PCMS Music Education Program – 2013-14 Season Review

By Erik Petersons on April 23, 2014
Takacs Quartet
Geraldine Walther, violist of the Takács Quartet, greets students after their program at St. Francis de Sales School.

Having grown over the past few decades, PCMS’ Education Program has evolved to serve audiences of all ages. Amassing nearly the same number of events as our main concert series, it supports our mission of bringing great music to all people in Philadelphia and fostering community around the shared experience. No matter their experience or entry-point to chamber music–a child’s first exposure, a student’s one-on-one interaction with an artist, or the impact on a long-time patron–each facet of our Program seeks to inspire all people, building classical music audiences now and for the future. These events are only possible through the funding we receive from the Lois and Julian Brodsky Music Education Reserve Fund as well the support of annual foundation grants and individual contributions.

Here are a few stories and pictures from each of the five segments of the Program, retold in Sonata form.

Introduction: Initial Inspiration

Time for ThreeEach year, we present a few concerts for children, offering an introduction to classical chamber music. Most recently, Time for Three visited Play on Philly’s program at St. Francis de Sales school in West Philadelphia. Between their signature classical-meets-contemporary “mash-ups”, the ensemble discussed everything from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite to experiencing personal expression through music. The students recognized many of the embedded themes in their music, jumping to their feet every time they finished playing. They also had the chance to ask them questions about their life as touring artists and received encouragement from the trio to pursue music and the world of possibilities it opens up for people.

One of the highlights was hearing Time for Three liken their interaction with an audience to dynamics–seeing people respond to a performance both with quiet listening as well as erupting with applause. And just as musicians play off of one another in chamber music, an ensemble and an audience feeds off of each other's energy. The students really connected with this analogy and it showed in their rapt attention to their playing.

The Chestnut Brass Company will also return in May to perform a children’s concert for 350 students from area elementary schools.  The interactive program, “Hot Air: The Story of Brass Instruments”, shows the development of brass instruments from the shells and animal horns of prehistoric times to the thrilling and versatile instruments of today. Engaging both musically and visually, this program will be an adventure in musical time travel.  Featuring over thirty brass instruments, the concert is designed to help them gain a sense of historical progression and relate music to history and science.  The concert will be the inaugural event in a new collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Exposition: First Engagement

IMG_0422PCMS’ free student ticket program provides the the natural link for students interested in experiencing artists on the main series.  Over 1,000 free tickets gave students the opportunity to see artists on stage showcase the technical and musical qualities that they were learning in the classroom and in private lessons.  The program supports the work of music teachers and professors throughout the city.  Phil Gingery, the strings director at West Chester Christian School articulated how these concerts enhance his student’s education.

Seeing a world class professional handle his instrument and the masterworks made a marked impression.  They could see and feel the nuances of phrasing and could empathize with the concentration and were impressed with the sonority of a well produce tone and the thoughtful phrasing.  The partnership between violinist and pianist struck all the students the most.  In real presentation there is a symbiotic relationship (I could only tell them about it).  Seeing and experiencing did what I could not convey.   I have a great model to reference when I call for balance, ensemble, dynamics, and poise. 

Each of the students wanted to come back and all have a deeper respect for genuine art and giftedness.  The students were overwhelmed by the music, not the forces of numbers or of graphics.  They understood the intrinsic value of what they were witnessing–experiencing joy, excitement and energy with refinement, an all-but-lost element in our daily lives.  It was transcending.  I wish every student could experience it.

Development: Working One-on-one

We took 23 artists and ensembles on our concert series and connected them with students at nine area schools for master classes and in-school seminars.  From the Curtis Institute to Girard Academic Music Program to Settlement Music School, students worked one-on-one with masters of their instrument, providing the technical, musical and historical insight of the music they brought to perform.  It also gave a boost of confidence to receive encouragement from these artists.

Peter StumpfPeter Stumpf took every opportunity to reveal how technical changes lead directly to a great freedom of expression.  Whether it was the angle of the bow stroke or posture holding the cello, each student not only playing more accurately after working with him, but more musically too.

Trio CavatinaTrio Cavatina connected with the students through their stories of working with the American composer, Leon Kirchner.  They brought contemporary music down to the level of every-day life, explaining the motifs and emotions in the music and painting a picture of the man behind it all.  When they finally performed his Piano Trio No. 1, students followed along closely, not wanting to miss a note.

Lydia ArtymiwLydia Artymiw is just as much a masterful musicologist as a prominent pianist.  The context she brought to the works each student performed breathed new life into their playing.  Understanding Schumann’s love, longings and anxieties framed in the struggle of his own mental illness brought about significant changes in one student’s interpretation of his famous Davidsbí¼ndlertänze.

Recapitulation: Unlimited Access

i-kpwpN7Z-X2Our Unlimited Student and Young Friends Passes do the same.  Giving patrons under 35 complete access to the entire concert season enables them to explore the breadth of music across each series and establishes the habits of attending frequently.  This season alone, pass-holders attended an average of 13 concerts.  The feedback we receive from students indicates that the impact is far-reaching.

It is always a pleasure when I hear a piece for the first time and it leads me to explore a new segment of the repertoire.

I have always loved listening to music and still get excited to hear premieres or literature that I have studied but never heard live.

Coda: Cultivating Connections

i-JVKVD8z-X2Pre-concert lectures are a natural extension of our student programs.  Over 20 concerts featured local scholars and composers who provided insight into the artists and works heard on the program.  These relationships with leading authorities in the field of chamber music bring a depth to our programing that goes beyond program notes.  A long-time patron communicated how beneficial these programs are after Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov’s recital in January.

Seems the older I get I am touched the more by Schubert's music.  And with the illumination that artists of this magnitude supply, how could anyone open to the music not be deeply moved. Life is harder these days. The economy is a challenge for all.  People are moving at a very fast pace, and often feeling insecure.  It is of great comfort to know that organizations such as the PCMS exist and still succeed in bringing beauty into people's lives.  Thanks again, and excuse the effusion.  The gratitude is heartfelt.

Dryden QuartetA student decides to take up the cello, someone encounters chamber music for the first time and a long-time subscriber discovers a new work.  Whatever the voyage, the Education Program helps to create the opportunities for the moments of inspiration that artists create, students discover and patrons live for.  But none of this would be possible without the collaborations that we enjoy with numerous other cultural and educational organizations through the city.  It is these relationships that help us fulfill our respective missions and shared goals and have a greater impact than we could have on our own.