Very Young Composers music program returns with New York Philharmonic |

Very Young Composers music program returns with New York Philharmonic

Chole Putnam, of Eagle, smiles after receiving feedback about her composition from Ryan Fiegl, of Denver, and Jessica Mays, of Denver, during the Very Young Composers dress rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon at June Creek Elementary.

If You Go

What: Very Young Composers concerts.

When and where: 1 p.m. Thursday, July 27, at the Avon Public Library, 200 Benchmark Road, Avon; and 1 p.m. Friday, July 28, at the Vail Public Library, 292 W. Meadow Drive, Vail.

Cost: Free.

More information: The concerts feature short original compositions by local students, who work with mentors and members of the New York Philharmonic. Learn more by visiting the “Education” tab at

VAIL — Creating music that did not exist before will make kids stand up a little straighter, make their hearts beat a little faster.

Those hearts beat even faster when they’re 12 and they have to stop the New York Philharmonic and tell one of the world’s most accomplished musicians that they’re playing it wrong.

“We encourage that,” said Jon Deak, retired principal bassist with the New York Philharmonic and creator of Very Young Composers. “It helps them develop independence and leadership.”

Very Young Composers, an annual program that gently coaxes music from children, falls under the YouthPower365 umbrella.

Deak is back in town for the program, along with Tom Smith, trumpet, and Anna Rabinova, violin, from the New York Philharmonic.

Alec Mauro is one of three interns working with Very Young Composer kids this summer, along with Ben West and Bora Basyildiz.

Mauro studied music at the prestigious Interlochen School in Michigan and is headed to Columbia University in the fall.

He did Very Young Composers when he was in middle school, playing saxophone in his own piece alongside members of the New York Philharmonic. Mauro was notating a kid’s composition when we caught up with him. His kid had taken some piano lessons, so they sat down at the keyboard and figured out what they wanted it to sound like.

“Everything is his idea,” Mauro said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to express themselves in ways you might not think they’d be able to, but they can, and they can do it well.”

All kinds of compositions

Conrad Kehn directs the Denver program and comes to the Vail Valley a few times a year. They had 24 young composers this year, and even had to wait-list a dozen or so because they didn’t have the room.

“The program was already full before we advertised,” Kehn said.

If you’re a composer, and we now have 24 new ones, music is whatever you say it is.

The pieces tended to be short, like the composers. The kids say starting is harder than finishing. They usually start with a story and create some art to go with it. A series of exercises magically converts it to music.

Kids don’t have to know how to read music; they have to want to create it. They don’t even have to know what they want to create. The Very Young Composers folks help them.

“The kids who’ve been with the program for a few years have a good idea what they want to do when they arrive,” Kehn said.

The composers are getting better each year, as are the teachers, Kehn said.

“We, as teachers, are getting better,” Kehn said.

When they’re not in Vail or somewhere else doing this, they run the program full-time in Denver, where they develop curriculum.

Local accent

The program started in Denver in 1995. It’s grown to two dozen locations around the world. Students with or without musical backgrounds compose music for performance by New York Philharmonic members and other accomplished regional musicians. Besides Vail, the program is in China, Japan, Korea, Venezuela, Finland and the United Kingdom.

“These young composers’ works contain a detectable local accent, distinct from their counterparts in New York and around the world, and it is a pleasure to help them develop their compositional voices,” Deak said. “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.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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