Not letting talent fall through the cracks
Educating young musicians: In Houston, arts organizations step in wherecash-strapped schools cannot
At a time when people and businesses alike are trimming the fat and counting their pennies, where cash is king and operating cash flow is managed with overprotective maternal care, Houston’s diverse $626 million non-profit arts sector is finding new ways to proactively expand its scope of program offerings.
Is the strategy risky business or necessary?
For American Festival for the Arts, “it’s a great time to move forward with new options and programming,” Michael Remson, executive director, explains. “People are seeking to support new things and prefer to contribute to exciting and innovative programs that have the most benefit in their own communities.”
Founded in 1995 by composer, arts administrator and advocate J. Todd Fraizer, AFA's mission is to broaden American and classical music audiences primarily through youth music education. The Summer Music Conservatory has a a diverse range of programs that includes a orchestra, string orchestra, chamber music, choral music, composition, instrumental instruction in addition to history, theory, conducting, Alexander technique and vocal improvisation.
While the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, attempted to raise performance in reading and math while increasing school and teacher accountability, it has also had the effect of reducing instruction in arts and music and other subjects not tested.
“The study of music goes beyond the subject," Remson says. "It is more than just playing your instrument or singing. Arts are a vehicle to everything else, helping students discover what is possible.”
Now that AFA is celebrating its 15 year anniversary, Remson is stepping up efforts in providing study and performance opportunities for students. “While the summer program was closely nearing capacity, we were looking for ways to organically grow while filling a specific need with an offering not yet available in the Houston area,” he says.
Remson is not interested in competing with existing programs. There are already four successful youth orchestras and students participating in AFA must remain active in their school’s activities.
“AFA is meant to be complementary and not exclusive nor independent of school ensembles,” he says.
AFA’s 2010-2011 season will debut two additional year-round programs in partnership with some of Houston’s powerhouse arts organizations.
Houston Girls Chorus
In collaboration with Houston Grand Opera, the vision began with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Internationally recognized as a model regional center for music education, the chorus just celebrated its 30th season performing at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony and at Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center.
San Francisco native Sandra Bernhard, director of HGOco, saw a huge need in Houston.
"We have a successful children's chorus, but found that after the girls' voices matured, there wasn't anywhere for them to sing outside of what their school could offer," she says. "There was a gap. HGOco has now the ability to transition students in our program to the Houston Girls Chorus seamlessly."
In keeping with AFA’s philosophy, the Houston Girls Chorus program reaches beyond music education and aims to create experiences that will mold students into future community leaders.
"I am very excited at the opportunity to conduct the chorus," Amy Lewis, choir conductor, says. "I am hoping to offer them musical opportunities as well as setting good examples through the women conductors, clinicians and guests speakers we have come in to show that it is possible to excel and grow in all areas using choral music as the basis."
For former Clear Creek High School student, Lindsey Fuson, "the faculty was a true inspiration in my journey to become a choral director.” For others like Queens Intermediate student Angelica Banda, the experience incited her own excitement to learn.
"I thought I wouldn't have the patience and drive to learn," Banda says. "But now, I'm the total opposite.”
Open to girls in seventh through 12th grade, the chorus is taking a holistic approach to nurture the growth and development of the students, with the goal to have the all-women faculty and staff serve as role models.
Placement auditions run through Sept. 11, with the first rehearsal quickly approaching on Sept. 20. The Houston Girls Chorus will make its debut appearance at the 23rd-Annual Wortham Theater Tree Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 24 with full concerts scheduled on Jan. 14 and May 19 and 20. Need-based tuition scholarships assistance are available through the AFA Scholarship Enrichment Fund.
Chamber Music Academy
Using a broader definition of chamber music, smaller ensembles put even more responsibility on the individual where every part is different and every part matters.
“Music teachers have so much on their plates right now,” Remson explains, “that attempting to provide a chamber music experience in class or after school is nearly impossible.”
The Chamber Music Academy is more than just performance. It will also include music theory classes where the individual pieces chosen will serve as access points. “Theory is the vehicle that helps young students and artists make good performance choices.”
"I liked the overall intensity of the workshop and I think it allowed us to gain so much knowledge,” says Alexis Andrei, former student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
Making theory relevant allows students to understand how to best follow their musical instincts while keeping curriculum and faculty fresh.
Presented in true collaboration with Da Camera’s Young Artist Program, both organizations will synergistically benefit from each other’s unique resources.
“As a classical musician, I would have appreciated the kind of opportunity the academy students will have,” Evan Leslie, director of education, explains. “This kind of program of aspiring young musicians the city really needs.”
The Shepherd School of Music and the Moores School of Music fills Houston with immense talent of classical musicians under 30. The Young Artist Program at Da Camera adopts musicians in their 20s that have already started their careers and provides them with professional development, unconventional experiences and performances about town.
“Collaborating with AFA adds another dimension," Leslie says. "Experience coaching chamber music, working with the next generation of professional musicians and learning about teaching is invaluable in giving Da Camera’s young artists a head-start.”
Auditions for placement purposes for AFA's Chamber Music Academy are open until Sept. 11.