CONNECTING KIDS TO MUSIC.
Two Santa Fe sisters among finalists in Hey Mozart! musical competition
By John Knoll
For The New Mexican
Elliot Stern, a clinical and behavioral psychologist, thinks human beings are hard-wired to make music.
A member of the Hey Mozart! board of directors, an organization that sponsors an annual musical competition for New Mexicans 12 and younger, Stern is a strong believer in the humanizing and civilizing nature of music.
"The lack of musical education is a real tragedy," Stern said. "Without a musical understanding, people can't understand their culture and tradition."
Hey Mozart! attempts to give children an opportunity for individual creative expression through music by sponsoring a statewide program where children are invited to submit original melodies.
Hey Mozart!, in its fourth year of existence in New Mexico, had a record 264 entries this year, up from 2007's 106 entries.
The increase in Santa Fe entries exploded from two in 2007 to 32 in 2008, thanks to a strong public-relations effort.
"I talked to 30 public-school teachers about eight months ago," Stern said, "and that, I think, is one reason we have the increased participation."
Corroborating Stern's theory that humans are hard-wired to make music, Santa Fe's two finalists are sisters Jade and Jasmine Kennedy. Their father, John Kennedy, is also a composer.
"I think DNA might have a lot to do with musical talent," Stern said.
The Kennedy sisters were two of
16 finalists selected. On Sept. 12, the finalists' melodies, after being arranged for a full orchestra under the direction of artistic director Alejandro Rutty, were performed by members of the New Mexico Symphony at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
The orchestrated versions of the original compositions were recorded and released on a CD.
Not all of the entries were in the classical mode, Stern said. There were mariachi melodies, rock 'n' roll, country and reggae.
Jade Kennedy, 6, composed her piece, "Elephant Fingers," on the piano without the assistance of her father.
" 'Elephant Fingers' is smooth music, kind of classical," Jade said. "It's about the fifth or sixth song I've composed. My first song was called 'Jumping Pumpkins,' like Charlie Brown style."
Unlike her sister, who submitted "Elephant Fingers" on a CD, Jasmine Kennedy, 9, submitted a written score. She said Char Rothschild, her music teacher, helped her write the notes after she played the song. Her song, "Playful Puppies," was composed on the piano.
Jasmine said she wrote her first song when she was 7.
"My first song that I made up was called 'My Puppy Is New,' " she said. "It was a happy, kiddy melody with crazy rhyming lyrics, like 'I saw a puppy on the street/I gave him some yummy meat/I took him home so he could eat/And then he licked my feet.' Something like that."
"By participating in Hey Mozart!, children understand they can do something original," Stern said. "The most important thing is making a kid feel they are actively involved in their education."
Stern said he'd like to do a follow-up study on the young musicians to see how many go into creative pursuits.
The Kennedy sisters both said they want to continue making music.
Jade said, "I want to join a chorus and sing," while Jasmine said, "My goal is to write good songs and have fun."
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