists-in-residence continue to shape this work, as to assessment strategies based on both Facilitator-generated data and well as participant-generated data.