By Gerard Schwarz
I have recently returned from my first Music for All National Festival. It was a thrill for me to hear all of the remarkable performances and to feel like I was part of the larger music education universe.
In so many ways, my years in high school were the most important for my musical development. I was very lucky to attend the High School of Performing Arts, a New York City public school. I learned so much from the wonderful teachers there, but also from my fellow classmates, who like me, were passionately devoted to music. Even though I wanted to become a musician during my junior high school years, and my small New Jersey school system had an excellent music program, I did feel a little unusual in my passion for music compared to most of my friends. It was at PA where I found the musical community I so craved.
When I saw and heard the hundreds of musicians performing at Music for All, I felt that same passion for music and music making emanating from the students at the highest level. It was heartwarming to witness the positive impact of their shared musical community on the performances and overall educational experience.
My dear friends Bob Morrison and Jeff Grogan had often described Music for All to me, its educational mission, its power to change the lives of the students involved, but witnessing this firsthand was inspiring. Music for All’s mission of exposure to great music, educational opportunities for all students in music as a life changing positive experience, is something to be admired, and admire it I did.
My first experience during this year’s festival was attending a performance by the Seven Lakes Junior High School Honors Orchestra from Katy, Texas. To hear a string orchestra of this age-group play with such musical and technical proficiency was extraordinary. After, they, like all the groups at Music for All, were evaluated by an outstanding group of excellent conductors. They were supportive of the excellent work of the head orchestra director from Katy, Texas, Catherine Urban. The comments to these young players by Jeff Grogan, Douglas Droste, Kirk Moss, and Orcenith Smith were not only sensitively presented, but made an immediate positive musical impact.
Then Franz Anton Krager took Ms. Urban aside and made wonderful observations about her conducting, that I am sure she will employ as she continues her excellent work. In the end, the group and the conductor went on an expertly guided educational musical journey of possibility unlikely to be experienced anywhere else.
The concert by the Honor Orchestra of America led by Sey Ahn was a sensational example of great solo playing and outstanding ensemble playing producing a concert of commitment and passion.
Shelly Berg brilliantly led the Jazz Band of America in some very difficult and excellent works. It was remarkable to hear a high school jazz band with not only great ensemble playing, but with each member improvising at such an extraordinarily high level.
The Honor Band of America conducted by Ray Cramer was also sensational. The level of these ensembles, the commitment of the students and their leaders, and the overall musical excellence left me inspired to do more for music education.
Those of us lucky enough to be part of the professional performing world of music can always do more to support our colleagues in the educational field. When I was music director of the Seattle Symphony, I was lucky enough to be actively involved with the Washington Music Educators Association, who work hard to increase the accessibility of music for every student.
Being at Music for All was a powerful reminder of the remarkable work of the music teachers across our great country, who dedicate their lives to imparting this art form to the students. This work lasts a lifetime, improving lives, adding dimension, and understanding to the complex world in which we live. Music can be the great inspiration to a better world. I salute the great teachers, the great students, and thank everyone there for the inspirational performances that will stay with me forever.
It is my hope that Music for All continues to grow and influence education throughout our country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Music for All’s mission could become the mission for every school system in every state.