Alarm Will Sound, the 20-member contemporary chamber music ensemble that has gained worldwide acclaim since its debut in 2001, has become a fixture in St. Louis since October 2012 – presenting an annual concert series at venues such as the Sheldon Concert Hall, the Pageant and the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
But Alarm Will Sound is also building much more than a growing fan base for its St. Louis area concerts. Over this past season, AWS has partnered with the Community Music School at Webster University to build a program designed to expose young music students to new music and contemporary composers and, ideally, to encourage a new generation of young musicians to follow in the footsteps of Alarm Will Sound.
“We want to make playing new music and working with living composers part of the ordinary life of students – and make the music more immediate, more human and more alive,” as AWS Managing Director Gavin Chuck said in a St. Louis Beacon article last October.
“The ultimate goal is to create an environment where music making is more than just playing the right notes. We’ll be meeting with the students once a month at least, with the goal by the end of the season to have them play on a concert with us.”
That end of season goal has been reached. The final concert of the 2013-14 Alarm Will Sound season will feature the members of the ensemble performing on the familiar stage of the Sheldon on May 30 – with elementary, middle and high school students from the Community Music School at Webster University as special guests.
AWS oboist Christa Robinson has worked to coordinate a monthly program with the CMS faculty. And as the concert with the students nears, she took the time to reflect on the teaching process that led up to Friday’s performance.
“We started by setting up weekly planning meetings with the faculty to plan the upcoming school year sessions with the students,” Robinson said from her home in New York City. “Although I took the initial lead in terms of introducing ideas, the faculty members were wonderful as far as contributing ideas -- as well as taking a leadership role.”
Robinson has a strong background in elementary music education going back to her days as a student at the Eastman School of Music and still teaches at a public school in New York to pre-school through second grade students.
According to Carol Commerford, director of the Community Music School, Robinson’s educational background – combined with the collaborative approach she and AWS have taken with the program --has been a key to its successful first year at CMS.
“Christa has a background as an elementary school teacher, so she’s able to make complex things seem simple for the students,” Commerford said in a recent phone interview. “It’s just been so collaborative on her part. The first thing she and Alarm Will Sound did was meet with our faculty and put together a brainstorming session.
For Robinson, building what she labels as a “culture of creativity” is essential in introducing young music students to new music.
“The goal is to have that culture of creativity happen early with young students, then keep it going as they progress,” Robinson said. “It’s turned out to be something we’ve been able to make happen with the students. And it’s really thrilling to see those young students making those connections with the music.”
Robinson has also seen the learning curve increase for herself – and especially other members of AWS who participated in sessions at the school, but who don’t have a background in education.
“It’s been an interesting journey collectively for both the students and myself – as well as the members of AWS who participated,” she said. “For the musicians who were not going in with a teaching background – especially in teaching young students – I think it’s really been eye-opening to see the enthusiasm and creativity that the students bring to sessions.”
For the May 30 Sheldon concert, CMS students will be performing in several of the pieces on the program: side-by-side with AWS musicians on Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music,” as well as under the direction of AWS musicians or on their own on short works by John Adams (“Short Ride In a Fast Machine”), Elena Kats-Chernin (“Fast Blue Village 2”), Vinko Globokar (“Laboratorium”) and David Biedenbender (“Schism”).
To complete the program, Alarm Will Sound will play Adams’ “Scratchband,” “Fallout” by David Crowell and “Urban Sprawl” by Clint Needham, two works that were composed for AWS and the Mizzou International Composers Festival.
“The program will include kids from our program who are age 5 to high school,” Commerford said. “On Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music,’ the Alarm Will Sound musicians will be clapping rhythms on top of the original rhythm clapped by our students. Then on other pieces, the students will be on their own. On ‘Laboratorium,’ they’ll use big buckets of water to make music with instruments with graphic notation to guide them. And one of our students will conduct the piece – guided by a musician from AWS.”
According to both Commerford and Robinson, the May 30 Sheldon concert marks the final step in the CMS/AWS partnership for this school year – but just the beginning of what promises to be a long-term relationship.
“For next year, we’re already planning on how to grow and evolve the program organically,” Robinson said. “We want to build on the strengths we’ve begun with. We also want to make sure we think further into the future, by layering our plans on how we can best build through the years. What I’m most interested in is seeing the best students we bring along in the program inspire those following them.”
“We just feel so honored to work with Alarm Will Sound,” Commerford said. “They could have worked with anyone in St. Louis, but they chose Community Music School. Our goal is to work together with them We want to work with Alarm Will Sound to put together a student ensemble to play new music -- and eventually, to encourage our students to compose music.
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 30.
Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd, 63108.
How much: General Admission $20 for adults, $10 for students.
Tickets: All Metrotix outlets; by phone at 314-534-1111; and at The Sheldon box office (night of show only).
- Steve Reich, “Clapping Music”
- John Adams, “Scratchband”
- John Adams (arr. Orfe), “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”
- Elena Kats-Chernin, “Fast Blue Village 2”
- David Biedenbender, “Schism”
- Vinko Globokar,” Laboratorium”
- Clint Needham, “Urban Sprawl”
- David Crowell, “Fallout”