The League of American Orchestras recently announced the five winners of the inaugural Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service, three of whom are members of ICSOM orchestras.
For the purposes of the award, community service is intended to be meaningful service through music: education and community engagement programs at schools, hospitals, retirement homes, community and social service centers, places of worship, and wherever people gather for civic, cultural, and social engagement. Those served may include low-income or at-risk populations, homebound elderly, immigrants, veterans, prisoners, and students of all ages, as well as members of the general public who may not otherwise have access to or are not traditionally served by orchestras.
The awardees and their orchestras will be presented with their awards—which include a $2,500 grant to both the musician and his/her orchestra—at the League’s National Conference in Baltimore, June 9-11, 2016. The musicians will also participate in a Conference presentation and separate webinar, providing the orchestral field opportunities to learn from their experience.
Penny Brill, violist and ICSOM Delegate for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, received the award for her work in the PSO’s Music and Wellness Program, which began in 1999. The program coordinates PSO musicians with music therapists and other healthcare professionals to bring therapeutic, live music to patients in hospitals and other facilities. Penny described the program this way:
“When I walk into a special needs classroom or meet with a group of refugees, or when I meet with a patient or a roomful of grieving parents, my focus is on who they are, what they need most, and how we can share a musical experience together that will give them what they need. Each program that we create together is unique and is shaped by our interaction during each session. I collaborate with special education teachers, music therapists and other specialists to optimize the music experience. Since the music I use ranges from Bartok Rumanian Dances to a simple walking bass, from music that energizes to music for calming or slowing down, I develop a special playbook for each of these events. Much of the information on design and implementation of programs for health, education and at-risk populations will be free and publicly available on my soon-to-be launched website Musacor, Musicians as a Community Resource, as a way of encouraging other musicians to create their own programs.”
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra began its Neighborhood Residency Initiative in 2011. Now called the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series, the program consists of a classical subscription concert series that is performed in several suburban venues throughout the metro Detroit area. In addition to these orchestra concerts, chamber ensembles regularly perform in smaller venues, such as the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, community and senior living centers, and the Detroit Public Schools. Awardee Shannon Orme, who holds the Barbara Frankel and Ronald Michalak Bass Clarinet Chair, had the following to say about her experiences:
“The Detroit Symphony’s Community Outreach program allows its musicians to reach out to those who may not be able to attend concerts, such as senior residents, hospital patients, or public school students. These small, casual performances are often my most gratifying work, because I can get up close and personal with my audience. I love seeing them smile, stomping their feet, clapping their hands. In these concerts, I witness how music can encourage laughter, allowing patients to forget their unfortunate circumstances. I often see excited young elementary students gaze with curiosity upon seeing a shiny clarinet for the first time. Just last week, I heard a roomful of senior residents heartily belt out “America the Beautiful” as we played along. It’s these types of performances that remind me why I became a musician, and I often come away feeling like I gained more than my audience. We all know that music evokes the full range of emotions, but when you actually see it happening, you know you’re doing something important.”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra percussionist Brian Prechtl embodies passion in all of his endeavors, whether it be playing percussion on the stage of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall or composing and performing chamber music for a local series at Second Presbyterian Church. But the work that he is most passionate about these days is the time he devotes to OrchKids, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s outreach program that uses music as a vehicle for social change. Brian has been working with students at a number of schools in some of the most at-risk areas of the city for the last seven years.
When asked what this work means to him, Brian comments, “This isn’t just about teaching music. We’re trying to give these children a view out of the difficult circumstances that encompass their world-view. We’re also trying to instill values that will serve them in all areas for the rest of their lives—concepts like teamwork, concentration, independence and discipline. We help them understand what can be possible when they channel their energies with a sense of focus and purpose for any task. They learn what they can accomplish as individuals and the power of cooperation that a group can achieve. We also teach them a little something about music.”
Besides his BSO and OrchKids responsibilities, Brian is an accomplished composer. He uses his composing and arranging skills for the main performing ensemble he works with in the OrchKids program—“the bucket band”. In addition to five-gallon buckets played with drumsticks, Brian has introduced other sound sources that originate from home improvement stores rather than from a high-end music shop. “We use HVAC pieces and metal tubing to extend our sound pallet with various ‘found’ instruments.” These instruments help to color the rap and hip-hop inspired “grooves” Brian and his students compose. He will often write arrangements for the “bucket band” along with traditional instruments like a brass ensemble. He uses rhythmic chanting and rhyme schemes to teach and they become a main element in all of the pieces that his “performance bucket band” plays in their many appearances around the Baltimore-Washington corridor. These pieces can be lighthearted, and at other times show some real “swagger”. But Prechtl always emphasizes to his students the need for music to communicate the emotions we feel. “We try to capture what is going on in our world at any given moment.”