The New York Philharmonic has an education outreach program called Very Young Composers that connects elementary school students as young as eight years of age with the orchestra, and this past weekend Tri States Radio, which covers parts of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois as part of the National Public Radio network, ran a story highlighting the work of this great program and the positive impact it has on the students whose music is taken on to play with the orchestra. Reports Jeff Lunden:
Composer Jon Deak, who played bass with the New York Philharmonic for more than 40 years, says the idea for Very Young Composers came when he and conductor Marin Alsop visited an elementary school in Brooklyn several years ago.
“As we were going in, I saw all the children’s art on the walls, which was so superior,” Deak says. “I said, ‘That’s it, Marin! We’ve got to get kids to compose music on the level of this art right here, because look: Doesn’t that look like a Picasso? Doesn’t that look like a Paul Klee?’”
So Deak set about getting the musical equivalents of paints, paintbrushes and canvas for children in elementary schools that partner with the New York Philharmonic. Each year, 72 lucky kids in six New York area schools participate in this free after-school program.
Lunden focuses on one young composer in particular:
One of the children at P.S. 39 is already a vet. Milo Poniewozik is a 10-year-old fifth-grader. Last year, he wrote a quintet that was played by musicians from the Philharmonic. This year, he expanded his piece so it can be played by the whole Philharmonic.
“It’s orchestrated for the entire orchestra, meaning not just the double bass, violin, flute, all that, but also the harps, the horn, the trumpet, more woodwinds, stuff like that,” Milo says.
He and [Teaching artist and composer] Daniel Felsenfeld have gotten together and worked with a musical notation program called Sibelius, which allows Milo to listen to a digital approximation of the orchestra.
“I also had to make a lot of decisions because with only five instruments, you don’t really need to think about how big or how quiet you want the music to sound, because it’s really not a lot of instruments,” Milo says. “But with the orchestra, you can make it sound like everything — or nothing.”
It’s great to see Sibelius being used by students as young as 10 years of age. It really is software that’s simple enough for young students to use, and sophisticated enough to meet the needs of top professionals. The same software can be used successfully by young composers like Milo and established composers like Jon Deak and Daniel Felsenfeld.
If you’d like to listen to the whole of Jeff Lunden’s story, including an opportunity to hear parts of Milo’s piece, The Globetrotter, head over to Tri State Radio’s web site, or listen to the MP3 below.