We built this city on…New Music?
"The thing about kids is they're open to experimental processes," says Rozella Kennedy, general manager of Santa Fe New Music, explaining the lure of its youth programs. "You can trace it back to playing in the sandbox, or with mud." Nearby, 12-year-old Matt White, already a drummer by trade, stood behind his vibraphone and struck a music stand with his mallet, sending a flat smacking sound across the room and a
smile across his face. He looked happy and mischievous enough to be recalling days spent experimenting with mud, its shape and taste.
Armed with keyboards, guitar and a vibraphone, Matt and the five other students at SFNM's "Hands and Ears On" workshop were working their way through composer Art Jarvinen's
Y Graph X
, a musical score composed of squiggly lines and shapes that relies on the performer to determine notes and rhythm and, on paper, looks as if it were composed by an alien. SFNM Artistic Director (and hubby to Rozella) John Kennedy talked the kids through the piece, encouraging them to make full use of their talents and make the piece their own. The result was a sound that alternated between dreamy and dissonant and was unlike anything the kids had played before. At the end of the day, it was a workshop favorite. "The graphic score gave [the kids] a chance to manifest and interpret the music on their instruments," Rozella says. "They latched on right away."
Though the participants, aged nine to 17, went home playing like young Phillip Glasses, their minds required a little opening at the beginning of the day. "Before we started we asked the kids which composer's work they had played before," Rozella says. "The most modern was Chopin!" To the kids at the workshop, composition seemed to have died out after the 19th century, a misconception SFNM hopes to eliminate
with its Youth Programs, including the Young Composers Project and Youth Ensemble, the only youth ensemble in the country devoted entirely to contemporary music. "Music engages the whole person, physically, intellectually and socially," Rozella says, and by encouraging young performers to break the mold and try new things, SFNM is making sure music engages the youth.
"Orchestras across America are scratching their heads about how to attract new audiences," Rozella says. "How about starting with the kids? We need to give them more than another rendition of
Peter and the Wolf
." SFNM programs and workshops will be ongoing and culminate with an annual event: Youthfest in May 2005. But expanding the Youth Ensemble is a year-round, long-term proposition for SFNM. "We get a lot of heartfelt praise for what we're doing and it's been on a shoestring," Rozella says. "But it's time to kick it up to the next level."