Amy Martin knows how to make a rumpus, and she’s so good at it she has students lined up at the door waiting to learn how.
It’s a warm May evening on the third floor of MCT Center for the Performing Arts.
The old school building is stuffy and hot, but the singers who are waiting for class to begin don’t care because they’ve come to have fun.
Big, loud, shake your body, rowdy, make you laugh, stomp your feet, make you feel better kind of fun.
With a cheerful hello to all, Martin bounds into the room and goes straight to the old blackboard.
Picking up a stick of bright blue chalk, she writes in huge letters: “Nobody gets to tell me how to sing my song.
“I’m gonna sing it my way.
“All day long.”
Once the words are out of her head, Martin asks everyone to circle up and begin warm-up exercises.
Her students roll their shoulders, roll their eyes, stick out their tongues, jump up and down, and make yipping sounds.
It’s a sight to behold and the usual welcome to Wild Things Music, Martin’s vision where community, creativity, risk, growth, joy and connection collide with singing your heart out.
No matter how you sing.
“Amy creates a very safe and secure place where you can be a complete goofball and mess up and nobody cares,” said Jenny Baber, who is a member of Martin’s adult class.
Called the F.R.O.G.S. (Federation for the Renewal of Group Singing), these singers weren’t the stars of their youth choirs, may have been too self-conscious to ever perform in a choir or sing a solo, and have come to Martin’s class to push out of their comfort zone.
“For me, I get to sing, sing fun songs, open up more and be with people who enjoy what I do,” Baber said.
It helps that Martin is the kind of person who makes risk-taking possible – and even enjoyable, said Jen Certa, a member of the F.R.O.G.S.
“Amy has an exuberance for life and a real gift for connecting with people,” Certa said. “Because of the awesome supportive environment, you feel like you can take risks.”
“It’s been a pretty interesting thing for me to be in this class,” she said. “I’m a pretty shy person, but Amy has really helped us believe that we all have a right to take up space and be heard.
“I do F.R.O.G.S. because I love to sing, but it has become a lot deeper experience for me.”
Martin founded Wild Things Music in 2007 with the belief that making music is a natural and essential part of being human.
It all began with the Coyote Choir, a group of Missoula 7- to 11-year-olds Martin pulled together to perform at First Night Festivities and to record a CD with big-name artists for the Biomimicry Institute.
Although Martin had long been playing and recording her own music in Missoula, and was honored with the 2004 Peacemaker Award, she hadn’t worked with kids or formally taught music before the album.
“It was so much fun I didn’t want to quit, and things just kind of grew organically from there,” Martin explained.
Originally, Martin was hoping to start a community music center for Missoula, a center on the scale and equivalent of the art museum.
“I think there are so many people of all ages – not just kids – who have so much musical desire and all they need is more encouragement to live in their musical selves more,” Martin said. “I would love it if there was a giant center to teach all kinds of classes – instrumentation, singing and everything else.
“But I didn’t want to be the driver of that project, it’s too overwhelming, but I could do something in that direction, and Wild Things is the thing.”
In the shadow of the Coyote Choir came the Fledglings (K-3), the Wolf Pack (grades 6-8) and the F.R.O.G.S.
With each class, and as the groups evolved, Martin honed her technical lessons to truly celebrate the raw power and exuberance of the group music experience, and to challenge fears of inadequacy.
“There is so much more in people than they give themselves credit for,” Martin said. “I wanted to create a space for them to tap into that and to feel comfortable taking risks.”
“There is no growth without risk, and you can’t experiment with that if judgment is waiting around the corner,” she said. “I believe once you have a place where it feels safe to risk, then you can play with the idea of risk, and learn that it is actually a fun thing.
“It’s fun to open your mouth and make a weird sound, and it’s powerful to push yourself to learn something you don’t know how to do.”
The lesson she has taught is a lesson she is taking to heart more than ever.
The Wild Things Spring Rumpus, the capstone performance event for all of her groups, will be the last one.
Martin is moving to Choteau to be with her boyfriend and to spend time on several creative projects she has shelved because of her Wild Things programs.
Top on her list is the musical that is no longer a musical, Martin said. “It’s a story, a postapocalyptic coming-of-age story – and the musical form it started out with is not really working.”
“I’m playing with idea of a TV show, maybe a novel, maybe a play,” she said. “I haven’t been able to devote time to it, so while I will miss teaching and living in Missoula, that project is a huge carrot for me – it feels like this is a chance for me and what I have been waiting to do for years, to have one job and that job is to create.”
The move is a risk and the change is daunting, Martin said. But it’s also exciting and she is grateful for the opportunity to indulge her creative muses in the spectacular beauty that surrounds Choteau.
Once the Wild Things Rumpus is over, Martin will leave town for what she calls a “sabbatical without an end.”
For certain, she will take with her the lessons her students taught her.
“My students are so brave, and I think that there are so many people of all ages who are pushing themselves to do things they are really uncomfortable with, and then there is this huge reward afterwards for making that leap.
“I hope I can be half as brave as my students.”
However, until that time comes there’s still loud, playful, joyous, rumpus-making music to make.
And on May 17, the Wild Things choirs will be inspiring their audience to jump around and create community with them.
“Risk-taking happens in the show itself,” Martin said. “This is not your typical, sit-and-watch performance – it’s going to be fun.”
Cale Gooday, an 11-year-old member of the Coyote Choir, agreed with his teacher’s assessment.
“I was one of those people at first, in those early sessions, that didn’t like to perform,” Gooday said. “Now that I am more used to it, it feels really good and it feels like my hard work is finally paying off.”
“I think we all feel that way,” he said. “So come to the Rumpus, it’s a really fun thing. The performers are a big mix of people from all across town.
“We are not your average choir.”
Photography editor Kurt Wilson can be reached at (406) 523-5270 or at email@example.com.