“The outreach aspect has kind of died down and this year we would like to bring that back,” Ho said.
Daniel Symonds ’11, a founder of The Noize, explained, “Right now we’re at a big turning point and formalizing a lot of what we’ve learned. We’re giving the program the legs it needs to survive in the years to come.” Symonds continued, “Outreach is definitely going to be a bigger part now. We want to revitalize the initial mentoring aspect of the program and bring back a lot of that resource-sharing component.”
Symonds created The Noize during his freshman year. “I’d always had a strong interest in music and radio,” he said. “I saw it as a vast shame that this studio was just sitting there and no one was using it. Classic Swarthmore: so many resources and not enough people.”
Symonds reached out to Lang Scholars working in Chester to gain access to the high schoolers, who he saw as the opposite of Swarthmore students. “These are students who are really neglected and don’t have the same opportunities or even half as many resources,” Symonds said. With the money from his Evans scholarship, Symonds hired a high school friend familiar with hip-hop audio production to bring in Chester students and instruct them in the production studio.
While Symonds wanted to construct a program that balanced resource-sharing between Chester and Swarthmore, he placed more emphasis on actual involvement in Chester by Swarthmore students, primarily through a mentoring program. “I always felt that it was paramount that Swarthmore students made a real commitment to their Chester mentees, that they went to Chester and learned about how these kids were living,” he said.
Symonds saw this approach as different from the usual involvement of college students with Chester residents. “This was opposed to the traditional one-sided dynamic and the frequently lopsided use of resources by Chester, and not as much involvement in Chester by Swarthmore students,” he said.
Brian Foster, one of the original Chester High School students involved with The Noize who now studies film at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, certainly felt the impact of the mentoring program. “It was more than just a Swarthmore student hanging out with a Chester High student,” Foster said. “It was more of a big brother role, more like a family relationship.”
Foster described the role of Swarthmore students in Chester as highly beneficial. “Not only did we talk about hip-hop, but we talked about world issues and how we should approach them. They played their part in educating us about the world and how we should react,” Foster said of the college participants in the program. The education and interaction went both ways. “Chester kids put Swarthmore kids onto the music from our city and what we would listen to. When we would have events in our city, we would invite Swat people. We definitely built relationships and friendships with each other that lasted for years,” Foster said.
Both the mentoring program and media aspect grew increasingly successful throughout Symonds’ time at Swarthmore. “Over the course of time, a handful of Chester students really stuck with it. We went through many different iterations and radio shows,” Symonds said. “For a couple of years we were the most popular community radio program in Chester, run by Chester students entirely, and we became the go-to free studio space for local musicians in Chester.”
The college’s resources, along with the collaborative chemistry between students in the program, resulted in a music group, The Noize, and a mixtape, House of Cool, recorded and produced entirely in the Swarthmore studio. “We just disregarded the fact that we’re from two different parts of PA, you know?” Foster said. “We just vibed with each other and made great music. We’re focusing now on having our own show, and Swarthmore people opened the door for us to have that.”
Symonds believes The Noize’s simple main principle will guide the program’s growth. “It’s not rocket science to put youths together of different ages and tell them to make music, to create the kinds of relationships and spaces for people to talk about not only the music but whatever else is going on in their lives,” he said. “It can be hard to create spaces of comfort for people, but music is a social lubricant and a good start to having people relax and share their stories. We try as hard as possible to make it an open space for all students.”
With 29 sign-ups at the activities fair, a strong leadership core, and a wealth of nearby Chester students, The Noize seems bound to expand, continue to foster closer relations between the college and Chester High, and result in further collaborations like the House of Cool mixtape. Tune into WSRN this Saturday at wsrnfm.org or on 91.5 FM for the first show.