The New York Philharmonic’s Kaleidoscope Ensemble Puts Fun, Relevance and Respect in Music Education for Kids
Did you know that if you’re a New York City school student, you can get the New York Philharmonic to visit your class? If you think your school, or your child’s school would be a good contact, get in touch with the Philharmonic’s education department. The orchestra has a terrific teaching ensemble, Kaleidoscope, which makes the rounds of schools throughout the five boroughs.
“Kaleidoscope’s repertoire is always shifting to reflect new and relevant themes. It’s a wonderful point of entry into the very colorful and variegated sound world of the orchestra,” the Philharmonic’s Director of Education Production, Amy Leffert explained to the audience at the group’s“info-concert” Monday night at Lincoln Center’s dynamically curated atrium space. Then the ensemble – flutist Julietta Curenton, clarinetist Katie Curran, french horn player Laura Weiner, trombonist Steven Dunn and pianist Jiheea Hong-Park – validated that description.
This was kickoff night, more or less, for the group’s current program on tour in city schools over the next several weeks, designed to dovetail thematically with issues students are exploring. This particular theme is the Harlem Renaissance and how it relates to the present. The program employs colorful new arrangements of classic Ellington and Gershwin works as well as a stark William Grant Still arrangement of the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, and a more recent, picturesque piece by Valerie Coleman. Along the way, the musicians drove home how fearlessly multidisciplinary the Harlem Renaissance artists were, and how that sense of community mirrors so many artistic movements both historically and in the present.
What was most enjoyable about this experience – other than the music, which was played with the passion and dynamism you would expect from players from America’s flagship orchestra – was that it’s not condescending or patronizing like so much “music appreciation” coursework. The adults outnumbered the kids at this show, but everyone seemed to be having a ton of fun singing along in counterpoint, working variations on the blues scale and even scatting some jazz.
There were two big takeaways, one obvious and the other implied. First and foremost, the Philharmonic’s education outreach is all about empowerment. Curran emphasized that under ideal circumstances, she’d be more than content if a student composer was able to hear a Dvorak piece and then prefer his or her own work instead. And without ever letting the words “third stream” slip into the discussion, the quintet let the music validate the paradigm shifts that take place when two traditions as vast as African-American jazz and western classical cross-pollinate.
The highlight of the night was Imani Winds flutist and co-founder Valerie Coleman’s In Time of Silver Rain, from her colorfully pointillistic, lilting suite Portraits of Langston for flute, clarinet and piano. The group closed with Ellington’s Echoes of Harlem, Dunn’s moody, darkly foggy trombone lines front and center.