ASU Concert Band Making Music with Young Students

On Tuesday, February 28, at 7:30 p.m. the ASU Concert Band will be performing with elementary and secondary school musicians from low-income Arizona neighborhoods, in the Evelyn Music Theatre on ASU’s Tempe campus.  As part of the Harmony Project Phoenix, they will be playing world premiere compositions for soloists specifically written for young developing musicians.

This concert is the brainchild of Melanie Brooks, a first-year ASU Doctor of Musical Arts student in conducting and the co-director of the ASU Concert Band.  “I really wanted to seek out opportunities to bring different communities together through music,” she said.

The concert features world premieres of commissioned works for Harmony Project Phoenix soloists, all of whom are primary or secondary school students. Music composition majors in the ASU School of Music wrote the concertos for soloists as part of an interdisciplinary project to learn about how to write music for young, developing musicians with advanced band accompaniment. Melanie Brooks, graduate student in conducting, works with students from the ASU Concert Band and Phoenix Harmony House. Melanie Brooks, graduate student in conducting, works with students from the ASU Concert Band and Phoenix Harmony House.

The Harmony Project Phoenix is an evidence-based mentoring program started by Diogo Pereira that uses music as the means for positive youth development and social inclusion. Pereira earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in conducting from the ASU School of Music in 2012 and then attended the Sistema Fellows program at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Harmony Project Phoenix combines Pereira’s two passions: music and social justice.

“I strongly believe that music can be a tool to equalize opportunities,” Pereira said.

Harmony Project Phoenix builds orchestras, bands and choirs in low-income neighborhoods with the vision that each child in the program will become a productive, responsible and caring citizen. Students receive six hours of instrumental music instruction each week and an instrument on loan at no cost. In exchange, the students and their families participate in community service as a way to give back to their communities for their participation in the program.

The collaboration with the ASU Concert Band is the brainchild of Melanie Brooks, a first-year Doctor of Musical Arts student in conducting. Working with community musicians is not new for Brooks. In 2014-15, as a Fulbright Scholar in Finland, she conducted four of the country’s five professional military bands, worked at youth and adult music camps in Kouvola and Terälahti, directed student honor bands in Varkaus, Lahti, and Tampere and visited music schools across the country.

“Music ensembles in Finland typically featured young students playing alongside adults,” said Brooks. “It was inspiring to experience music-making across generations in Finland, so I really wanted to seek out opportunities to bring different communities together through music here in Arizona.”

Brooks is currently the co-director of the ASU Concert Band, a 90-piece ensemble that performs several times a year both on the ASU Tempe campus and in the greater Phoenix area. The Concert Band prides itself on its community engagement, performing annual outreach concerts with local high schools and music organizations, and its rich student diversity, with music majors, non-music majors, undergraduate students and graduate students striving for musical excellence in a supportive ensemble community.

A class project with fellow ASU student Chaz Salazar, the flute instructor at Harmony Project Phoenix, laid the groundwork for this collaboration. Brooks and Salazar planned to feature his flute students with the Concert Band in the spring of 2017, but a grant in creative placemaking from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts led Brooks to conceptualize a much larger side-by-side concert with Harmony Project Phoenix and the ASU Concert Band. She worked with the composition faculty to commission student composers to develop the literature for young soloists and concert band. Four student composers wrote new works for the concert: Spencer Brand, first-year master of music double major in composition and trumpet; Zachary Bush, first-year master of music double major in composition and double bass; Jeremy Ulm, first-year bachelor of music double major in composition and horn; and, Eric Xu, first-year master of music student in composition.

“There are inherent challenges when writing a work for young soloist and advanced ensemble,” said Bush. “However, I believe the challenge was worth the effort, as these young soloists have gained invaluable performing experience with a college ensemble, and not many can boast that kind of experience. My hope is the scores produced for this project inspire ensembles and composers outside of ASU to consider this combination of soloist and ensemble for future concert programs.”

Before the concert, the students will have an opportunity to spend time together at an event at Ignacio Conchos Elementary School in south Phoenix in mid-February. The event includes a “meet and greet,” pizza party and mini-concert for family members and friends.

“Young students in the Harmony Project Phoenix have the opportunity to learn from ASU Concert Band students and vice versa,” said Heather Landes, director of the ASU School of Music. “Our hope is that these young Harmony Project musicians can imagine themselves as future ASU students and learn about what it will take to enroll at ASU in the future.”

The Harmony Project students explain that this is already happening.

“The opportunity has helped me evolve as a player and to become more comfortable with performing in front of people. It means a lot for my future,” said Marisa Marques, a sixth-grade clarinetist.

Michelle Calderon, an eighth-grade violinist, explained, “This opportunity means a lot to me, honestly. I have an open mind now knowing what I can be capable of doing. All the musicians in the ASU Concert Band are great! Just having the chance to play with the band is amazing. Everything counts, especially a chance like this.”

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