November 14, 2017
Arts Access: A musical collaboration across the Twin Cities
The world-class venue in downtown Minneapolis is nothing new or intimidating to these young artists, though. They have impressed audiences there in past performances, and are motivated and inspired by the chance to share their music in a familiar space.
These musicians are all participants in youth music programs at MacPhail Center for Music and ComMUSICation. Over the past year, the Minnesota Orchestra formed a special partnership with these organizations from Minneapolis’ Northside and Saint Paul’s Promise Neighborhood, thanks to a generous grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. The program, called the Arts Access project, sent Orchestra musicians into the community to work side-by-side with the students, and in turn brought the students and their families to Orchestra Hall to perform and experience music alongside a professional ensemble.
On the morning of Thursday, November 16, musicians from MacPhail Center for Music and Ascension Catholic School will perform in Orchestra Hall’s Target Atrium. The performers, who are enrolled in grades 6 through 8, are led by conductor Tamara Gonzalez. This past March, she and many of her students attended Minnesota Orchestra concerts as part of the Arts Access project. The following week, Gonzalez recalls, “They were full of questions about the soloist. ‘How did she memorize all of those notes? How long has she been playing her instrument? How does she make the vibrato sound?’ It was like an explosion of motivation in rehearsal.”
A MacPhail student performing at Orchestra Hall. Photo: Courtney Perry
On Friday, November 17, Orchestra violist Kenneth Freed and bass player David Williamson will perform alongside the ComMUSICation choir, sharing original music created over the course of the partnership. During their visits to the choir’s Saint Paul home, Freed and Williamson improvised music based on creative suggestions and direction from the students. Local composer Timothy C. Takach then arranged five folk tunes based on this material; these are the songs that will be featured in the group’s Orchestra Hall performance.
Sara Zanussi, ComMUSICation’s founder and Executive Programming Director, explained that “This project has allowed our young musicians to reflect on their own cultural backgrounds by exploring musical concepts in new ways with professional musicians.”
The benefits of this partnership have reached beyond the individual students, though. The program provided tickets for the students and their families to attend Orchestra concerts together last season, and Orchestra violinist Catherine Schubilske says that the experience “has enriched Minnesota Orchestra musician partners as much as our presence has hopefully encouraged the students.” She has been inspired by the dedication of the young musicians she mentored at Harvest Preparatory School.
“While most of their classmates are eagerly escaping the building by late afternoon, a few students begin the challenge of learning string instruments, music reading and ensemble skills,” shares Schubilske. “The grit and persistence of these students is a happy indicator of future success in any endeavor.”
A young musician from MacPhail Center for Music performs before a Minnesota Orchestra concert. Photo: Courtney Perry
Cover photo: The ComMUSICation choir performs in the lobby of Orchestra Hall. Photo: Greg Helgeson