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By Karen Newell-Young
Making music and much more
MIM project keeps youth in tune with community
What does art, the homeless and salmon have in common? They have all been the focus of Music in the Mountain’s Young Composers Project.

Every year, student musicians collaborate with a different community nonprofit to gain insight and inspiration to write original music.

Students also study composition, notation software, conducting,
melodic and rhythmic dictation, theory, music history and rehearsals.

They receive weekly one-on-one instruction and bi-monthly group lessons from September through June from MIM Education Coordinator Mark Vance. They also present a mid-year recital of their original compositions for voice and one instrument of choice.

For the 2013-14 school year, the project teamed up with Sierra Streams Institute and developed an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on salmon and their importance to the region’s watershed. The project resulted in a concert featuring chamber works and a multimedia event showcasing original orchestral compositions by the MIM Festival Orchestra during 2014’s Summerfest concert series.

From inspiration to perspiration, the project was documented by filmmakers Larry Huntington and Mike Bloebaum, with the students’ original music as the score. The film “River Music” was shown on KVIE TV in 2014 and was included in the Wild and Scenic Film Festival that year.

Connecting art to music, the young composers collaborated with the Crocker Art Museum in 2015-16. Students took photos of their favorite artwork and researched their chosen artist. Images by videographers were projected during the performances of the students’ new compositions at Peace Lutheran Church in June 2016.

And during the 2016-17 school year, the program focused on Hospitality House, where students volunteered and learned about the homeless. Their experiences formed the basis of their compositions, which were performed by YCP musicians at a concert last June at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center.

“These experiences were profound and revelatory for the students and dispelled all preconceived notions of the homeless,” said Vance, the founder of the YCP as well as the education coordinator.

To help raise money and awareness for the yearly program, Nevada City pianist Lynn Schugren will perform a solo concert of music by American composers at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov.12, at St. Joseph’s Cultural Center in Grass Valley.

Schugren has been supporting the young composers for nearly five years, working with Vance, who was hired in 2002 to oversee the program. Since that time the musicians, who range in age from junior high through college, have participated in competitions, workshops, concerts and a variety of classroom studies focused on composition.

“The Young Composers Project is the best kept secret in Nevada County,” said Vance, adding that considering the breadth of the educational experience, it should be better known and better funded.
That’s where Schugren comes in. She not only performs the works by the YCP, but also is trying to help Vance advance the program. Their ultimate goal is to expand into video and film soundtracks.

“I want to give back to the community, and I want to support young musicians,” Schugren said. “Also, it is an opportunity to do something I love.”

Once the students have immersed themselves in the nonprofit collaboration, they use the experience as a jumping off point, Vance said.

“It’s not only about inspiration, it’s a thread to hold the concerts together,” he added.

As far as Vance knows, it’s the only program that matches community involvement with music writing.

“Nobody else does anything like this in the country,” he said. “It’s on another level than what you might find in other programs. We have kids that are Celtic musicians, rock drummers, classical instrumentalists — but they all come together for the love of music and writing music.”
Schugren’s concert of American composers “Made in America,” will include works by Bruce Nalezny, Miriam Gideon, Samuel Barber and will also feature the premiere of a work by Vance, which was commissioned by Schugren for the event.

For more information on the YCP, visit musicinthemountains.org/education/young-composers-project.
Submitted Photo
The Young Composers Project class of 2013.