A community's story in a song

Composer in residence helps Willmar community express themselves

Erica Dischino / Tribune Kashimana Ahua, composer-in-residence for the In Common community songwriting project, smiles while speaking with attendees about the songbook during the Songbook Launch Party June 25 at the Willmar Community Center in Willmar.

WILLMAR -- Over the past year Kashimana Ahua has been leading Willmar's budding singers, songwriters and musicians through the music creation process, taking snippets of ideas, chords and notes and turning them into finished tunes.

“I was surprised by the sheer job everybody had after completing the songs,” Ahua said, as she begins to look back over her year as the InCommon composer in residence. “I was amazed by the amount of music created.”

Now those songs, 26 total, are being compiled into a songbook, so the music will live on long after Ahua's time in Willmar is up.

“The songbook is a way to say they are yours,” Ahua said. “You created them, feel free to share them.”

The book was first presented on June 25 during the songbook launch and singalong celebration held at the Willmar Community Center. Printed versions were available to share, while digital copies are free to download on the website of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Willmar at , under the InCommon tab on the website. There is also a final InCommon event scheduled for the afternoon of July 13, to include a block party and community barbecue at the Unitarian Universalist Church.


“There will be a chance for people to sing along,” Ahua said.

Many of the songs in the book are being translated into Spanish and Somali, expanding the music's reach. Ahua, as well as helping individuals turn their ideas into verses and choruses, also helped put the words to music and arranged the songs to be performed.

“It is interesting to me how people go into thinking one thing and it ends up being central to the song,” Ahua said.

The book also includes a section of unfinished songs, ideas and thoughts called Snippets of Inspiration, with the hope they will one day provide the inspiration for more songs. Ahua also said she hopes the finished songs are added to and updated as time passes. The songbook could then grow and change as the community does.

“We felt this wasn't the end of the project,” said Paula Ulicsni Halvorson, program coordinator of Willmar's InCommon program. “It is the community's to use.”

The songbook not only provides a way to share the music created to more people, but it is also a window into the people themselves. Ahua said she was humbled to be part of the creation process, because many shared challenging and emotional stories and feelings while creating the songs.


“I think it is going to tell them that Willmar is resilient, hopeful and has a lot to offer as a community,” Ahua said. “I think you'll find Willmar is very diverse about what they want to talk about, what they want to share.”

Ahua was chosen by a group of people in Willmar to be the composer in residence, with the goal to build community by using music and poetry. The program ended up doing just that, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds at events held throughout Willmar over the past 12 months.

“You can see the number of groups and people that participated,” said Darlene Schroeder, who helped at the beginning to bring the composer program to Willmar.

Ahua, a musician, composer and songwriter herself, had never attempted a project like the composer in residence and said she has learned quite a bit, about music and about herself.

“It has been perfect in the sense that things turned out great,” Ahua said. “This had so many different sides.”

As the composer project comes to its conclusion, both Ahua and Halvorson hope the community remembers and continues to use what they learned, and not just about music.

“It has been interesting how people have come together to write these songs,” Halvorson said. “I hope people remember we want to reach out, create things together, to connect.”

Now that she finally has some time to think about everything she has experienced while in Willmar, Ahua said she was surprised how emotional she was getting. She feels accomplished, but sad at the same time.


Just as the community songbook won’t ever be really complete, Ahua hopes the same can be said about her relationship with Willmar, the people she has met and the songs she helped create.

“It is going to be hard for me to let go of this project, and I won’t be mad if Willmar won’t let go of me either,” Ahua said. “There is a lot of love in this town.”

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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