Apr 23, 2013

You Can Go Home Again!


Members of the Paterson Music Project rehearsing for their April 20 performance.

They say: “You can never go home again!” And this may be true. “Things change” and “you change.” You may not really be able to go back to some former time and place in your life and recapture the good feelings you had then. One humorous Internet responder quipped that one can perhaps never go home again because: “Your parents have moved without leaving a forwarding address.”

But I’m happy to report that you CAN go home again. . .at least in certain circumstances. As founding music director and conductor of the New Jersey Youth Symphony, it has been sixteen years since I decided to end my eighteen-year tenure with that orchestra. Having worked with more than one thousand young musicians over those years, and having loved – almost – every minute of it, I realized that if I were going to redirect my efforts toward fomenting a “national listening conspiracy” I would, of necessity, need to narrow and focus my energies.

With the production of our first public television show, Bach to the Future, and the ultimate metamorphosis of the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey into The Discovery Orchestra, I knew that we were well on our way to starting that “listening conspiracy.” But sometimes I really missed the kids. And so it has been a source of great joy that in the last year, NJYS artistic director and conductor Jeffrey Grogan has invited me to reconnect with this wonderful organization.

The NJYS is thriving since its merger with the Wharton Music Center in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The NJYS began as an ensemble of 65 high school age musicians in 1979 when the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra “donated” me – their assistant conductor – to help organize the effort. NJYS has now become a vital training environment for 400 young musicians grades 3 to 12 from 78 communities in an integrated continuum of three full symphony orchestras, three string orchestras, two flute choirs, a jazz ensemble and a summer camp!

Maestro Grogan has asked the “proud papa” of NJYS to speak on music listening to both students and parents, and this May 19th to guest conduct them. I very much look forward to this “going home again.” And it feels great to be on their campus in Murray Hill – a wonderful facility created for the NJYS in 1998 with the help of a generous matching grant from music patron Jean Burgdorff. Jean was honored by the NJYS on April 20th at their annual gala, which I was so very pleased and proud to attend. Also honored that evening was Wharton Music Center Trustee Libby Corydon-Apicella.

The orchestra sounded fabulous! But perhaps no moment was more exciting that evening than when the 30 second grade members of the Paterson Music Project, with their violins, violas and cellos in hand, joined the New Jersey Youth Symphony on stage to perform a composition written especially for them and the NJYS by composer Taylor Goodson. You really had to be there to see their faces as they played FOR THE FIRST TIME as members of a symphony orchestra! Home again! Wow!