VAIL —Imagine you’re 12 years old and composing music for the first time. And imagine you’re doing it with professional symphony musicians.
Then imagine they’re not playing your music the way you want it played, and you, a 12-year-old, have to stop them and tell them, “You’re doing it wrong.”
And imagine how good it feels when those musicians smile, offer encouragement and the music you had in your head and heart floats across the room.
That’s what it’s like for more than two dozen local youngsters participating in the first Very Young Composers winter program.
The Very Young Composers have written some very fine music, and professional musicians will perform it today at Vail Mountain School.
More than music
The Very Young Composers of Vail is not just about music, but also communication, risk-taking and leadership.
“This program helped me grow musically by helping me read sheet music better and getting ideas for music on paper,” said Luisa Fernanda Taal Jimenez. “This program helps me grow outside of music by helping me share my ideas with people and working with others to make something better.”
Teaching artist Conrad Kehn runs the program. He’s collaborating with the Vail Mountain School for today’s inaugural winter performance.
Jon Deak, associate principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic, created Denver’s Very Young Composers program in 1995, in collaboration with Bill Gordh, storyteller, co-director and mentor. It’s grown to 20 locations around the world. They launched Very Young Composers of Vail in 2008 during a New York Philharmonic summer residency. Besides Vail, the program is now in China, Japan, Korea, Venezuela, Finland and the United Kingdom.
Students with or without musical backgrounds compose music for performance by professional musicians. Parents say they like the way the program builds confidence and problem-solving skills, talents that help them grow in other areas of life.
The pieces tend to be short, like the composers. The kids say that like many things in life, starting is harder than finishing.
“When children are free to imagine, when their creativity is taken seriously, you find that they have the potential to create real works of art,” Deak said.
Since 2008, VYC Vail has premiered 57 new compositions by 32 Vail Valley young composers. Of those, 19 were female — an under-represented group among musical leaders, Kehn said. Many of the students are from low income households where English is often the second language, an under-represented demographic, Kehn said.
They had 26 young composers for this week’s winter session, along with four music teachers who will help duplicate the program locally and in other areas. Jeremiah Johnston and Karlie Carter from Vail Mountain School are on board, as are Summit County music teacher Linda Shea and Cecile Forsberg, a violinist with Breckenridge’s National Repertory Orchestra.
Kehn has been duplicating it in Denver for a few years, and he likes his chances in the High Country.
“Twenty-six kids is the most kids we’ve ever run through this. It’s an outstanding number of kids. It’s almost double what we’ve had before,” Kehn said. “Of those 26 kids, seven are repeat students who’ve been in for a number of years. Some have been with the program since it started in 2008. It’s amazing to see their improvement and how they’re writing real pieces of music.”
Kehn said composition helps students find their own voice, organize their thoughts and creative ideas, communicate these ideas to professionals and experience the end result in a live performance. VYC of Vail instills the joy of experimentation and collaboration in our youngest minds, providing a bright and hopeful future for concert music.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.