Do It For the Children

Dan Visconti and I have both written here about the prospect of composing for youth orchestra; until last Friday night, however, only Dan had a finished youth orchestra project under his belt. My piece *Netwrought has now been played by the Frederick Regional Youth Orchestra in my hometown of Frederick, Maryland and it was a tremendous joy to hear such talented young players bring my music to life.

I don’t usually have occasion to work with pre-college musicians, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Will they like it? Just as importantly, will their parents, who make up most of the audience, like it? But FRYO’s director, the gifted and open-minded Elijah Wirth, did me a huge favor: A movement from Glass’s Mishima quartet, a ditty from Pierrot Lunaire, and even 4’33” were programmed alongside my piece, which consequently seemed quite friendly in comparison. This is quite a cunning strategy: Build in some psychological headroom with pieces for which the audience will have to extend good faith, then fill in that space with pieces that are less conceptually foreign.

Let me second Dan’s recommendation to write for young players if the opportunity arises. They allocate plenty of rehearsal time, they leap into the music head-first, they’re unjaded, and they’ll take risks that professional orchestras would be likely to balk at. And let me also suggest that you D.C. and Baltimore composers check out FRYO, a group whose energy and discipline I can personally aver.

2 thoughts on “Do It For the Children

  1. danvisconti

    congratulations Colin! I’m glad your experience was a good one. I too have been very impressed with youth orchestra reactions to new music–there is not a lot of bs of coded language so the incredibly straightforward comments tend to be invaluable.

    Reply
  2. jaquick

    Writing for the young
    We have a long running project in Cleveland, where members of the Cleveland Composers Guild volunteer to write pieces specially for young performers from the Cleveland Music School Settlement (and earlier, the late Fortnightly Musical Club). Recently we’ve added another element in which we mount professional performances of student composers. Students are anywhere between 8 and 18, could play almost anything, and they are randomly matched to the composer, so you don’t know going in if you’re writing for piano or tuba. You get to find out what and how the student plays, and to coach them in the piece; the only danger is that sometimes teachers will oversell the abilities of their students, but that happens rarely, and we mostly get good performances. This year’s contribution from me is a harp piece (which I haven’t heard yet) to be premiered 5/23.

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