Sunday, March 20, 2011

Midwest Young Artists: St. Louis Music School Students Visit MYA

We were very proud parents this weekend!  Our daughter, Kirby, teaches at the St. Louis School of Music. She and her husband boarded an Amtrak train early Saturday morning with 9 students from the school for Chicago.  They arrived in time for a dinner at MYA and to listen to our Music at the Fort concert featuring Rose Armbrust.  We are equally proud of our MYA daughter, Rose, a graduate of Julliard (B.M. degree), Curtis Institute of Music (Artist Diploma) and Indiana University (M.M. degree).  Rose got married and relocated back in the Chicago area and joined our chamber music coaching staff this year.  Her prodigious talents were evident in her performance of works by Shostakovich, Bach and Franck.
Sunday morning, the students participated in master classes given by Charlie Pikler and Rose.  An old pro and a kid magnet, both brought new insights to the music.  What a educational experience!  The tour Kirby arranged was a first for the school.  Chamber music is also new for the the St. Louis School of Music.  Her ensembles performed on our Sunday Soiree at Ravinia, a great opportunity for them to play at a very special place and to also hear other groups at different levels of experience.  What a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Midwest Young Artists: A Touching Tribute to the Value of Music

It's been awhile again since I posted.  Time is the factor.  We are getting ready for our April 10 benefit and the work behind the scenes is something that could be another topic for a blog.  But, an email from Patrick Pearson, our beloved Orchestra Director, gave me an opportunity to post something that follows up the last blog. 

In addition to conducting our Cadet, Concertina and Philharmonia orchestras, Mr. P is the Orchestra Director at Oak Park River Forest High School.  Like Wilmette, Oak Park will be voting on a referendum in April.  If it fails, instrumental music is one of the many programs that will be cut in elementary schools. 

I’m not going to belabor you with studies that show how music uses both sides of the brain or how music students’ GPA’s are significantly higher that non-music students….blah, blah, blah.  Please allow me to share a personal story.

I grew up in a middle class, blue collar family in Sandusky, Ohio.  My father worked nights at a factory and my mother was a pediatric nurse.  Both worked very hard to raise 6 children in a tiny bungalow.  I didn’t realize at the time, but they worked very hard to make ends meet.  I distinctly remember some of the things my mother, in particular, would do save a couple of dollars – like making us purchase our popcorn for the movies at the Hills Department Store, instead of at the actual movie theatre.  Hills’ popcorn was 15 cents.  I was so embarrassed to walk into the theatre (matinee, of course) as the ONLY family with Hill’s popcorn.  I also remember wearing the same Halloween costume for several years in a row.  The costume was actually white thermal underwear (long johns – top and bottom) which worked great as an angel costume.  Just add a halo made of a wire hanger and wings made out of paper.  That was 2nd grade.  In 3rd grade, my mother dyed that same pair of thermals the color red, to convert that same angel costume into a devil costume.  I was mortified, but she forced me to wear it.  All of my classmates wore store-bought costumes.  You remember – the hard mask held on by a rubber band and a plastic costume, sort of like a garbage bag – usually a superhero or a princess for the girls.  Do you think it ended there?  Nope - In 4th grade, she dyed, yes dyed, that same set of underwear the color, black and turned it into a cat, converting that devil’s tail to a black cat tail.

That was it.  I was ready to run away from home.  At the time in my life, I felt like the biggest outcast.  Oh, I failed to mention that I had horrible grades, poor eyesight (I began wearing thick glasses at age 5) and suffered with a speech impediment.  I stuttered – particularly with words which began with a “W”.  I was constantly teased and bullied by my classmates.  Then one day, angels sang (They weren’t wearing white thermals).  My music teacher, Mr. Blake and Ms. Dunphy, the orchestra director held a presentation in the evening at the school.  My parents were too busy to take me, so I went alone.  It was music instrument demonstration night, where we had an opportunity to try to play instruments, ultimately deciding if we wanted to play in band or orchestra.  I was immediately drawn to the violin. 

To make a long story short, I began taking the group violin lessons with Ms. Dunphy and Mr. Blake taught me music theory in an afterschool program.  Rhythm was my strength.  That same year, I won the “Rhythm-Bee” for the entire school.  In 5th grade, I immersed myself with practicing my violin and piano, which Mr. Blake was teaching me. I begged my mother to buy me a piano, but we just couldn’t afford one, so my neighbor gave me a toy organ, so I could practice.  I entered a composition contest for the Daughters of the American Revolution and won 1st place - $50.00.  5th grade was the first year I made straight “A’s” in every subject.  I made friends, many who were in music and some not.   I became more confident. In 6th grade, I was chosen to give the farewell speech to entire school at the final assembly.  I did it without stuttering and never stuttered since.  In Jr. High, I joined band (alto saxophone) and choir, which were in-school curricular classes.  I was able to take band, orchestra, and choir as a curricular class during school, while taking Honors and AP classes.  (Yes, we had AP in the 80’s) Throughout my primary and secondary years, I achieved the Honor Roll (elementary/junior high) and Dean’s List (high school, all while continuing to participate in curricular orchestra, band, and choir. 

You know, I think I turned out to be an o.k. guy!  I wonder if MUSIC had anything to do with it.
Patrick A. Pearson

We think he is an OK guy, too, and we are all so lucky that he shares his talents and time with MYA! 

Does anyone else have a story of how music influenced their life? 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Midwest Young Artists: The Importance of Music, Part I

Since I last blogged, we have had a weekend of concerts (February 19 & 20) and the Discover National Chamber Music Competition (February 27)! These concerts and events highlighted outstanding musical achievement and how hard students worked to attain this level of performance.  

The most interesting performance I observed was the Be Authentic!  Early and New Music concert which featured performances of the pieces written by winners of our 1st MYA Composition Contest.  Allan thought he’d have a couple of entries this year, but we ended up with 11!  The winning pieces were written for woodwind quintet, (Celebrations! by Bryan Sanoshy) and string quartet (Quartet No. 1 by Tyler Katz).   I say “written,” but probably “created” is a better term.   An avid read, I equate composition to developing characters and creating a novel versus researching and writing non-fiction.  It’s an impressive talent which then, in both fields, has conventions and lots to learn to perfect the product.

This morning, Jane Kim, a journalism major at Northwestern University, asked if she could interview me for a project she was working on.   The interview was thought provoking.  She said that someone had told her that Classical Music was going to be dead in 100 years and asked me what I thought.  My immediate response was that I didn’t believe that.  Bach wrote over 250 years ago, and we are still listening to and appreciating his music and will still be 250 years from now.  Granted, I am not and haven’t been an avid listener of pop music since I was in high school, but I think we see more students each year because there is something spiritual about the music, from Bach to Debussy to Shostakovich to Puccini, there is a feeling that you get from classical music that keeps you coming back to listen.  It’s probably even more exciting to creatively make the notes come alive!

Then, I thought quickly about why someone would think that classical music is dying, and remembered that Lali Watt had come in the office today with a VOTE NO button.  I asked her what she voted NO to, and she said that a proposition in Wilmette, if passed, would eliminate music in the public schools, so she was going to vote NO.  My own knowledge of music, key signatures, scales, note values, appreciation for The New World Symphony, all came from general music classes and plastic recorder and clarinet lessons in school music through the 8th grade in New York State public schools. There are over 600 public elementary schools in Chicago and about half of them do not have art or music classes.  When a wealthy suburb like Wilmette considers eliminating music or charges for it as an extra, it does have you take pause. 

What do you think?  Will classical music be dead in 100 years?