SCHENECTADY — The Empire State Youth Orchestra’s CHIME program’s unique initiative called Amplify Our Voice (AOV) posed a question to its students: how can conversations about kindness and violence translate into music?
On Friday, May 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the Schenectady High School Auditorium, CHIME students will perform the year’s world premiere performance, “Stop Violence, Show Kindness”, for the All-CHIME Spring Concert. The performance will be held again at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on June 4 for the Adirondack Trust Company Festival of Young Artists.
“This is a yearlong creative journey that the students take,” explained CHIME Conductor David Bebe. “It begins in September and October, when they select a theme for what they’d like to focus on.”
The students have workshops on improvisation, creating musical motifs and mini-compositions based on the chosen topic, which are then shared with the artist-in-residence. The composition books are filled with the students’ ideas for the piece.
“It’s such a great project,” said Yates Lead Teaching Artist Cathy Gatta. “The kids learn to compose music and work with a composer that turns their ideas into something that goes into rehearsals and concerts for their friends and family to listen to; it’s a great experience.”
After careful discussions with each student, bullying, environmentalism, and economic concerns were the most common themes suggested. The theme “Stop Violence, Show Kindness” was then voted on by the students.
After deciding upon the theme, as the months progress, the education work continues as well. The goal of empowering young musicians and assisting with their musical, personal, and social growth through music is part of the process.
This year’s artist-in-residence is North Carolina-based composer and writer of “Note to Self”, Adrian Gordon. He noted the ‘timely’ theme and the student collaboration. “They gave a lot of feedback, which guided my composition process,” he said.
“I got to ask them several questions about what they envision music looking and sounding like, what words come to mind, and what prominent instruments they want to hear,” added Gordon, calling it “a partnership between myself and the students.”
“He would take little bits from the parts of all of our music and put them into this song,” said student Benjamin Campana, when describing his ‘excitement’ about the upcoming performance.
Gordon interpreted the words that the students gave him, utilizing biting string signatures and bass drums to convey the message of the music. “I was guided by human emotion,” he said.
“Throughout the music, there are aggressive and violent parts of the music,” said Gordon. “Then it moves into a hopeful section. The violence comes back, and then it moves into sadness. From there, I try to emulate hope triumphing over death and sadness.“
Fifth-grade student Campana has been playing in the orchestra since the second grade. As a violinist in the orchestra, he said, “I think it’s a really good song because it shows how there’s violence and no hope, but as it progresses, it gets better and sounds better. It shows how people can overcome violence with happiness.”
“Their idea of kindness prevailing or hope prevailing shines through at the end of the music,” said Gordon.
Bebe highlighted the ‘honesty’ of the performance. “They’re giving their own honest perspective on the world… It’s a remarkable journey in one year,” reflected Bebe. “I never tire of seeing students grow and achieve new things.”
“It shows what the values of our children are,” added Bebe. “It shows what they see in the world, what they have concerns about, and what they think is possible.”