Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas Involves African American Students in Classical Music

[“Once more, with feeling” (Copyright Listen: Life With Classical Music,]

The dynamic and lushly graphic website of the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas is:
Musical Americans
How a classical orchestra is getting 'em while they're young

By Damian Fowler
Listen: Life With Classical Music
July/August 2009
“On a recent spring morning at the Harlem Day Charter School in New York City, an orchestra took to the stage in the school auditorium to give a concert. The audience was rowdy but enthusiastic – clapping, shouting, whooping and swaying. There was also some pushing and shoving, but no more so than one might find at Carnegie Hall at intermission. These concertgoers were comprised of several classes of fourth and fifth graders who were participating in an innovative educational program run by the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, led by their alluring twenty-eight-year-old maestra, Alondra De La Parra. The concert was the culmination of a yearlong program run by the orchestra's musicians to get children excited about classical music. And no doubt about it, they were excited. 'This was probably the first classical concert they'd ever seen,' explained De La Parra later.

“There was a tangible buzz in the auditorium when De La Parra addressed the group of mostly African-American boys and girls, who stared adoringly at her and the casually dressed musicians. 'Who played the melody?' she asked after one high-spirited piece. There was a forest of hands and a shy answer: 'The one in the green shirt.' For the children, the concert was doubly exciting because this was a world premiere of music they helped create. One of the pieces on the program, Hip Hop, had been collectively composed by the group, so everyone had a stake in the presentation. Other compositions included pieces written by children from two other schools.”

“'It's so great to see those faces and reactions,' says De La Parra, who founded the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas in 2004. Her idea was to promote music from the Americas, especially the rich tradition of concert music from south of the border, including Mexico (Marquez, Revueltas), Argentina (Piazzolla, Ginastera) and Brazil (Villa-Lobos), not to mention Àamerican works by Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin. The arts and educational component of the orchestra started two years ago and carries De La Parra's mission into the schools.

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