I just finished the second week in residence with the VYOA. So much happened that it is difficult to know where to begin. I continued to get to know the VYOA musicians, taught 3rd and 5th grade music classes at the H. O. Wheeler Integrated Arts Academy and an advanced theory class at Johnson State College, attended rehearsals and meetings, and coached the Vermont Youth Orchestra on Enlightened City, my piece they will re-premiere in January, but more on that in a moment.
As well as writing for orchestra, I love writing choral music, so it was a special treat to finally have a chance to meet VYOA choral conductor Jeff Buettner and watch him rehearse the VT Youth Concert Chorale and VYO Chorus. One of the pieces the chorus sang was a gospel-inspired work by Kirke Mechem, a composer I met this year in California during a premiere of one of my choral works. Jeff is meticulous and his comments were spot on. I grew up singing in student choirs that sang many gospel or spiritual-inspired pieces, so I asked the singers if they had ever heard a real live gospel choir. Being immersed in that all encompassing, communal gospel choir sound is definitely an experience one never forgets, and I hope they will have a chance to see what that is all about if they have not already done so. I was so impressed with Jeff that the next day I drove to Middlebury to check out his Middlebury College Choir dress rehearsal, which was just as enjoyable. I look forward to working with Jeff and the singers as my residency continues.
Later in the week, I heard Asiat (“Ace”) Ali conduct Presto – the VYOA’s beginning string ensemble. What he is able to accomplish with kids this young (3rd – 6th grade) is simply amazing. I know from watching my wife Victoria teach kids that age that even if it looks easy, it definitely is not, and Ace is doing a great job. My favorite moment was when he said, “Well everyone, now that we are having so much fun, it is almost time to end.” All of the pieces are so short, and the concert was probably around twenty minutes at most. I also had a moment to listen to David Gusakov conduct the Vermont Youth Strings. The students in this group are older and not quite ready for the Vermont Youth Orchestra, but you can tell that many of them will be in the near future. It is important to remember that these young musicians are the future of the VYO, and even the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.
During the week, I also mentored young composers via the Vermont MIDI Project. Some students are more developed than others, but it is just awesome that any of these students are even composing at all. To think that students from places like Barnet, South Royalton and Norwich, VT are able to easily share their work and have online discussions with someone like me from New York City is amazing. These are not just high school aged students, but some students are even in third and fourth grade. I am able to see their music, hear it played online via MIDI sounds, and offer comments that appear with all of the other mentors’. In many ways, I think that coupled with meeting the students in person when possible, this is an ideal way to teach. My only hope is that I have a chance to eventually meet all of the students who are creating these interesting pieces!
I also heard a Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble (VCME) concert, which was quite interesting. I re-connected with musicians I haven’t seen in a long time, like Steve Klimowski and Michael Arnowitt, and also met some Vermont-based composers for the first time.
On my final residency day, I had a chance to conduct the orchestra for the second rehearsal of Enlightened City. That was a lot of fun, particularly when I told the brass and percussion to play louder! Nick, Josh, Penuel and Brian in the percussion section took this to heart, playing like there’s no tomorrow! It was great to connect with everyone from the podium, and show them that every note matters, and that the solos really do need to shine when they occur. Sometimes, orchestral players forget that every part is audible, and when one person plays excellently, everyone sounds better. I also coached the percussionists and brass players with my piece, and even coached the percussion section with the Percussion Concerto by Joseph Schwantner, a piece they are about to play at their First Night concert. Since I studied with Joe (he was actually one of my first composition teachers), I hope I gave them some insight into his sound world.
I am having the time of my life working with the VYOA and the Vermont musicians I come into contact with – I’m really looking forward to being back in January for the premiere of Enlightened City on the VYO’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts concert.
Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence
Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.