This story was originally published 26/09/2015
We all know Marcus Powell from Blindspott/Blacklistt and, more recently, City Of Souls. But when he’s not on stage he runs the Crescendo Trust of Aotearoa. A trust that works with young people (12–24) in music, film and photography.
Before establishing the Trust Marcus was a mentor for the New Zealand Music Commission, giving lectures about bad ass bands and sharing Blindspott touring stories you probably shouldn’t tell your mum. But constantly relaying your greatest hits and successes gets more than a little boring, so one day he brought his guitar, laptop and mic to one of his mentoring sessions.
Fighting wars with guitars and Pro Tools
Over a decade later I phoned him while he was leaning over the back of one his students, bouncing down a Pro Tools session. It was just another day at The Crescendo Trust but then again, to say “just another day” is to belittle the constant small victories a trust like Marcus’ wins daily.
“We often get told we’re working with ‘at risk youth’ or ‘disengaged youth’,” He tells me, his deep voice gentle but serious and a touch jaded. “I really don’t like those terms. This is a disengaged community and I feel like community’s not actually addressing the problem.”
Engagement, or disengagement, Marcus says, is relative. Been disengaged with what seem like your only options isn’t the same as being disengaged with life or growth in principle.
“As soon as we say we’re doing music, film, photography, to our young people, they turn up and they actually want to be engaged and want to creatively express themselves. But the community doesn’t really see that. For us, we’re changing culture through creative expression.”
Marcus quickly concedes that they’re not the only charity working with young people but their fundamental difference is that they’re helping the people they work with find careers and develop their passions.
“Our mentors are guys like myself who have had some levels of success in the industry. I’ve had 15 odd years in the music industry and David Atai from Nesian Mystik handles the West Auckland crew. These guys, these musicians, are a big point of difference for us because we’re actually delivering successful industry professionals rather than just having youth workers.”
“Having these industry names,” Marcus continues, “makes it very easy for us to open these doors for our young people and we’ve managed to get a successful transition rate for them. Last year 33 percent of our young people got back into employment, education or training and I think that’s a fucking big deal. Each mentor has between 40 to 120 young people so I think that’s quite a big number. And with the remaining 67 percent they’re still engaged with our programme.”
The Terror of Stage Fright always has an Ending
I don’t remember life before the internet. I remember getting a computer. We had a desktop PC that sat in a spare room and had Internet Explorer. What I remember most about that is those were the days before being exceedingly self conscious set in, the days where everyone on the Internet was an Arabian prince or Paedophile and you kept tightly and closely to your corner of the net (usually looking for cheats for PS2 games or Pokèmon walkthroughs).
Now though, people grow up hooked into the Internet. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, the ways to bully people and destroy their confidence are beyond school bullies and spiteful parents and in a realm that can be 24/7.
That’s pretty grim and presents one of the realities the Trust faces: lack of self worth.
“A huge part of changing people’s self worth can be changed by creativity.” Marcus says thoughtfully.
The story he tells me is of the girl that helped change everything for him, that helped him realise he had skills, talents, that would eventually have a positive influence on hundreds of other people.
“There was one girl,” on the day, over a decade ago when he took his laptop, mic and guitar into a mentoring session, “who was quote subdued at the back of the room and in the corner. She was getting bullied. I saw her tinkering away and humming and singing and I thought I’d spend some time with her and see what happens. We ended up writing a song together and she laid down some vocals.
“Her teacher played it for the class and she was so frightened of the class hearing it but it changed the dynamic of the class structure for her. Everyone was more accepting of her, clapping, they wow’d her. Herself worth changed because all of a sudden she could offer classmates and her community something.”
Working with a lot of Child Youth and Family young people and closely with the Youth Justice and Custody programme and the overarching theme harks back to that day 10 years ago, a lack of self worth.
“Quite often there are stories of drug and alcohol abuse but we deal with all sorts of problems.” Marcus says, his voice remains thoughtful and sympathetic throughout our conversation.
The Trust’s mentors are trained through the New Zealand Mentoring Network and through Abacus drug and alcohol courses. But when they’re spending one on one time with those they’re mentoring, it’s as much about building relationships as it is teaching them about Pro Tools or giving guitar lessons.
“Our young people face problems with homosexuality, if they’re coming out that’s hard and scary, they deal with suicide, all kinds of different issues. Drugs and alcohol are a big one. Quite often, through the young people telling us stories, we’ve realised there aren’t a lot of healthy male role models out there so we pride ourselves on being healthy, good, male role models.”
The point of music has always been to connect and now, with bands like The Color Morale, Memphis May Fire and Of Mice & Men, those connections have become about so much more than just fans and band members. It’s about reaching out to the people that need it, knowing your fans and caring about them.
For Marcus, that’s what this all about: caring for people and reaching out to them. He says that the media, music, film, photography, radio, everything they do at the Crescendo Trust is a vehicle, a means of building those connections.
“We engage with and connect with our young people but what’s more important is them knowing that we love them. Love is the main thing we’re trying to get across here. Love is the main factor of change.”
There’s a degree of counselling and music as therapy in what the Crescendo Trust does and with that, comes a better sense of self expression for the people they work with.
“When you get the one on one time we’re working through music for them and trying to get them to this place but you’re also building a relationship with this young person. We find out about their family and what’s going on.”
Part of that therapy is songwriting.
“There’s something quite intimate about songwriting,” Marcus says, “you’re really letting your guard down and letting yourself be vulnerable and that’s really beautiful. But it’s also quite trusting because you’re letting yourself be open for judgement in a lot of cases so it’s quite brave.”
The Trust is entirely not-for-profit and is proudly (and always will be) free for everyone, regardless of background. Marcus has a smile on his lips as we end our conversation, it’s been a long journey getting to this point but his pride for his young people, for the progress they’ve made and their bravery is palpable.