The New Century School has made quite a reputation for excellent music education. Summer 2019 closed with the third annual American Music Camp (AMC), formerly known as AMS-Baltimore, led by Camp Director Yoshiaki Horiguchi “fondly known as “Mr. Yoshi.”
Here’s the thing about AMC—it needs to be seen and heard to be believed. Returning campers and new recruits alike took their music-making abilities to new levels and, most importantly, they had so much fun doing it. The point of AMC, after all, besides exposing younger generations to America’s rich musical heritage (AMC is sometimes referred to as “fiddle camp”), is to help them get comfortable making music, to let loose and jam, to give something different a try, to collaborate in new ways.
And, it works!
Mr. Yoshi was quick to comment, though, that TNCS itself gets credit for some of the magic: “Thank you to the staff of The New Century School and this wonderful facility,” he said. “This camp would be so different if it were anywhere else. So thank you for making it possible.”
This is Bucket Band. Remember camp instructor Rob Flax? He joined us for the third year running from Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Yoshi thanked both Rob and Melissa for taking a week out of their busy performance schedules to join AMC camp. Cellist Zoe Bell also helped out this year.
Now things get really interesting. Each morning when campers arrived at AMC Camp, they were given the opportunity to join up in bands. They agreed on their formats and then told camp instructors their band name and what tunes they’d be a’playin’. Here are Thursday’s bands.
Thirsty for more? Once again, visit TNCS’s YouTube channel for more recital videos by such awesome chart-toppers as The Chicken Noodle Soup!
On Friday’s recital, attended by some other TNCS camp-goers, bands posed for band shots (hover over the image to see their band names). For their songs, visit, you guessed it, TNCS’s YouTube channel!
And now, for the culmination of the marvelous week of music-making—the final performance!
“I’m a firm believer,” said Mr. Yoshi. . .
. . . that all of the life lessons you need for living in a health, happy community are all things you can learn from being in music camp, whether it’s getting a group of people together and collaborating on a tune to play in a recital or getting up on stage, conquering your fears, and presenting yourself or being able to improvise when life throws seemingly random curveballs and being able to respond appropriately for the benefit of all the people around you. So thank you parents and students for being a part of this week.
More final performance videos can be found at TNCS’s YouTube channel, and you won’t want to miss them! Let’s face it, it’s going to be a long wait for AMC Number Four in Summer 2020! Can’t wait to see you there!
Music instruction has always been an important component of TNCS’s dedication to educating the whole child. Music is a meaningful part of every TNCS student’s academic journey, and music happens throughout the day, including during cultural study. In addition, formal music classes are available both during and outside the school day to elementary and middle school students.
“Making music should be a communal thing and it should be accessible to everyone.” –Yoshiaki Horiguchi.
As the school has grown, so has the music department and the opportunities it offers. Last summer, TNCS strings instructor Yoshiaki (“Yoshi”) Horiguchi brought the first-ever American Music System (AMS) Camp to Baltimore, and a whole new avenue for music exploration opened up at TNCS. This year, AMC-Baltimore’s second year in existence, kept the music alive and branched out in some great new ways.
What is American Music Camp-Baltimore?
It all started in Charleston, SC—in fact, that’s where TNCS Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors met Yoshi, then a camp instructor. According to the AMC website:
The purpose of American Music System . . .. is to create and support educational environments and activities that develop and nurture the musical and social skills needed for children to participate meaningfully in the rich culture of musical diversity in the Americas. Our top priority is quality education for all interested students through example, instruction, and mentoring. We strive to make these environments and activities affordable to families of all income levels.
American Music Camps have locations throughout the east coast, and AMC-Baltimore is the newest addition to the family (check out American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS! to learn more about its inaugural year last summer). While every American Music Camp has traditional American music at its core, each camp location has its own unique experience to offer. AMC-Baltimore, for example, is proud to include a bucket band and beat boxing in its curriculum, music-making specific to this region. Music that is common to all camp locations includes traditional music from the Appalachian Mountains to Bluegrass and Blues. Much of the music they learn has been passed down through many generations—some, like the Texas Waltzes you can view at the end, had never been transcribed until now but had lived on in the oral/aural tradition.
Students learn from world-class faculty who perform American Music in all parts of the country and get the opportunity to play in ensembles and learn how to improvise. This year’s camp instructor lineup included Emilie Catlett, Rob Flax, Yoshiaki Horiguchi (also Camp Director), and Melissa Tong. (Click their names to learn more about them or download their bios here.) Yoshi, Rob, and Melissa returned to AMC-Baltimore from last year’s camp, and Emilie joined afresh.
To qualify, students needed at least 6 months instruction on violin, viola, cello, bass, piano, or guitar. As many students study music through the Suzuki Method, AMC-Baltimore understands the importance of aligning with this method, offering the chance to hone skills and continue with daily practice while exploring music that is outside the Suzuki Method repertoire.
Yoshi explained that each student received a lanyard at the start of camp that contained the student’s ID as well that student’s itinerary of classes.
Above all, students are encouraged to apply their hard work in an engaging and fun musical environment. AMC-Baltimore’s nickname—fiddle camp—says it all!
Making Music Magic
The thing about descriptions of AMC-Baltimore is that, although certainly a starting point, they can’t do this amazing camp justice. What happens during the week of strumming, drumming, picking, and singing is nothing short of magic. Students become receptive to and experience music in a way that formal instruction precludes. Parents report that their children start saying things like, “I didn’t know the notes, but if I closed my eyes, I could see the music.” Although trained from early ages to read music, they start picking up songs by ear. They are encouraged to jam, extrapolate, and improvise, and they are open to doing so because they see how much fun the instructors are having while modeling this approach to music-making. Oh! Music is fun!
So, if seeing (and hearing, in this case) is believing, here are some videos of in-class practice. Videos of the final performance students put on at the end of the week for families can be found below. (Also check out TNCS’s YouTube channel for even more!)
The above three videos show students separated by level (first is students with less experience; bottom two are advanced), but, “depending on the class,” says instructor Rob Flax, “some things are also all-group activities. There are really no rules, so whatever happens, happens. It’s a very carefree and exciting way to get creative.”
A song called “Lobster Socks” grew out of one of these impromptu sessions (as well as Rob’s sartorial choices) but took on chords and a melody as more and more students caught the spirit. Said Rob: “We are looking to take music off the page and explore different stylistic ornamentation. Students learn how the different harmonies work and all the nuts and bolts that make up a song.”
(Rob’s verbal explanations were accompanied by musical demonstrations of what he was describing, which you can listen to here, to get the full experience.)
The way our jam sessions work is, we’re all sitting in a big circle, and anyone can start a song. As soon as I can figure out what the first note is, I can jump on in. Hopefully everybody jumps in. We tell the students, ‘if you’re not sure how this song goes, wait and listen. Maybe try and figure the notes out by ear as we go, or ask a teacher, or look at the chords on the board.’ Everybody find something to do—even if it’s slapping their cellos to a beat, like Yoshi does with his double bass. They can also do solos. A student just comes to the middle of the circle and improvises something that might be completely different from the melody of the song and just be as silly or creative as they want, then step back out and let the group take over again. The way we end a song is by sticking a foot in the air to signal that this is the last time!
There’s magic in that process. The jam sessions is where a great deal of discovery happens. I love to see, at the end of the day after all our other organized chaos, students finishing their day and still playing as they leave the room because they’re so excited. They’re still participating even after the show has ended, so to speak. That means we’re doing something right. That’s my favorite part.
A perennial favorite among kids, bucket band rose to new levels, thanks to Rob’s instruction in Indian and Persian scales, among other types of music. Each student gets the chance to riff on a theme in “Rufus,” and the other videos show percussion instruction of increasing complexity. The drumstick “rabbit ears” you may see signify that the song is done.
“OrchKids is a year-round, during and after school, music program designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods,” according to their website, and Ayanna Wiggins and Isiah Dixon agree with that description. Yoshi was an OrchKids teacher for 8 years and had the “pleasure and privilege” of teaching both Ayanna and Isiah during his tenure there. He reached out to some of the site coordinators for suggestions of students who might be available to attend camp, and out of about 1,000 OrchKids among eight sites, Ayanna and Isiah were chosen to participate.
Ayanna, entering 10th grade in the 2018–2019 school year, has been playing violin for 7 1/2 years. She got into playing violin at Lockerman Bundy Elementary—the school where OrchKids debuted its program. “I like the sound of the violin—I just fell in love with it,” she explained. “And it was something to keep me productive.” She plans to apply to Harvard and Yale law schools in the next 2 years, but, “If being a lawyer doesn’t work out, I want to go to Julliard,” she said.
Isiah, entering 8th grade, has been playing cello for 9 years. “In my 1st-grade year at Lockerman Bundy, I tried the cello and didn’t like it. Then I tried the clarinet and didn’t like that, so I went back to cello. Now I like it,” he said. He plans to pursue a music degree in college, supplemented by basketball.
Both OrchKids students enjoyed AMC-Baltimore very much, calling it “fantastic.” “With younger kids,” said Ayanna, “I get to be a mentor they can look up to. I can show them how enjoyable playing music is and motivate them.”
From “Boil ’em Cabbage Down” to “Elk River Blues,” the tunes delighted the audience and musicians alike. (But, sorry, no “Lobster Socks.”)
Mark your calendars for next year, folks, because AMC-Baltimore’s third year will bring even more of the music-making magic!
Music education is essential at The New Century School. From classroom informal singing to formal vocal and instrumentation instruction to guest performances by professional musicians, TNCS exposes children daily to music in many forms.
As TNCS has grown and developed over the years, the music program has continued to evolve alongside. It’s time Immersed breaks it all down and shows readers what each piece looks like (sounds like?) and how the individual pieces fit together, well, harmoniously, all year long—including during summer and before, during, and after school.
TNCS’s Maestro: Martellies Warren
Music Director Martellies Warren has always been the linchpin of the TNCS music program. In addition to providing lessons in music history and on specific musicians, he also starts each academic year off with vocal instruction to prepare students for the two annual Winter and Spring Concerts (one each for primary students, one each for elementary and middle school students). These have grown in scope and intensity, with each somehow topping the last. Each show features a variety of songs in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish as well as a themed set of songs.
This year’s Spring Concert theme on May 18th was Dancing in the Streets, and the sound of Motown was prominent. “I’m always trying to make sure the concert is going to be as spectacular as it was the time before,” said Mr. Warren. “The students take great pride in it. From the time I introduce music at the beginning of the school year, I’m already thinking about what the children gravitate to. I played a little Motown, and they absolutely loved it.”
See the gallery below for photos of TNCS art teacher Jenny Miller’s beautiful set design, with album art help from her students. Check out TNCS’s Facebook page and YouTube channel for videos of individual performances.
But vocalization is not the only type of music class at TNCS. Instrument lessons are also offered in a variety of settings.
Have you visited the TNCS Music Education page? Click here.
Extracurricular String Lessons
In 2016, TNCS brought on acclaimed bassist Yoshiaki Horiguchi to teach beginning violin, viola, and cello lessons as well as leading more advanced string ensembles. These classes happen before and after school and are a great way for students to first learn the basics and subsequently use their skills to perform together.
Space is always made in the Winter and Spring Concerts for Mr. Yoshi’s students to play a few songs, and their technical proficiency is impressive. Check out TNCS’s Facebook page and YouTube channel for videos of a play set to music and an original composition (yes, original!) by one of the strings students.
Although Mr. Yoshi is classically trained, he is no stranger to music’s funkier sides, which brings a lot of fun to his TNCS classes. He has taught bucket drumming to various groups, for example, and, perhaps unknown to most until today’s Spring Concert, he is also an accomplished beat boxer. Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie, watch out. (Got a kid who wants to learn beat boxing? Scroll below to Music in Summer!)
In 2017, TNCS began offering an optional semester-long class each year to allow students in grades 2–8 to explore various instrument groups. Taught by Mr. Warren during music class, woodwind exploratory covers flute for 5 weeks, followed by clarinet for 5 weeks. Brass exploratory, which happened this year, covers trumpet for 5 weeks, followed by trombone for 5 weeks. The instrument groups covered alternate each year.
Trombone is Mr. Warren’s preferred instrument (apart from his vocal cords), but he started with the saxophone:
As a boy, I was all ready to play the sax, and I thought it looked so cool. I got to the music store in Montgomery, AL, picked up the sax and tried to play it. I knew it was going to take some time, but I got so frustrated because I just could not get it to sound like the guys on TV. So I begged my mom to take me back to the store, and she told me I needed to pick something and stick with it, to give it some time. The salesman suggested the trombone, and I immediately loved it. This was in 7th grade, and I became section leader and first chair all through junior high and high school.
Trombone has been well liked in Instrument Exploratory as well, but trumpet has so far been most popular of all. Mr. Warren thinks this is because kids can readily produce sounds on the trumpet, whereas some struggled last year with the flute (with one very notable exception).
“Flute is not a very easy instrument to play,” explained Mr. Warren. “You have to direct that air just right to get it to produce a sound. But that’s the experience we’re after. We’re not expecting amazing instrumentalists right away, but we want them to at least pick up instruments and see how they feel and how they sound. Maybe they’ll fall in love with something.”
More than one love affair with an instrument has happened already, which makes Mr. Warren “ecstatic.”
“They are doing some really wonderful things with brass and taking off with it. At this age, children are trying to find themselves, and we want to make sure that we’re offering whatever we can to assist them, especially musically. Whatever we can introduce to them now, even though they may not pick up on it right away, we hope that this will help sustain a lifelong love of music. Some may even make careers out of it.
His approach to teaching instruments is to start out with the fundamentals and systematically build on those, bit by bit. First, Mr. Warren “sets the tone” by insisting on good etiquette—musicians must sit up straight with their feet on the floor, and they must not interrupt while a fellow musician is talking or playing. Step two is to get everyone in tune. From there, they practice various exercises, each becoming more complex than the last.
Those students not opting in for Instrument Exploratory receive recorder lessons during music class from Javais Bazemore (“Mr. J.” to students). Mr. J. says, “Recorder is what I grew up on, but I’ll play anything with a pipe. For me, recorder is the first thing that you start with. If you can read recorder music, you can read other music. It opens your eyes up to see exactly how it works.”
He also sings and plays piano and guitar, but recorder remains his main gig, and he played it in band throughout his school years and even into college at North Carolina State University. “Being in band built a lot of character for me, and we felt like a family. We had a strict instructor who insisted that we respect our instruments and show discipline,” he explained. “Here at TNCS, we just want to show students how to read music because you can start with that and go to anything else, really.”
Mr. J. is from Baltimore and came to TNCS through the suggestions of friends and his mother that he should work with children. He started in the TNCS aftercare program, loved it, and has since added various other roles, including teaching recorder. He demonstrated his musical ability to Mr. Warren, who deemed him a good fit.
“It’s really fun to see where the kids are now, from where they started. I can just play a note like a G, and they know how to play it back with no problem,” said Mr. J. “I gave them incentive at the beginning. I told them that if they showed me they can remember all the notes, I’d give them a 30-minute play break at the end of school.” He didn’t necessarily believe that would happen. “Little did I know, they outsmarted me and became really cohesive, teaching each other,” he laughed.
“This has been really great,” said Mr. J. “I love the kids. They’re just so smart. They’re like sponges—they want to soak up everything, and it’s really good to be around them.”
With a solid foundation in place from instrument exploratory or recorder lessons, these young musicians are ready to play together during the last couple of weeks of school. “Students can choose from trombone, trumpet, clarinet, flute, and recorder, said Mr. Warren. “We’ll come together and do somewhat of an ensemble, which should be really fun.” In fact, all students Grade 2 and up participate in band, which was composed of 18 recorder players, 5 clarinetists, 6 trumpet players, 3 trombonists, and 1 brave flautist.
As with Instrument Exploratory, exercises start simply and build in complexity.
Special Guest Performances
Music education doesn’t just take place in front of an audience. Sometimes, experiencing music as part of the audience opens students up to it in new and important ways. A new performance series begins at the end of May, featuring professional guest musicians. “Meet the Musicians” will start with a brief concert by each musician, followed up by a Q&A for students to learn about what it’s like to pursue a career in music.
Louna Dekker-Vargas will play the flute; Osi Atikphh, the tuba; and Mateen Milan, the bassoon, giving TNCS students a break from performing and allowing them to relax and enjoy the music.
Music in Summer
We all know that the saying “No more pencils, no more books” no longer applies to summer break, and playing music is no different. To keep skills sharp, children must continue practicing during the summer months.
TNCS has that covered, too. Back for the second year in a row, American Music Camp students learn from faculty who perform American Music (e.g., old-time music from the Appalachian Mountains to traditional Bluegrass) in all parts of the country. Students have the opportunity to play in ensembles and learn how to improvise—no improvisation experience needed.
Directed by Mr. Yoshi, AMC Baltimore includes a bucket band and beat boxing in its curriculum, bringing a facet of American music that is unique to this region. No matter what his or her experience level is, any student will fit right in. Each class is taught by world-class faculty and performers from Baltimore and throughout the country.
But that’s not all. Debuting this year is an all-new musical theatre camp taught by none other than Mr. Warren. This came about, he explains, “because a lot of TNCS students are interested in what happens behind the scenes and are curious about what it’s like to be a working music professional. They’re always asking, ‘Mr. Warren what do you do? How do you feel on stage? What’s the preparation? Do you rehearse a lot? Do you do vocal exercises?’ So my hope for this summer is to give them a taste of what it takes to be a performer on stage, how to channel emotions into theatrical form.”
His plans for theatrical music camp include building sets and doing monologues in addition to musicality. “It should be really fun and, hopefully, maybe spark someone’s interest in theater. That’s my hope,” he says. Parents can attend a performance at the end of the camp week.
Register your child for a music (or any other) camp this summer here. Also plan to enroll your child in a music class for the 2018–2019 school year. Both in-school and extracurricular lessons are affordable and taught by TNCS’s wonderful music instructors.
This year, The New Century School had the very special honor of hosting Baltimore’s first-ever American Music System (AMS) camp from August 14th through 18th. Directed by TNCS’s acclaimed strings instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi, the camp was an unqualified success, and “Mr. Yoshi” and all plan to bring AMS camp to Baltimore (at TNCS) annually. If you missed out this time, mark you calendars for next, because a lot of magic happened over the course of that camp week.
According to their website, AMS-Baltimore gives kids in grades 1–8 “a chance to take part in the musical fabric of America.” What this means was described eloquently by the faculty who taught this year’s camp and follows, but in many ways, the video below captures the essence. One tenet of AMS is that context is relevant—where you make music influences the music, and the music you make in turn influences your surroundings. So, on a walk through Fell’s Point to let campers stretch their legs and grab a quick group photo, when the spirit struck, everyone joined together in a song by the water.
This lovely moment came right on the heels of the aforementioned group photo being photobombed by the local pirates, much to everyone’s delight—again, context is everything! Send out love . . . arrrr!
The Who and the How
AMS-Baltimore camp would not have been the same without the amazing instructors who took a week out of their lives to come to Baltimore and share their talents and their sheer wonderfulness.
It all started with Pamela Wiley, who teaches fiddle and violin. She helped Mark O’Connor develop the O’Connor Method (an approach to teaching strings), which eventually broadened to the American Music System Camp. She met Yoshi at a teacher training she was holding in Napa, CA in 2013 and was taken by his enthusiasm. For the next 3 years, he taught at her camp in Charleston, SC. He loved the concept so much that he expressed his dream of bringing the camp to Baltimore. As the head of AMS, Pam likes to be at all the camps around the country to make sure that the concept is being faithfully implemented.
One of the things that we really want to accomplish is that the kids actually learn something at the camp. They learn the different styles of American music, they learn to play a little bit in each style, and they learn to get comfortable making music together—not just their own skills but the concept of making music with their peers.
And that’s one of the primary principles, that at some point each day, kids play music together in “recitals.” These recitals are relatively unstructured and a way for the kids to experience the joy of playing music together but also to enhance their musicianship exponentially. Pam explains: “The kids get together with friends, and they put together little bands. Then they go up on stage and do a little arrangement of a song they’ve learned. It’s very nice, really truly educational. We teachers stay out of this part of the day.” Pam herself learned to fiddle in a similar way. Having played violin in a symphony orchestra for 28 years, she wanted to be able to jam with her guitar- and banjo-playing friends and so became a “back-porch fiddler” to join in the fun.
Another principle is what Pam calls the “3M principle,” an acronym for music more than melody. “The AMS is holistic music. With most instruments, you learn melodies, one note to the next. Whereas with us, from the beginning, we incorporate harmony and rhythm and awareness of the chord changes,” she explained.
American music itself is also an essential component. “We incorporate as many styles of American music, as possible, including classical. There are several different kinds of fiddling, bluegrass, old time, and Irish, and then there’s jazz, ragtime, pop, and folk music. We also encourage singing.” This music connects us to our history and culture.
We are playing songs that our ancestors played, all of our ancestors played 300 or 400 years ago, so we are actually living American history. We’re playing the same music, the same songs, on the same instrument. We’re doing the real thing, and we try to talk about songs from the Civil War, the Revolutionary War. We’re playing “Cumberland Gap” in the old-time class and talking about where Cumberland Gap is and what a really big part of American history it was.
In addition to Yoshi and Pam, the team of instructors included Pattie Kinlaw from Greenville, NC; Rob Flax from Boston, MA; and Melissa Tong from New York, NY. “I’ve put this faculty together from the teacher-training classes I did from around the country,” said Pam. “I did about 35 states and could just tell from the teacher-training classes just who was going to fit into to this, and those are the people you see at the camp. They all wouldn’t know each other but for me, and I’m so really proud of that.”
It’s clear why she would be proud. In Yoshi’s words:
The most inspiring thing to me about the faculty who are working here is that they just don’t teach at a world class level, but they’re also playing at a world class level. There are very few people you’ll find who can do both. So the thing about this faculty is that every one of them have been amazing players and are trained and study their teaching as hard as they do, so you can tell that they are really committed to the kids and making sure that the music spirit kind of lives through the kids. I’m really inspired by that and glad to be able to work with them again.
Yoshi has been profiled here before (see TNCS Launches Strings Program Under Yoshiaki Horiguchi), but he has a lot more to say about his new role as AMS-Baltimore director. He explains that not actively teaching gave him a whole new perspective: “I am able to observe and absorb the teaching styles of these phenomenal teachers. It’s kind of nice to complete that circle.” He also got to see camp from a new vantage point:
It provides a nice balance between the kind of classical training that this area has loads of and that kind of jamming, improvising mindset. It’s nice musically for the kids but also for finding a balance between perfectionism and improvising through life. Once you’re out of school there are a lot more decisions that you have to make on your own. So starting that mindset early through music education is really a great thing. I’m seeing the students learn how to improvise and take more ownership in the decisions that they make. Instead of being told what note they have to play through sheet music or their teachers telling them it has to be a certain way, it’s them asking the questions that can be tough to ask, like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘What if I don’t do it, what happens?’ and realizing that the worst thing that happens is you play a wrong note, you learn from it, and you just move on. Seeing that manifest itself more concretely in music is a really great thing. Hopefully, they can take that out into their lives.
Jamming, it turns out, becomes a very good metaphor for resilience, and that’s part of why this camp is so vitally important to the dedicated instructors who give so much of themselves to hold it year after year. Music is art, wonder, humanity, math . . . and a vehicle for developing good people. But how do you get kids ages 5 years to 11 years to jam, exactly?
At first it was a little tough to get the kids to start a jam session, which is why we have most of the kids taking a ‘how to jam’ class. Imagine a classically trained player who has never performed anything before it’s perfected now being asked to play something on the spot that he or she has never seen. Having that mindset of the classical player and entering a jam session where mistakes are encouraged and kind of expected is challenging. So those two contradicting ideas were present at the beginning and everyone was a little bit shy. But over the course of the week, they realized that’s kind of the process. You are in a jam session, and you quietly try to figure out the notes. It’s okay to play wrong notes, and eventually you’ll play more and more notes that you know fit in certain parts of the song until the song is over. And that’s your jam session—and it’s okay, you don’t have to play it perfectly.
As a violinist and fiddle player, Pattie Kinlaw teaches classical as well as American roots music and specializes in bluegrass. Enthusiastic and energetic, she says she probably had as much fun as the kids did during camp.
This week has been great! The kids are learning all different tunes, ways to play, and ways to work together. They are a range of ages and also a range of abilities, but, as teachers, and especially because this is a non-method camp, we just want the kids to interact with one another, create music with one another, and make decisions about their own creativity—just really get out of the box. It seems to work really well on various levels.
Although this wasn’t her first visit to Baltimore, she appreciated the opportunity to get to know it a little better, “to hang out, get a feel for the city, get vibe of the people. It’s been a very wonderful experience.” Back in North Carolina where she both teaches and plays, her ensemble Hank, Pattie, and the Current just released their second album.
“I play things with strings, I hit stuff, and I sing. I consider myself an artist, teacher, scholar, an instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, producer, and educator,” said Rob, whose sense of fun is immediately apparent.
I’m a multi-instrumentalist and I play a lot of different instruments. I’m a strong believer in multi-instrumentalism, and I think that it was something that was very valuable for me. So I am teaching, officially, violin technique, and co-conducting an orchestra here at camp, and I’m also teaching drumming on buckets, and shakers, and other hand percussion. I am here on faculty as a bassist and as a mandolin teacher as well. I’m not teaching much mandolin or bass, but I am playing those roles as needed. Everybody in all of my classes will sing as well, because I’m a strong believer in singing as part of that multi-instrumental strategy. There’s also a little bit of dancing here and there—that should be connected to music, I think, especially with the drumming classes.
He isn’t kidding, as you can see here:
He also enjoyed camp very much, saying it went “fantastically well.” “This is the first year of this camp, and everything is running very smoothly. The faculty is outstanding—I’m really honored to be working with these tremendous musicians and educators. The kids are all very enthusiastic, which helps, too.” During his downtime, Rob found bands to jam with all over Baltimore.
“All the faculty are amazing to watch teach. The kids look like they’re having a good time, and they’re getting a nice balance between music time on their own instruments and music making on other instruments.”–Yoshi Horiguchi
As a freelance violinist, pianist, and singer, Melissa plays with orchestras as well as rock bands, pop artists, and singer/songwriters in addition to her own blues band. She also sits in on recording sessions and plays on Broadway.
How she has time to teach AMS camp is a mystery, yet it’s clear why she’s here:
It’s been really inspiring to watch the students blossom throughout the week. On day one, everyone is naturally hesitant and shy, and we’re throwing a lot of new ideas and experiences at them. Then, to watch them open up and embrace it; to jump at the opportunities and take control; to start arranging their own tunes, organizing bands, and performing at the recitals has been really beautiful. One student in particular, who is visiting from China for the summer and speaks basically no English, was at first not engaging in the group activities. But, as the week went on, we have found music, of course, to be the universal language and he has really come around. Also, the kids have started counting off in Chinese for him. When he had his first recital, I almost started crying when he hopped on stage.
Melissa has friends in Baltimore so was able to meet up with them during her spare time as well as get out to see some shows and experience the Baltimore restaurant scene. She also tapped into the Baltimore acro-yoga community and made some new friends while upside down.
As each of her colleagues did, she felt it important to mention how special their coming together is. “We’re all a family; it’s hugely important for us to just get together for camp. We feel like the dream team. We really wouldn’t want to be working with anyone else.” “I hope that we can keep growing it,” she added. “I congratulate Yoshi and the school and community for a great first year.”
On the last day of camp, parents and families were invited to a performance of all the great American (and other) music their children so enjoyed learning throughout their glorious week. From instrumentation to vocalizing to “learning to jam” class, they were immersed in music and being musicians. Here are their songs in the order they were played.
South Appalachian Old Time Class
How to Jam Class
And Thank You, Host Families!
Said Yoshi, “The community has been amazing also, between the hosts and the area around here. The hosts especially have been so incredible to house our faculty for the week and make them feel really welcome. I’ve gotten word from all of the faculty that they’re really enjoying where they’re staying.”
“Making music should be a communal thing and it should be accessible to everyone.” –Yoshiaki Horiguchi.
This year at The New Century School, Music Education, although always an essential component of the curriculum, has grown a new branch. Beginning instruction in cello and violin as well as an intermediate-level String Ensemble have just entered their third month, thanks to the arrival of strings teacher Yoshiaki Horiguchi.
From an early age, Yoshi saw music as a means to make positive change. He humbly credits his musical opportunities to kindnesses that people along the way have paid him more than to his own gifts, which are indisputably extraordinary. He says he was drawn to strings in particular over another class of instruments because of one such experience: “In the 6th grade, my mom sent me to school with the tiny violin that I started on when I was 3 years old to enroll in school orchestra. I was also the tallest kid in my 6th grade orchestra class. When my band director saw this mismatch, she immediately switched me to bass.” Yoshi soon learned just how uplifting a force music could be:
Everyone has a specific connection to music that’s personal to him or her. For me, my particular connection to music is that it was my only way out of a life that I didn’t want to have. It allowed me to continue and finish high school. It allowed me to go to college on full scholarship to UMBC (which I’m extremely grateful for—I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without that). And it has given me a purpose in life and given me a purpose in why I make music, not so much for fame and glamor but to harness the power that music has to heal and to bring people together—like music was able to do for me growing up. I hope to continue to put that back into this world.
His work with TNCS, he says is partly to cultivate a music culture in Baltimore. There are not many strings programs in city schools, unfortunately, and Yoshi thinks that’s a real shame. In talking with school co-founder Jennifer Lawner, whom Yoshi met at a “fiddle camp” in Charleston, SC, they floated the idea of a strings program at TNCS, based on their common belief in “what music can do for not just a child or individual, but for an entire community.”
I think the most important thing [that music can do] is in its potential for a shared experience—it’s a reminder that whatever differences we may have, we’re all human, and we’re all able to have some central core of humanity. So when we make music together and then put our instruments down, music has laid the foundation with those shared experiences to debate constructively about whatever social or political issues are at hand from a humanitarian point of view. The power of music is in reminding us that we are all human.
Yoshi says this humanizing power of music derives from both an emotional and sensory connection and more. “On the emotional side, if a group is going to play a song together, whether it’s for a class or a concert, there’s an exhilaration, a joy . . . some sort of personal breaking through and sharing. Research says that what we remember most are experiences we had during periods of heightened emotion. Making music together, not necessarily doing it perfectly, but figuring things out together and looking at each other across the stage as that music is being made sears the experience into your brain.” Neurologic studies show that listening to and playing music increases dopamine activity in the caudate nucleus, and the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center, correspondingly activates. Yoshi also finds connecting with the audience to be an important facet of playing and enjoys playing solo or in smaller groups to facilitate the interaction—to “tear down the wall between the audience and the stage,” as he puts it.
TNCS Strings Program
This 2016–2017 school year marks the first year of that program as part of the enormous value TNCS places on Music Education, and it’s off to a soaring start. The TNCS strings program is open to students from other area schools, as well, in an effort to broaden the reach and get more city students playing strings instruments.
Yoshi is quick to provide hands-on, personalized help.
Beginning cello class
Beginning violin class
His hope for the TNCS strings program is to add beginning cello and violin classes annually, such that the current-year beginning students will welcome and mentor the incoming protégés—very much in keeping with TNCS’s own philosophy about the synergy of the mixed-age classroom. This approach would not only feed the growing program with fresh crops of students, it would also allow second-year students to learn more deeply from the act of teaching and role-modeling. “When they’re able to practice on their own and teach at the same time, they’re in effect doubling the results of their efforts,”said Yoshi. After 2 years as first a beginner then a mentor, students would progress to Ensemble-level playing, and the Ensemble would grow correspondingly, if Yoshi’s plans are approved and implemented.
An ancillary hope is to take students to performances, depending on what concerts are being scheduled in terms of duration and content. He says Peabody Conservatory is eager to be more community oriented, partly because the state of classical music is that audiences are shrinking. Attending performances has become inaccessible and cost-prohibitive, whereas it should be widely available. Paradoxically, Yoshi says, musicians are playing with increasing technical skill and at ever younger ages, likely due to good-old YouTube, as well as the availability of very small instruments, which allows very young children to begin playing and achieve mastery that much sooner. Peabody, however, is developing community relationships and offering free performances—and is only a couple of blocks away from TNCS. Yoshi sees in this outreach stance an additional opportunity to possibly pair up TNCS students with Peabody teachers-in-training so that TNCS students can benefit from one-on-one instruction in addition to whole-class instruction.
Yoshi plays his double bass.
Musician-Teacher: Merging Two Worlds
In his personal playing, Yoshi has been acclaimed by the Baltimore Sunfor his ability to put on a “dazzling display of dexterity and panache.” As an active double bassist, he spans a broad spectrum of genres and has performed with the York Symphony, Baltimore Boom Bap Society, Opera Camerata of Washington, Classical Revolution Baltimore, and more. Recently, he was the principal bassist to record works by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts. “Yoshi proudly hails from the studios of Ed Malaga, Jeff Koczela, Laura Ruas, Paul DeNola, and Paul Johnson.”
“In addition to being an active performer, Yoshi is a highly sought-after pedagogue.” Having served as the low-strings department chair and string ensemble director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s El Sistema–inspired ORCHKids program, faculty for Peabody’s Bass Works, and faculty for American Music System, his teaching credentials are robust. Yoshi’s International Society of Bassists pedagogy research submission is currently being used as a resource to influence bass teachers across the country. He is also certified in the Mark O’Connor string method and has studied the Suzuki string method, making him an all-around strings pedagogy expert. (Bio was quoted and paraphrased from Yoshi’s website: BassHoriguchi.com.)
But even all of this, as Yoshi explains, is not an exhaustive accounting. He keeps moving forward professionally and finding ways to bring strings to kids. He says that he aims to earn respectability as a classical player but also to continue growing as a teacher so that he has his feet firmly in both worlds and can act as a bridge between these worlds. He explained:
Diversifying your skill set opens your eyes and gives you a more worldly context—it allows you to see how you fit into the world. Teaching for underserved West Baltimore ORCHKids, for example, has given me a reason to get up in the mornings and has honestly made me want to practice more. It’s not that I don’t care about my music career, but I think I care less about that than I care about what I can do for the world. Now, pushing myself as a musician means discovering my potential to give back. Breaking through technical obstacles and overcoming hurdles allows me to teach from a place of empathy, of understanding that this is hard, and maybe even guiding students so they can apply these skills elsewhere.
Yoshi attributes his drive to “pay it forward” to having been so nurtured by his own early teachers, to whom he says wants to both show respect and give back. Finally, he wants to dispel the dual stigma that music teachers are nothing but strict and demanding and that classical music is stultifying and too rigid: “I hope that parents considering enrolling their child here will trust that this program is not at all like that. The kids are wonderful, and I’m learning from them everyday, so hopefully my teaching self will reflect this continual growth. Don’t let that image of what you think classical music may be prevent you from signing up, because you might miss out on something very special happening here.”
You can see just what he means during this year’s Winter Concert, where TNCS strings students will be performing. Additionally, TNCS administration hopes to offer a Strings Camp next summer. “Stay tuned”!
Yoshi, instruments in hand, sits both on top of the world and very much in it.