Jazmine ( “with a ‘z’” ) Lucas, an 11-year-old student at Wexler-Grant School, was a little nervous, but also seemed to have a quiet reserve of confidence about her. In a short while she would be performing a song on her viola for world-class electric violinist, artist, and producer Jerald Daemyon and some of Lucas’s peers from Music Haven who had gathered for a master class at Dixwell’s Stetson Library.
Stetson Library Branch manager Diane Brown, who is a Music Haven board member and has hosted many Music Haven studio recitals at the library, said she and musician friend Felicia McKiver, who is also a friend of Jerald Daemyon, discussed trying to “do something with him the next time he’s in the area.” Hence the master class, which took place this past Saturday.
“String instruments are in all kinds of music now,” said Brown. “Inner-city kids are not always aware of that, so Jerald can be an excellent mentor.” Brown anticipated a small class gathering, saying she wanted students “to have an intimate time with the artist. If we reach just one, it’s well worth it,” she said.
As Jazmine awaited Daemyon’s arrival, she reflected on her two years as a viola player and how her interest in the instrument was ignited: “When I first went to a Music Haven concert, and saw the cellos and violins, I said, ‘whoa — I want to do this!’” After a year of sending applications to Music Haven, Jazmine said she received a call back. “They talked about expectations and all the things we would have to learn to succeed,” she said.
Jazmine said she had spent nearly two months practicing the song selection she would play for the master violinist — “A Thousand Years,” from the soundtrack to Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — “because it’s a beautiful song.”
Before the master class had ended, attendees were treated to a sampling of some of Daemyon’s own original music from Matador, a soon to be released album that he described as “rhythmic, global, and music you want to dance to — my definitive violin statement.” He added that “it is the one piece of music that I’ve been able to create that utilizes everything I know as a classically trained musician, as a contemporary violinist, as a producer, arranger, scorer, and orchestrator; it allowed me an opportunity to incorporate all of that into one body of work.”
Music students were introduced to some of the technology that Daemyon finds indispensable as tools for practice and enjoyment. One of his favorites, a hand-held Pandora Mini personal multieffect processor, allowed students to hear the violin in new and exciting ways as sounds were modulated and filtered.
Annalisa Boerner, a resident Music Haven violist and part of the Haven String Quartet, was in the audience lending support and occasionally assisting students who had forgotten to tune up. “Music Haven doesn’t have regular summer programming, but we were excited to collaborate on this opportunity to bring together some of our students with such an impressive role model, right in one of our target neighborhoods,” she said.
One by one, students who brought their instruments were treated to Daemyon’s gentle instruction.
“You get your best tone when you’re in between the bridge and the fingerboard,” he told one student as he demonstrated technique. “Your bow may be a tad tight. Other than that, get your arm flowing — let’s get a little more arm energy” he told another. For every student, Daemyon had encouraging words and practical advice for improving not only technique, but the spirit and flow of playing that makes music such a personal form of expression.
Wendy Marans, who attended the master class and is president of Music Haven’s board of directors, shared her thoughts after the program.
“His capacity to find things to develop for each of them impressed me — his respect, humor, and his expression of what music can be while staying real and easy to relate to,” she said. “The kids are always respectful during lessons, but the length of time they stayed attentive and fully engaged also spoke to his successful capacity to reach them. I felt he truly knew how to listen to children. His fluidity in using their instruments and generosity in letting them use his was terrific.”
A library table packed with books about famous African-American musicians stood in a prominent location at the front of the library. With all the inspiring activity of Daemyon’s master class, it’s very likely that a new story was already being written.