2013-03-15 / Columnists

Notes from the High C’s

Rockaway Music and Arts Council
By Sharon Gabriel

It's been some time since our last column and I felt it important to let our members and the community know what the Rockaway Music and Arts Council is up to at present.

As you know, the RMAC festival and concerts are long gone due to ongoing problems with Gateway. While we have been thinking about how to continue with the concerts, there is no venue large enough in the area where a concert could be held with the amount of parking that would be needed. There is no room for a few hundred cars and so the concerts are also on hold.

However, we are continuing with two very important programs in our local schools that include our young people. One is Music Memory and the other is a Children's Opera program.

To start, our Children's Opera program for this year is "Alice In Wonderland", a new opera written by Unsuk Chin, a South Korean woman, born in 1961. Before getting into the opera itself, let me tell you something about Ms. Chin.

Her interest is in electronic music and she is world-renowned, having received many commendations in Europe where she is associated with the Philharmonic in London. Ms. Chin is an associate with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra since 2011.

In addition she has won the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Ms. Chin is certainly accomplished in her field. Her librettist is David Henry Hwang, well known here on Broadway for "M Butterfly" and "Chinglish" among others.

So, our children have the great good fortune of learning from two well established people in the music industry.

This program is not just for the children. The teachers must take an all-city workshop to familiarize themselves with the program and then bring it back to teach the children. Included is a CD, a character study and other components, including a script, which they can then teach to the children.

Towards the end of the school term the children will be taken by bus to John Jay College in Manhattan to see a City Opera performance of "Alice In Wonderland."

On their return to their schoolrooms they can take the script and work up their own opera based on what they saw. In addition, professionals from the opera give the children two classes to help them work on their project.

At the present time the only schools in our area that are currently working with our Opera Program are P.S. 104, 183 and 215. In the past more schools have participated and we hope they will again because we believe this is one very important program for our children.

They certainly get enough of rap, hiphop and all the other current fads in music, but opera has been around for a long time and will continue into the future and our children should certainly learn something new to them.

This program is under the auspices of our member Myra Berger, herself a retired teacher. Last year along with Myra, I went to the performance of " Treemonisha" with our students. You could hear a pin drop in the hall, they were so attentive. They clapped at the right time, cheered at the right time and even met some of the artists after the performance. I'm sure they will never forget the day. It was certainly something different for them.

Our second children’s program is "Music Memory" which comes to us from the Riverside Symphony Orchestra. Many years ago, Barbara Eisenstadt heard of the program and got in touch with them. We have been associated ever since.

Once again, this is a music program that local children might never come in contact with if it wasn't presented in their schools. Again, the teachers must learn the program then bring it back to their classrooms. This year the program is being presented at P.S. 114 and 47.

It works like this: the children are presented with a specific musical piece; they learn the notes and the music throughout the term. At some point during the class term, there is an assembly where parents are invited and the children show what they have learned. I was present at one of these assemblies and it was phenomenal watching the children.

There was a big screen above the stage with a music graph and different types of symbols. The children would walk up on the stage and point to the different symbols as the music played. Those symbols represented musical notes and what the children were doing was following along with the music.

Needless to say, their parents were thrilled to see what they had accomplished. In addition to this school assembly, there is a city-wide competition in Manhattan and I am happy to tell you that our children usually come out winning gold or silver awards. Since so many of our children come from homes where very little classical music is played, it is a great accomplishment for them.

This program was under the direction of our member Bernice Meyer for many years. Unfortunately, Bernice passed away several weeks ago, but the program will be continuing.

We hope that more of the schools on the peninsula will consider providing their students with these music programs. There is nothing like them around.

On another note, we hope everyone is getting back to normal (or what is now considered normal) after the storm. As I drive around the peninsula, I still cannot believe what happened here. Spring starts in a few weeks and hopefully warmer weather will appear. Wishing everyone everything good.

See you around the neighborhood.

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