Albright: Striking A Chord

Jun 1, 2018

[Short orchestral music selection...]

That’s a passage from Intrada, by Ralph Vaughn Williams, performed a few weeks ago by the Northeast Kingdom Community Orchestra.

My daughter is one of the cellists, so I’m bragging here a little.

On the other hand, I myself am a truly awful violinist. I started way too late in life and rarely practice, so I’ll never be as good as the 16 elementary and middle schoolers playing along with the adults in this concert, on violins they’ve been given - along with lessons - through a new program in St. Johnsbury called EPIC Music.

A partnership between the NEK Orchestra, Catamount Arts, the St. Johnsbury School, and the Northeast Kingdom Classical Music Series, EPIC is based on a Venezuelan program called El Sistema, whose charismatic creator, José Antonio Abreu, was an orchestra conductor, pianist, economist and activist. Before he died last March, Abreu built youth orchestras as pathways to social justice for children living in poverty.

El Sistema’s worldwide movement found its way to Vermont about 18 months ago. Anne Campbell, education director at Catamount Arts, says it was thanks in part to generous donors and guidance from one of Abreu’s disciples, Eric Booth, a leading arts educator who lives in New York State. Now, Campbell tells me, the EPIC model has spread to Miller’s Run School in Sheffield.

El Sistema has migrated mostly to America’s urban areas, but I’m not surprised that it’s taking hold in rural Vermont. There’s a lot of musical talent in these hills, and now there’s is a way for children to grow it, and show it.

Research confirms that making music brings confidence into vulnerable young lives – as well as creativity, mental discipline, and, psychologists say, emotional and intellectual strength. Which is why I was happy to learn that EPIC is running a free summer music camp in St. Johnsbury this June, and it’s filling up fast.

In many schools and homes, music lessons may seem like a frill, but in fact they’re shown to make kids good at lots of other things, too. EPIC fills a huge void, but it needs ongoing community involvement to survive. I’m going to lend a hand myself, just as soon as I practice Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

If I’d learned that as a child, maybe I’d be playing Vaughn Williams by now.

Performance by the Northeast Kingdom Community Orchestra of Intrada, by Ralph Vaughn Williams, videotaped by Catamount Arts staff member, Martin Bryan.