AMS-Baltimore Camp Enjoys Second Amazing Year at TNCS!

At The New Century School, music education is extremely important:

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.

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“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.

amc-smallAmerican 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.

tncs-amc-baltimore-summer-campYoshi 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.”

We’re Jammin’

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.

Bucket Band

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.

Welcoming New Participants

This year, in addition to camp enrollees, AMC-Baltimore welcomed two students from OrchKids as well as a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School to join fiddle camp.

“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.

jnf6iAyanna, 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.

QJYm6Isiah, 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.”

Final Performance

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!

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TNCS Launches Strings Program under Yoshiaki Horiguchi!

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“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.

Meet Yoshi

Born in Tokyo, Japan, “Yoshi,” as he likes to be known, moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 5 years old and attended Horace Mann Elementary School From there, he moved to Maryland’s Montgomery County, where he completed schooling. After graduating as a Linehan Artists Scholar from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and then taking a couple of years to play music on a freelance basis, Yoshi landed a full scholarship as an Aegon USA scholar at the Peabody Conservatory at the Johns Hopkins University to pursue graduate studies, where he is currently in his second year.

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.

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.

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Yoshi plays his double bass.

Musician-Teacher: Merging Two Worlds

In his personal playing, Yoshi has been acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun for 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”!

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Yoshi, instruments in hand, sits both on top of the world and very much in it.