It is with sadness that we share the news that Dave Conner ‘71 M.M. passed away in late December. Dave was a key member of the Sesame Street music staff from the sixth season in 1974 through 2007, doing everything from writing songs (“The Dentist of Seville”) to conducting symphony concerts with Big Bird. OUr thoughts are with his loved ones, and we give thanks for the joy his music brought to thousands of kids.
All the joy.
My recent guest column for The Ensemble, a monthly newsletter reporting on the U.S. and Canada Sistema-inspired movement.
April 1, 2016
"Across the Americas"
What began as a simple spaghetti dinner with Maestro Abreu in New York quickly turned into a continental mission – as things tend to do, with the Maestro. “We are going to generate a continental project with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela,” he told me. I had just heard him give a lecture about unifying the Americas through music, and we talked about the mentoring relationship between two Mexican musical giants, composer Carlos Chavez and conductor Eduardo Mata, and the Simon Bolivar in its early days. It’s imperative, Abreu told me, that the spirit of this once-thriving alliance be rekindled.
In short order, I was in Caracas with two of Mexico’s top young musicians, bringing a new piano concerto to the Bolivars. The piano soloist was Abdiel Vazquez; the piece we premiered was Piramide del Sol, by Juan Pablo Contreras.
Working with the orchestra, I experienced firsthand the total commitment to music and the generosity of spirit that contribute to their distinctive greatness. I got used to hearing the brass section continue to fine-tune intricate passages long after our rehearsal ended. (The power of the string sound was a treasure to behold!) It was common for me to receive words of encouragement from orchestra members. Right before the performance, many wished me well.
What can we learn from the Bolivars, we who work with young U.S./Canadian Sistema programs? First, we need to do everything we can to nurture the feeling of interdependence in our orchestras—you are responsible for others and they are responsible for you. We need to think in terms of inspiring motivation in our ensembles so that they can take ownership of their own learning and outcomes.
The second lesson is about the “continental project.” We need to keep generating links with programs beyond our own geographical domains. The Bolivars’ path to becoming one of the world’s leading orchestras involved a diligent exchange and confluence of artistic cultures from the Americas to Europe and back. By actively listening to the sound of others, the orchestra was able to find its voice. If we listen closely across continents, we too will begin to find our voices.
The Jaeyu Quartet is this year’s Wildcard group. Jaeyu means freedom and the members—Wonmi Jung, voice; DoYeon Kim, gayageum; Chris McCarthy, piano; and Eli Cohen, percussion—formed the quartet with the intention of exploring freedom collaboratively and purposefully. They explore concepts such as “What does freedom mean in music? How can we free ourselves from the boundaries of genre so often needlessly imposed? How can we create a space in which every member feels free to express themselves and their respective cultures? How can we use our music and our freedom to bring awareness and action to the myriad ‘unfreedoms,’ as economist Amartya Sen puts it, that exist in today’s world?”
On June 21, 2015, the world lost a great artist and visionary leader,
one who will be sorely missed. Gunther Schuller was my lifelong mentor
and teacher, and one of my best friends. He was a performer, composer,
conductor, writer, publisher, improviser, educator, administrator and
avid listener and concertgoer. Gunther Schuller was truly the compleat musician.
Almost the weekend….