Vail’s Very Young Composers helps kids create music with the New York Philharmonic
- What: Very Young Composer Concerts
- When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 at the Avon Public Library
- 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, at the Vail Public Library
- Cost: Free
- Information: Very Young Composers helps local kids learn to compose music, with the help of members of the New York Philharmonic and other accomplished musicians.
EAGLEVAIL — They’re some of the world’s most accomplished musicians, these members of the New York Philharmonic. Yet their young students don’t necessarily think of them that way as they create music from imagination — where all music begins.
The New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers returns for its 12th summer session, the brainchild of Jon Deak, the New York Philharmonic’s former associate principal bassist. Deak is tall, as a bassist needs to be as a practical matter, yet he says he never stands as tall as when he bends to help his budding Beethovens build compositions.
“It’s a simpler level, but it’s no less honest,” Deak said.
Deak launched Very Young Composers two decades ago in New York City and brought it to Vail in 2007, as part of the New York Philharmonic’s summer residency in Vail. He partnered with Conrad Kehn’s The Playground Ensemble to get it off the ground. It’s now international. Deak barely had time to unpack his suitcase from a China trip before he hopped on a plane to Vail.
“The program has taken flight in a graceful, slow way and it’s beginning to soar,” Deak said.
‘Creativity before craft’
The point, says the Playground Ensemble’s Kehn, is “creativity before craft.” They want their very young composers to compose music.
“We’re not worried about rudimentary drills or theory,” Kehn said.
Like most art, the Very Young Composers begin with a story. They base their music on their stories, then create art based on their music.
All this they do in a week.
One of the first things his students learn is how to say “I am a composer” in nine languages, because each language has a music all its own, Deak said.
“They can hear the rhythm and intonation in each language,” Deak said.
While the young composers work with computers to get the music on paper, Deak and the other instructors are careful not to let them use technology to compose.
“Their music should not come from a computer. It should come from their soul,” Deak said.
This year’s chamber musicians are Dr. Elizabeth Sadilek Labenski, flute, Peter Kenote, viola, George Curran, bass trombone; and Kevin Keith, percussion.
Generations of compositions
The older students return to teach the younger ones.
Bora Basyildiz, Klip Lester and Ben West are all veterans of the Very Young Composers program, beginning practically at the program’s beginning.
“There were about 10 kids total when we started,” Basyildiz said.
All three say it was a great launching pad.
West is at Brown University studying music composition and a host of other stuff. Besides returning to teach at Very Young Composers, he has entered his work in composition festivals in upstate New York and another in Italy. Yo-Yo Ma performed one of West’s first compositions.
Basyildiz is studying computer science and engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. He’s also spending time in Italy studying Italian jazz, not only studying but playing professional gigs.
Lester and his family spend their summers in the Vail Valley. The rest of the year they live in Dubai where he studies piano, write music and helps out around Dubai’s new opera house.
In the beginning
Deak launched Very Young Composers with a few kids in a single classroom when he was in Denver as Composer in Residence with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. He was trying to answer the question, “What is children’s music?” He decided to ask children.
“In terms of composing, the kid is the boss. It doesn’t matter if you know 100 times more about music, this is the child’s moment. All they need is empowerment,” Deak said.
Deak says he knows how fortunate he has been to spend his professional career composing and performing with the New York Philharmonic and some of the world’s most accomplished musicians. Their Very Young Composers and others are our emissaries into a land we will never see — the future.
“I need to see that the future belongs to these kids,” Deak said.
Yunlong Chen was last spotted at the Vail Transportation Center between 8:15 and 9 a.m. on Feb. 28; a little while later his ski pass was scanned at Gondola One. That was the last known activity related to Chen.