Ann Arbor’s Lost Voices group uses their music to help young people

Lost Voices is an organization that helps children affected by trauma find hope and healing through the power of music.

WEMU’s Jeremy Baldwin talks to Lost Voices Founder Mike Ball about the group’s history and their involvement in the Ann Arbor Marathon this weekend.

Listen to the full interview.


Jeremy Baldwin: Mike Ball, the founder of an organization called Lost Voices, is here on the phone. You have helped young people in various difficult situations to find hope and creativity and to find healing through music – a really interesting, uplifting organization that I got to see at work once. And so Mike comes to us today to tell us a little bit about Lost Voices and their upcoming events that are part of the Ann Arbor Marathon which is coming up very soon. Mike are you there

Mike Ball: That’s me, Jeremy.

Jeremy Baldwin: Welcome. I am happy to have you on board. For people unfamiliar with Lost Voices, maybe you could give us a little background on the organization, how it started and what all of you are doing?

Mike Ball: Sure. And thank you for being there today. Yes, we’ve been around for about 15 years. Basically we are folk and blues musicians who work with children to express ourselves in songs. We let you write what you want. We create a space where you can dig into the deepest and darkest corners of your heart.

Jeremy Baldwin: Mmhmm.

Mike Ball: And then they write lyrics that we turn into music. At the end of the experience we put them on stage with us to sing their songs. And it’s a pretty amazing transition they go through. We work with children who are extremely traumatized. They are in dormitories, which means that for one reason or another some of them are. We started with imprisoned children. They were convicted felons. 12 to 18 years old, or we work with trafficked persons, children. Just all sorts of children who are really having trouble organizing their lives and we can really help them with that.

Jeremy Baldwin: How did you get there? What triggered this inspiration?

Mike Ball: It was just a coincidence.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: I’m a writer. My job is writing. I used to have a syndicated column that I’ve retired from since I started writing books and the like. And I was asked to go to a maximum security teenage detention facility called Maxi Boys Training School for career day to talk about what it was like to write jokes for a living in the sophomore year. And when I saw the children, I never really had contact with children. I’m a father and I was a youth hockey coach. I was a high school hockey coach and spent a lot of time with kids my whole life, but I’d never met kids who were, you know, when I saw them I realized, “My God, this is. .. my child you are no different.

Jeremy Baldwin: Could be. Yes.

Mike Ball: Yeah, yeah, they’re just on a different path. So I started. I have been running creative writing workshops for teenagers and adults for many years. And I could always see what this point of sale meant to teenagers. So I got permission to do a session to start a creative writing group for these kids at Maxi. And I was just overwhelmed by what they did. The depth of their feelings and what they were willing to express and deal with. So I got a small grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities – the Michigan Humanities Council – to make a documentary about one of my children. Halfway through the documentary, this documentary is on our website at Lost Voices dot org. BTW, if you want to see it, it’s a 15 minute mini doc that is guaranteed to make you cry.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: But halfway through I got a call from the Humanities Council and said, “You know, we love what you do with these kids. We have a little more money. Would you be willing to do something else? ? What would you like to do? “And I said,” Roots music. “I’ve been a musician since I was seven and that has got me through a lot of problems. That’s what we got to them and in That is when Lost Voices was born.

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. And you’ve been around for about 15 years and I suppose you had an interesting year and a half like everyone else?

Mike Ball: It was crazy. We were prepared to have our most aggressive year with the kids. We had all of these programs lined up at different institutions and everything just kept going. And then, thump! Literally the day before we started the Manasa project in Grand Rapids. They were all sex trafficking survivors, teenage girls around 14, 15 years old. Literally the day before we were supposed to start the lockdown tape on them.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: It was like, “Oh no!” So we had to learn something called zoom. You may have heard of it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yeah, a lot of people had to do that.

Mike Ball: Yeah. And we have successfully converted everything to it.

Jeremy Baldwin: That’s great. I mean, being able to find a way to make this happen is important for many things in my opinion, but certainly for them and for people in this situation. Good OK. So, you guys are doing a good job out there trying to help young people and come over next weekend, you have some special events or interactions that you have with running the marathon, right?

Mike Ball: Yeah, that’s really amazing. We are honored to have been selected as a charity for the 2021 Ann Arbor Marathon. We worked with and got to know them last year when they were also virtual, and this year they are back live and in person. I think there are around 2000 registered runners.

Jeremy Baldwin: Wow.

Mike Ball: And different runs. I’m not a runner so neither am I. I know there is a 5km and a 10km marathon and a half marathon. There can be a few other things. I would be a walk-a-thon. So we provide music for the marathon and draw on the talent we have among our moderators and supporters. We’ll be there. On Saturday there will be an expo in church 242. I don’t know if I’m saying this correctly, but it’s on the west side, a nice big church. There will be an expo where all runners pick up their start numbers and register and so on. During that time I’ll be there from noon to 4pm on Saturday with Josh White Jr. and Jen Kass and Bobby Panic and some other musicians from Lost Voices, just singing and having a good time, entertaining the crowd and maybe letting them know bit more about us, but mostly entertaining.

Jeremy Baldwin: That’s cool. That’s cool. And then you will have people along the way too?

Mike Ball: Yeah, that’s really cool. So, Sunday, the marathon starts at 8:00 am and we will have Lost Voices buskers, busking stations along the way. When the runners go by, they have a singer by their side who sings and supports them. We also make inspirational signs, we didn’t run a marathon, I really don’t know. But I think it’s really important for them to just get a little boost along the way.

Jeremy Baldwin: You can do it. Yes.

Mike Ball: Yeah you can do it. Exactly.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: So I looked at the lyrics the kids had been writing for Lost Voices over the past fifteen years and just drew lines. There are lines like “You should have seen me overcome”, or “I have all my fears behind me”, “Cry a river, build a bridge”. These unbelievable little things.

Jeremy Baldwin: It’s beautiful.

Mike Ball: These are all lyrics that those restless kids came up with.

Jeremy Baldwin: That’s fantastic. Very good to use this stuff to hopefully help these runners cross the finish line.

Mike Ball: Well you know I’m telling you it has helped me get across the finish line in everything I’ve done for 15 years.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: Inspired by these kids.

Jeremy Baldwin: Well, that’s one thing. I mean better than me the power of music. Everyone has probably felt that at some point in their life. It’s so universal and it can make a difference. You know, it can’t solve all the world’s problems, but it can help.

Mike Ball: It does. It’s the thing that you can always rest on. It’s like having a comfortable chair.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mike Ball: You say, “You know, it doesn’t solve everything. But damn it, it really changes things for me.”

Jeremy Baldwin: And creating something, you know, even if it’s just a little song, it feels good.

Mike Ball: Yeah. And get confirmation for it. I think the most important thing is that many of these children have lived transactional lives. They just have to act, drugs or whatever to survive their entire life. And this is a case where there is no transaction what they say what they think is important and it is accepted. And then we got them on stage and any performer will tell you we’re all applause junkies.

Jeremy Baldwin: That’s why you’re on stage. Yes.

Mike Ball: And an audience.

Jeremy Baldwin: Right.

Mike Ball: A round of applause. These kids may be getting this for the first time in their lives, people not only care what they think, they will give them applause and show that care.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: And it just changes your life. I know it’s not the biggest thing that could ever happen, but it flips a switch like, “Wow, I’m better than I thought.”

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. Well, it’s an amazing program that you are a part of and I encourage everyone out there to go. If you’re not running, if you’re running, look for the street musicians out there or at the check-in point, or if you’re into someone you love out there, or if you’re just in town and you want some music hear that happened this weekend. And that’s Mike Ball again, the founder of Lost Voices. And where can people find out more about Lost Voices, Mike?

Mike Ball: Go to Lost Voices dot org. We have a lot of information. You can actually hear some of the children’s music.

Jeremy Baldwin: Yes.

Mike Ball: Sometimes we can’t always make it public, but you can hear it. You can read the texts and contact me via the website or at lost voices dot org. I would be happy to talk to you about it.

Jeremy Baldwin: Fantastic. Thank you for talking to us today, Mike. I really appreciate it. And good luck with all of the marathon activities. I am sure it will be great. And keep in touch. Let us know what happens in the future.

Mike Ball: Thank you very much.

Jeremy Baldwin: Thank you, Mike.

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– Jeremy Baldwin is the host of the Roots Music Project on WEMU. Contact him at @RMPJbaldwin or email him at [email protected]

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