Supported in part by a grant from the Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research at the Eastman School of Music, Present Music, Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s acclaimed new music ensemble, brought together composers of all ages and experience levels through a new community engagement initiative: ComposeMilwaukee. The program invites schools and community organizations to GATHER, CREATE, SHARE, and GROW by composing and performing original music. The ComposeMilwaukee culminating concert on June 12, 2016 at the Twisted Fisherman Crab Shack on the Milwaukee River (some participants arrived by boat!) was a defining moment when art and life intersected and multiple generations experienced the joy of creation and performance together. Here are a few of the highlights of this performance and the partner organizations involved:
At Milwaukee’s Reagan High School, advanced music students learned about special techniques for composing string quartets and had their pieces performed and recorded by a professional ensemble. The student whose work was selected for the concert read her artist statement during the performance and was surrounded by supporting teachers, family, and friends.
At Bradley Tech High School, a school with many students in low-income families and traumatic situations, students wrote poetry based on personal experiences and worked with a composer to set it to music. Present Music crossed new boundaries in the concert when a student performed his spoken-word piece about living in the constant shadow of crime and poverty to the accompaniment of a soulful trumpet.
Residents of Saint John’s on the Lake retirement community worked as a group to compose a sound collage based on the theme of war and peace. They performed the premiere of “Be Peaceful” on the concert, in the unexpected wake of the death of a beloved resident. In the introduction, they dedicated the performance to her memory and spoke of the impact that composing the piece had on all of their lives.
Seniors from a Hispanic music heritage group at the United Community Center worked with a composer to transform the folk melodies they knew into a concert composition. At the concert, they not only performed on their piece, but also played some traditional songs for an after-party while the whole audience danced.
Each partner organization had a unique experience with the program, but every participant shared a common thread when it came to the pride and ownership they felt in performing their original works for a supportive audience. Many are now loyal Present Music audience members, and several of the organizations are expanding and deepening their partnerships in the coming year.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is a city full of intriguing community stories. ComposeMilwaukee gives voice to those stories through music, and Present Music looks forward to sharing them with our community and beyond!