Every now and then I have the pleasure of working with young students and it happened recently when I was invited to give workshops and a concert at the Wilbraham Monson Academy in central Massachusetts. The students there were wonderfully receptive to the concepts and ideas that I presented relating to instrument building, tuning, business and the music that I presented of Steve Reich. I met with the students involved in a music program, a business class a group of eighth graders, and the day ended with a presentation to the entire student body and faculty of 200.
Having attended a private boarding school for my high school years, I was happy to see some traditions are still alive. First of all, everybody was very cordial and they were great listeners. They also dressed up for this day of activities with their signature blue blazers. I’m not a stickler for dress codes but remember well that uniforms at the boarding school I attended made for an equal playing ground among the wide range of economic backgrounds the students came from.
I was invited to the school by an old colleague, Thad Wheeler. Thad and I have been performing with Steve Reich for the last 25 years. The all-school assembly started off with a performance of Steve’s Clapping Music for which Francesca Vanasco–Wheeler joined us, turning this duet into a trio. Francesca is a fantastic cellist and now she can add virtuosic clapper to her resume. After Clapping Music, I demonstrated my harmonic tube instrument, the Vistaphone. This instrument has 32 tubes and rods ranging from 7 inches long to 9 feet long. It produces a sound that you cannot hear on any other instrument, namely the frequencies of what is known as the harmonic overtone series. I explained how that works and why it was unique. We ended the mini concert with a performance of Mallet Phase, an arrangement I made of Steve’s Piano Phase. Thad and I perform this work on a set of instruments I built specifically to realize this composition in an ancient tuning system known as just intonation.
I am happy to say the students seemed mesmerized by Steve’s music. While this is not an Academy of musical arts, the students have a wonderful sensitivity to the creative process there. I am happy to report there’s hope for the future!