When Miki Sawada, resident musician at Music Haven, helped pioneer the organization’s first piano trio this fall, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. She hadn’t played chamber music in her fledgling years, and she didn’t know anyone who had. When her three junior-high school students, Tony, Lihame, and José, began to perform, she started to feel her way through elementary-level pieces of music, searching for work that was approachable but interesting. And all of a sudden, she realized that she was going to run out.
Tony, Lihame, and José kept asking for new music—enough to keep them practicing for weeks on end and performing for new audiences. So Sawada sprang into action, calling young composers she had met in New Haven and playing piano nationally and internationally.
The result, wholly her brainchild, is NewMusic4Us, which debuted on Kickstarter last week and is up until Jan. 7. Working with four young composers—Gabriel Bolaños, William Gardiner, Anna Pidgorna, and Ben Wallace—Sawada is creating new pieces for her students that are level-appropriate, fun, compelling, and heartfelt.
“NewMusic4us is raising funds to commission four composers,” the Kickstarter pitch states. “Each composer will write a 2-3 minute long, beginner-level piano trio in 2015. Composers will also be paid to come to Music Haven to work on their pieces with the students. Funds will also cover extra coachings from Music Haven teachers.”
“As a performer, I regularly premiere composers’ works, and I love the entire process from when I first hold the music in my hands to when I finish playing the last note on stage,” she writes on the website. Each piece will be two to three minutes, and the composers are enthusiastic to work with the students.
“I was very excited when Miki approached me about this project: as a composer [and proponent] of ‘new music’ [or ‘contemporary classical’ music] I am always looking for ways to engage new audiences,” wrote Bolaños. For the students, “even just the thought of having multiple composers write pieces specifically for them must be exhilarating. They are suddenly thrust into a global new-music community, and become a part of something much bigger than any of us.”
“I think the urge to ‘make something’ is a defining feature of being a young person,” Gardiner wrote by email. “I know this trio of young people are going to have a sound that is uniquely their own. Most of my pieces start from some fascination with a particular sonority—I can be a very ‘timbre’ oriented composer. So, I think that the unique sound of these students is going to inspire something that will hopefully feel personal and expressive. I want to find their sound!”
Wallace added that each of the composers will bring something different to the page, which embodies the spirit of not only the project, but of the trio.
“Miki approached me over the summer about it and I thought it was a fantastic idea. I’m particularly excited because it exposes kids at a young age to contemporary music and techniques they would otherwise not experience through traditional tracks,” he wrote. “Up until when I went to college, my entire world revolved around the 19th century and couple of 20th century composers, and then just a few people who were actually alive! I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had played more contemporary stuff. Not only does it teach new techniques, but it reveals that there are so many new and wonderful things out there besides the standard rep that we hear over and over!”
If Sawada is able to raise over $3,000 through the Kickstarter campaign, Martin Bresnick, head of the Yale School of Music composition department, will compose a fifth piece for the group as well. Which will mean even more for Tony, Lihame, and José—and who knows how many other students—to play.