Guest Artists Bring Cross-Cultural Learning to GTCYS Winter Retreats!

This January, students showed up ready to learn and work hard at winter retreats, which featured extended rehearsals, focused sectional lessons, and energizing activities with guest artists! For the 2023-24 season, our special focus is on drumming across cultures and musical styles. Each of our four guest artists over the two retreat weekends brought a different drumming experience for the students to learn from and enjoy! Weaving the theme of drumming and rhythm across multiple lessons and performances this season is an incredible way for students to learn about different cultures, hear new sounds, and practice teamwork. Read on to hear about each artist and how students spent their retreats rehearsing, learning, and having fun together. 

“GTCYS students are always interested and open to new ideas. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt when you’re doing something strange like bucket drumming and they’ll give it a try!” – David Birrow, Percussionist and Music Teacher 

On Saturday, January 20, Philharmonia West and Concertino West students explored bucket drumming with David Birrow, a percussionist and music teacher. Encouraging students to break free from looking only at their sheet music when performing, David taught them to keep rhythm with the group by focusing their eyes on each other and staying connected with the beat. Using the style “baile bass,” a mixture of 80s hip hop and Brazilian music, students practiced the steady rhythm and the subtle movement which they can bring back to their orchestral music. 

Drumming with a bucket was harder than I thought! – Libby, Philharmonia West, violin 

“We hope that this experience, with this space we are creating together, they can walk away with the importance of “cultura” in everything we do.” – Marisol Chiclana-Alaya, Executive Director, Boriken Cultural Center 

Philharmonic and Sinfonia West students spent the afternoon on Saturday, January 20 in a Bomba workshop with Boriken Cultural Center. The local organization teaches Puerto Rican traditions and music, bringing their energy and culture to a GTCYS retreat for the second year in a row! This lively drumming and dancing lesson encouraged students to develop a sense of performance, learning the steps as a group and inviting individuals to try an improvised solo on stage! Several students admitted to experiencing stage fright, but enjoyed the opportunity to perform once they gave it a chance! Boriken staff was impressed with the number of brave GTCYS volunteers willing to dance on their own in front of the crowd, cheered on by their peers! 

“At first, I was a little scared that I was going to mess up, but once I got up to solo, it was fun!” – Luella, violin, Sinfonia West 

“Being Indian and seeing traditional Indian music in the US is super cool. I’ve seen tabla/classical Indian music performances when I visit my family in India, but have never seen a performance like this in the US. It’s really cool to see my culture represented in orchestra.” Arun, Cello, Concert Orchestra 

Dr. A. Pavan, a tabla artist, teacher, composer, and educator, joined retreats with Symphony on January 21, and Concert Orchestra, Sinfonia East, and Camerata on January 27. Playing the tabla, an Indian hand drum instrument, Dr. Pavan shared moving performances, with one session accompanied by his wife, Pooja Goswami Pavan, Hindustani Classical vocalist, composer, and educator. Demonstrating how the instrument is played, he was happy to share his music and mentioned how engaged and inquisitive GTCYS students were! The students remarked that it was fascinating to hear new sounds, especially the different tones he could produce with his hands and fingers on the tabla. We can’t wait for Dr. A. Pavan to rejoin students this spring for performances with GTCYS Symphony, Concert Orchestra, and Camerata this spring! 

“A retreat highlight has been working on the piece Global Warming by Michael Abels. It features the same idea but represented by different musical styles from around the world (including Tabla). It’s cool to work with a variety of musical styles different from traditional Western music.” – Symphony student 

“I think it’s very wonderful that GTCYS is going to have this Korean music concert. I’m very excited and honored to be part of that. People usually think just trying many different musical styles is important but actually going deeper in one culture helps, because we can use the same method to understand other cultures.” – Dr. Soojin Lee, Teaching Artist in Residence, MacPhail Center for Music 

Dr. Soojin Lee was excited to join Concertino East and Philharmonia East for the last afternoon of retreats! Students took turns playing four different percussion instruments while learning about the history of Korean “Samulnori” drumming, combining all four sounds into a repeating pattern. Using a rhythm called Bright Moon (re-named in English by Dr. Lee herself), students alternated drumming and chanting. She shares that being able to use their voice and their hands makes students more energetic and excited to participate as a group. We’re excited for Dr. Lee to join Concertino East at Harding High School on February 24 for a free and open to the public concert, sharing two incredible pieces that feature a traditional Korean string instrument called a gayageum!  

“Everyone got a turn to play the drums and she taught us different rhythms about drumming in Korea. I think rhythm is really important in music of all kinds.” – Reese, cello, Philharmonia East 

“[Playing the drum is] kind of like the violin but it’s going up and down, instead of left and right, with both of your hands at once. – JaimeLuis, violin, Philharmonia East 

GTCYS’ retreats are held twice each season to give students more focused time together to work on their music, socialize, and participate in special activities! We are so grateful to our guest artists for joining in the fun and sharing their expertise with our curious young musicians. Learning about music across cultures, especially with a common theme like drumming, helps students understand the wide variety of musical styles, influences, and instruments, and think more deeply about how they are connected. Practicing rhythm and building connections will contribute valuable skills for their upcoming spring performances. Students reflected on the entire retreat experience by sharing that they learned “teamwork” and “friendship” throughout the extended time together, and they enjoyed the opportunity to bond with their fellow orchestra members with the activities, games, and meal times.  

“I love retreats because it gives us more time to perform and dig into our music. I like the change of scenery as well. – Arun, Cello, Concert Orchestra 

“Team building at retreats is always really awesome.” – Alex, Bass, Concert Orchestra 

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