One Jeff, Two Jeffs… And So Much More

This week is a personal milestone for me, as it marks the end of the second year of my three-year residency with VYOA. It has been an awesome first two years!

During my most recent VYOA week, I visited three schools: Winooski High School, Burlington High School and Edmunds Middle School. I have visited Winooski High and Edmunds Middle School before, but this was my first time visiting Burlington High School. Each experience was incredibly unique and each classroom filled with talented and thoughtful music students that represented a large cross-section of Chittenden County’s youth.

At Burlington High School, I spoke about my music for a guitar class and also a combined class of students taking band and chorus, and they asked some great questions. They seemed very intrigued by what my wife does (she’s the concertmaster for The Addams Family on Broadway) and also by how I structure my day. It seems that a common concern is how to deal with modern distractions such as Facebook and Twitter. I explained my daily schedule and how weekends basically don’t exist in my world. They seemed fascinated by this.

In Winooski High School, I once again sat in on a piano class led by Cathy Mander-Adams. This class consists of ELL (English Language Learning) students from all over the world. I also attended her choir class and listened to a nice choral arrangement of “These Green Mountains” that Cathy was teaching the class. We had an in-depth discussion about the challenges of working with kids from around the world, particularly with regard to communicating, since many speak little or no English when they arrive to the school.

At Edmunds Middle School, I met with band director Tim Buckingham and choral instructor Betsy Nolan, talked to students in just about every grade level and listened to pieces they had composed. Many of the students are currently participating in the VT MIDI Project, so it’s encouraging to see that composing music is being so successfully integrated into the music curriculum. The titles of their pieces were quite colorful, even one about squirrels being run over by a tractor, (or something like that). Interestingly, their titles were often not really related to the music they’d composed, so we discussed how to create titles that better reflect what the music sounds like. I also participated in a huge drumming circle led by UVM student teacher Allie Campbell, with approximately twenty students playing African-style hand drums. As a percussionist, I’ll be the first one to say that keeping twenty kids in line while holding anything that makes a loud noise is pretty difficult, but Allie did a great job as ringleader. We all had fun with call and response and playing small pieces Allie had written on the board.

I received a lot of intriguing questions at all of the schools, everything from “What’s your favorite note?” (for the record, I love them all equally!), to the disturbingly frequent question of how much money I make (that varies considerably depending on the length of the piece, instrumentation, etc.), to how long it takes me to write a piece of music (also variable, but I can usually write anywhere from 10 seconds to a half a minute of music a day).

At the invitation of UVM composition professor David Feurzeig, I gave a lecture for his composition students and played a few of my pieces. The class even included a VYO alum who is now studying composition! That made my heart proud.

Towards the end of the week, I met with the two Jeff’s for the first time: Jeffrey Buetner, VYOA Choral Conductor, and Jeffrey Domoto, the new VYOA Music Director. I am trying to come up with a way to distinguish between the two in conversation, so I propose either calling them CJ and OJ (choral Jeff and orchestral Jeff, respectively) or JB and JD.

Brief survey:

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We discussed the Big Commission for 2012: the twenty-minute work for The VYO & VYO Choruses that I will be composing for next season’s spring concert – my final event with VYOA. Our discussion centered on what, exactly, the piece will be about (top secret for now). The choir will most likely be greatly expanded for this performance and we hope to incorporate additional local singers not currently involved with VYOA. I may also design the piece so that a few of the choral parts can be extracted and programmed on separate choral concerts as arrangements for piano instead of orchestra. We are at the beginning stages so there is still a lot to figure out, but I am certain it will turn out to be an amazing project that will bring the VYOA a lot of positive attention.

My next blog entry will be about Did You Hear?, my most recent work written for the VYO Chorus & VT Youth Concert Chorale that was premiered by last week in Stowe and in Colchester. I will also write about my experiences with the choruses during the past week. Until then…

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.

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