Schenectady, NY - Empire State Youth Orchestra’s CHIME program has been working on a unique initiative called Amplify Our Voice (AOV). AOV offers CHIME students across three Schenectady program sites a powerful vehicle to create an original composition, process emotion, explore shared experiences, and “amplify” their voices to the world. Annually, through reflection, improvisation, experimentation, and composition, students create an original, multi-level work in collaboration with a resident artist/composer. The culminating original piece is premiered to the community at the conclusion of the CHIME season. This year’s world premiere performance occurred during the All-CHIME Spring Concert on Friday, May 19, at 5:30 pm at the Schenectady High School Auditorium.
CHIME’s AOV initiative engages all CHIME students in a new project each season. The process begins each year with student discussion and choosing a theme; this year’s is “Stop Violence, Show Kindness.” Once the theme is chosen, students have workshops on improvisation later creating musical motifs and mini-compositions based on the chosen topic, which are then shared with the artist-in-residence. This year’s artist-in-residence is North Carolina-based composer Adrian Gordon.
Gordon is no stranger to CHIME – students performed his piece “A Hero’s Journey” in the fall, and he has been collaborating with them virtually throughout the year. On March 13, in between snowstorms, Gordon visited all three CHIME sites – Yates Elementary, Van Coralear Elementary, and Proctors – and presented his first musical draft of this year’s AOV piece and took feedback from the students.
“It has been fantastic working with all of the students so far,” said Gordon. “I have been able to meet with each site in small groups to talk to them about their ideas about the theme and composition in general. The students are extremely thoughtful and have a lot of great ideas. I have really enjoyed my time with them so far!”
Gordon said the process this fall in working with CHIME students on his piece "A Hero's Journey" “was centered more around interpretation, style, and overall taste.” With AOV, “the compositional process this time around has been a lot more focused on imagery, mood, and inclusion of all voices into the process.”
Emaryis, an 11-year-old CHIME clarinet player, said that her “favorite thing about the project is overall the feel of it and the fact that we got to make it ourselves.”
“It has been incredible to see the outpouring of creativity and expression from our CHIME students this year,” said CHIME Conductor/ESYO Curriculum & Enrichment Coordinator Dr. David Bebe. “Over the course of this project, I’ve seen a lot of growth with the student’s confidence and ability to express themselves. Whether it was through improvisation sessions, composing their own pieces, or leading discussions, I certainly sense some healthy fearlessness to share their voice. The final piece of music that was created from all their work and inspiration is really beautiful and moving, but seeing this new feeling of empowerment in the students is the real goal.”
CHIME’s AOV initiative places youth in the driver's seat, and opens the door to limitless innovation, and organic, creative expression. Its ripple effect fundamentally changes the traditional youth orchestra paradigm. By empowering youth to exert personal influence over musical style, we can start to transform the traditional music education system into one that is culturally responsive, relevant and equitable. AOV offers youth not only instruction to master an instrument, but the opportunity to create through that instrument, to layer their artistic and experimental voice atop those who have preceded them, and to break new ground for others to follow in their footsteps.
The Amplify Our Voice initiative is made possible through the generous support of the Van Norton Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Community Foundation for the Capital Region - Barry Alan Gold Memorial Advised Fund.