Iceland, the island nestled between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, obviously has its share of glaciers, but did you know about the volcanoes that lie underneath them?
Iceland has, on average, one major volcanic event every five years, lending it the name The Land of Fire and Ice.
It’s these two opposing elements that stood out to David Crowe, a professional composer who has created an Iceland-inspired piece using the work of local fourth-graders for the Northeast Indiana FAME Festival this weekend.
It’s like baking a cake. You take all the ingredients, flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and put it all in a mixing bowl. What comes out looks like nothing that went into it, but it’s all there, Crowe says.
For more than 20 years, Crowe, as the artist-in-residence for the FAMEous Student Composers program, has incorporated the work of fourth-grade students selected by their music educators for one cohesive piece that is performed by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.
Crowe and collaborating students will premiere Eldur og Ís, Icelandic for Fire and Ice, on Sunday at the two-day festival. The festival, which opens Saturday, showcases performances and artwork by students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The cultural focus for this year’s FAME festival is Destination 2014: Northwestern Europe.
Inspired by Iceland, Crowe used the work of his students to create a piece that complements the movement of fire and ice.
It has a slow and kind of somber beginning, like the coldness of the ice, and then it gets very fast, very sprightly, which reminds me of sparks flying and flames shooting out off of volcanoes, he says. Some of the kids came up with quick, bouncy passages, and I used more of those in the fiery part and some of compositions that were more slow and repetitive worked for the ice part of the music.
Eldur og Ís will be a part of the festival’s Celebration of Youth finale with the Philharmonic; the Fort Wayne Youth Ballet will accompany the piece with choreography inspired by the music.
This particular project is very unique. I don’t know another program where young kids, 10, 11 years old get to work with a professional composer, create some of their own music and then get to hear some of it incorporated into a composition played by an orchestra, Crowe says. There are similar composer programs here and there, but I think this one is fairly unusual in the way that it’s put together and that it’s been going on for 20 years.
The fourth-graders learned music composition with supplementary weekly lessons. During the project, the students work on the music notation website, Noteflight, which has an interactive community where the FAME students can follow and listen to each other’s work each week.
The students also held a creative session with the Fort Wayne Youth Ballet to create choreography for the music and will join the Fort Wayne Philharmonic on Sunday for rehearsals, where students will hear the original music for the first time live before the performance.
The real cool thing is the composers get to see what the dancers are working on and the dancers get to see what the composers are working on, and they see how they are collaborating, T Irmscher, executive director for FAME, says. With the Philharmonic, I feel like they are mentors to the children who are interested in music and they show them how beautiful music can sound when you know how to play an instrument.
After the concert, each student will receive a score of the music with their contribution highlighted. Crowe says that for some of the students, the program inspires them to continue writing their own music.
Music has always been a connection to other things. It helps to illuminate, to deepen the experience to almost anything. Whether it’s going to work, going to war, going to church, or celebrating, it comes in so many ways, Crowe says.
It’s more than just entertainment, or something to dance to or fall asleep to. It’s something that can enrich all experiences for the rest of your life, he says.
As a former musician with the Philharmonic from 1985 to 1994, Crowe became the artist-in-residence for the FAMEous student composer program in 1992. Although Crowe resides in Lee, Mass., with his wife, Kathy, he continues to provide his services for the student composers program.
He loves it, Irmscher says. I’ve been able to sit in on classes, and the students sit there and learn about instruments and rhythm. They learn how certain instruments can make the sound of a thunderstorm, chirping birds and volcanic sounds. It’s just such a treat.
Over his 20-year tenure, the Internet has made it easier for students to work independently, but Crowe says it can sometimes take away the personal experience of music education.
Some of these young kids go right to the computers and they often are five, six steps ahead of me in terms of learning procedures. However, I think there is a lack of understanding and also expression and feeling that only comes from playing a real instrument or singing. It’s the feeling for the music that comes out of your human experience that doesn’t come out through digital technology, Crowe says. Even though you can hear a digitalized version of the music, there’s nothing like the real thing.
David Crowe has seen enough proud faces to know the joy these students feel when they hear their contribution become the real thing right in front of them.
It’s pretty awesome to hear your notes or your melody coming back at you by a large orchestra. They know something of what it’s like, but at the rehearsal, when you hear it getting played back, it’s pretty amazing, Crowe says. Some kids throughout the years may not have been successful at other things or perhaps didn’t fit in school or were bullied. This was something that opened up a whole new world to them. It’s been very gratifying to be able to see that happen.