Through a presentation at Chamber Music America by Norma Hurlburt, executive director of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, I became aware of a surprising youth program involving high school students in the production of CMS venues. I became immediately curious – when I ask my students at CTech to play me their favorite tunes, they come up with songs in a variety of styles – from 70s R&B and classic rock to music entirely created from samples of Disney movies (Pogo), to grunge, to the latest rap – but no classical. It seems there is an exception to this, and I had to find out more about it.
For the past couple of decades we’ve heard about how classical music audiences are from older generations, and I believe it has something to do with the fact that music is no longer a subject of early education, so people do not have a built-in appreciation of this style of music. Children and teens are more likely, in a universe of iPods, internet and MTV, to embrace self-taught electric guitar and songwriting in a band situation than they are to listen or play classical music. As a child, in Paris, I had weekly music classes in elementary school and performed in a choir on a regular basis. In high school, we performed Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with professional soloists. We also had music theory. This was provided to all! (In addition, I had a private lessons in piano, theory and the basics of harmony and counterpoint – and my jazz musician father blew it all away by showing me how to play the blues, which opened up another area of exploration and improvisation, and eventually both forms combined into my own music.) So… despite the absence of music education in high school, CMS has found a way to proactively involve teens in classical music, by seeking out high school students who produce three concerts per year and invite their friends to these events, with $5 tickets and a pre-concert reception where they can meet and talk to the performers and sponsors in a casual environment. Then they enjoy the concert sitting all together at the balcony. In this situation, the student producers become classical advocates to their own generation.
I went to hear one of these student-produced concerts at Alice Tully on February 10, featuring string quartets by Haydn and Beethoven performed by the Jupiter string quartet and song cycle by Beethoven performed by Randall Scarlata, baritone, accompanied by Gilbert Kalish, piano, to a full and enthusiastic audience.
I spoke with Derek Balcom, director of education, who is in charge of this program, and he described how for some years now CMS has been recruiting high school students from a variety of schools, both public and private and from different parts of the city, to be involved in the production of certain events. They gather as an advisory body to listen to a number of staple programs and choose the ones they feel would be most appropriate for their age group. They are also given the opportunity to be “producers” of these programs and handle all aspects of the concert production, including designing postcards and promotional materials.
Photo left to right: Young producers Boat Lynch, Alison Chang, Lilian Finckel, and Claire Leibowicz.