ANYONE CAN MAKE MUSIC
"Making music can be as simple as pulling a note out of a hat," says trumpeter Nathan Botts. He is parading up and down the aisles of the Kingsborough Community College Arts auditorium, its crimson seats alive with the outstretched arms of elementary school kids eager to grab a musical note from his black top hat. Each note-letter is the next puzzle piece in a six-note motif that the children are composing‹with the help of Botts and five other seasoned musicians on stage.
Botts and his colleagues are fellows of The Academy‹a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and The Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education‹and the free Neighborhood Concert at Kingsborough Community College (fittingly titled "Anyone Can Make Music") is one of several projects that the second-year fellows are involved in this season. The fellows conceived and developed these projects with one of the core values of The Academy in mind‹community engagement.
The "Anyone Can Make Music" Neighborhood Concert is similar to one that these fellows gave at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where they worked with sick children. As part of their Hospital Project, the fellows conjured up images in the children's minds‹ranging from Tinkerbell to Spiderman‹and, armed with xylophones, the young composers set to work on their own six-note motifs. Composer Missy Mazzoli then infused the children's sounds into The Sound of Light, a composition later performed at two Neighborhood Concerts, as well as the final concert in Zankel Hall.
Some of the kids obviously relished the challenge of creating music. "Is there any of the song 'Red, Red Cherries' in there?" asks trombonist Stephen Dunn about a piece written by 11-year-old Jessica, who went above and beyond the short assignment.
"Yeah," Mazzoli says, humming a two-note motif, evoking chuckles.
"For a long time I had a dream of going into a hospital and bringing music to kids with cancer," says violinist Joanna Kaczorowska, "to transport them into the great world of music, away from their IVs and chemo‹and pain." She joined forces with Botts, Dunn, flutist Elizabeth Janzen, and pianist Michael Mizrahi, who "all wanted to do projects involving children," and made the dream come true.
WITH MUSIC ... I AM MORE
Dozens of construction-paper thank-you cards are neatly nestled on Merrill Poliak's desk at PS 131Q. They're from students who attended the Queens Neighborhood Concert of the Hospital Project. One reads, in red-crayon scrawl beside a stick-figure drawing of Janzen, "My favorite part was when the flout girl played the flout." In this pastel-painted elementary school in Jamaica, Queens, excited students gather in the foyer of the auditorium for their weekly 50 minutes of arts education.
On this brisk spring morning, adults try to slip inconspicuously in and out of the restrooms flanking the cramped space, sliding past the cafeteria tables of fifth-graders that hang on every word of their special guest‹28-year-old James Blachly, just one of the composers commissioned by the Children's Music Campaign, conceived by Academy fellows Elizabeth Joy Roe, Claire Bryant, and Carol McGonnell. Positioning the fellows in Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens elementary school classrooms, the project aimed to raise awareness of the crucial role of music education, culminating in a final concert in Carnegie's Zankel Hall featuring students from all three schools.
In Roe's class today, the sounds of "Magic," "Outer Space," and "Earth" are the three categories that these young soon-to-be-percussionists must choose from as Blachly, joined by percussionist and Academy fellow Jamie Deitz, makes his second visit to lay the groundwork for his composition Plus sum.
Though towering high above their faces at about six feet tall, "Mr. James" could not be closer to their imaginative minds.
"When the earth guys come in," he says, "you guys will grow into total chaos"‹eliciting an eruption of yays with pumping fists from the young males in the room.
"There's a whole universe inside every instrument," says Deitz as he demos the triangle and conjures up a ringing "outer space" by running his wet index finger along the rim of a wine glass‹"a celestial choir unto itself," he demonstrates with a grin.
"When we all come together, we are more than when we are just by ourselves," Blachly explains of the title Plus sum ("I am more"). Joining with Bryant's school of young string players at PS 157X weeks later for the culminating concert, the students raised their voices in their own "celestial choir."
Blachly was deeply inspired by essays written by Bryant's class, which spoke "so sincerely about how music was such a huge part of their life‹about how 'the cello is a world I can go into.'"
But not everything Blachly sees in music education is uplifting. "It's not laughable‹it's cryable," he says of the time and funding allotted to music education for young creators. "What we're missing is the opportunity of making music together, which is the greatest pleasure in the world."
AN UNLIKELY MUSICAL MIX
Baroque and folk, making music together?
As its name would lead you to expect, The Bar-olk Project isn't "your run-of-the-mill concert," says co-founder Arthur Sato. "We wanted a name that wouldn't put people off‹but that would get them to chuckle."
Originally conceived by bassist Kristoffer Saebo ("absolutely one of the most creative people I know," says Sato), the project bridges the rarely juxtaposed worlds of Baroque and folk music. So what is the common thread between these seemingly disparate worlds?
"Authenticity," says Sato. Each tradition has its own style, its own rules, its own authenticity, even if the practice of aurally handing down folk material is miles away from reading a precisely notated Baroque score.
As with the Hospital Neighborhood Concerts, Sato and Saebo wanted to liberate their listeners from the usual role of passive observers.
"Part of the idea behind our concert is to make it a very comfortable and casual environment where we can discuss these topics and ideas with the audience‹like a conversation instead of just a presentation," says Sato. The pair, along with folk great Chris Norman and nine other stellar string players, drummed up interest in their concerts with "informances," informal performances presented around lower Manhattan. In May these culminated in a concert at the Angel Orensanz Center, an unrenovated synagogue with high ceilings, lofty balconies, and "constantly creaking" wooden panels‹a nontraditional space with "old-school charm," as Sato observed with a laugh.
"This is just one small step to a path that we hope will bridge more than just music," said Sato. "I know that for me, discovering something new in music that I had previously pigeonholed is one of the best feelings we can get in life.