The Dewey Decibels is a musical program that was formed via an Empowerment though the Arts/Empowerment Academy program at the Uniondale Public Library in Uniondale, NY in 2013. Librarian Syntychia Kendrick-Samuel, who started the program, recognized how music cemented her largely African-American, Caribbean, and Latino community together. Like all communities, Uniondale worries about the safety of its children, especially its teens.
The Uniondale Library is a safe, well-utilized institution in the community and Kendrick-Samuel knew that music would bring teen patrons in the doors. Through funding from the Best Buy Community Foundation, Margaret E. Edwards Trust, and a Uniondale School District 21st Century Learning grant. Kendrick-Samuel made “young adult services” music to the Uniondale Library’s teens’ ears.
The program initially was offered as a two-part workshop led by vocalist and music teacher, Michelle Taylor Bryant. Bryant drew on her first hand experiences at Carnegie Hall and the Long Island Conservatory of Music. She offered students vocal coaching and most of all, lots of encouragement and positive praise. Bryant put together a curriculum that included getting the kids up and singing as a group plus offering tools and techniques to improve individual and group singing. She also developed students’ music appreciation—increasing their sensitivity to the power of a song, its impact on a listener, and how a song’s message can be communicated by a singer’s individual rendition. All of this culminated in a small group of the Dewey Decibels performing as an all-female group, “The Jolies,” in the library’s annual talent show. It was a hit.
When it looked like Bryant’s broken ankle would shut the show down the following year, Uniondale native Twyla Sommersell, an academic designer/editor at McGraw-Hill School Education specializing in music, stepped in. Sommersell added a few more workshops and partnered students as performers and directors, creating an interesting dimension. Students performed and the audience provided carefully guided constructive criticism. The library had assembled its own rendition of “The Voice”—and soon there was huge interest (that is, a large number of boys joined the group).
Sommersell’s goal was for “students… to perform in some way or another, promoting confidence.” Kendrick-Samuel’s goal: to get students into the library and off the streets. Both women realized their dream—when the group stood and performed its rendition of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” at the annual talent show. Students were empowered through music and through the library.
The Dewey Decibels are now a permanent part of the Uniondale Library Young Adult Services programming, one that everyone can’t wait to hear. Syntychia Kendrick-Samuel said, “Sure, it was great to see kids get up on stage…or see painfully shy kids perform for the first time, but the best thing about it was seeing how the library could make a difference. That’s why I became a librarian. This is the kind of thing that makes it all worth it.”