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"Hey Mozart!" a program for all ages.

Composer Alejandro Rutty envisioned a setting in which children, college students and adult professional musicians could come together to make

music. At the time, Rutty was a member of the music faculty at Hartwick College in upstate New York. In 2003, he saw his dream come to fruition in the Hartwick College "Hey, Mozart!" Child Composer Project, a program that has since expanded to New Mexico. If Rutty has anything to say about it, "Hey, Mozart!" will be adopted by states across the nation.

"Most times [in music] it's the adults telling the children what to do," Rutty says. "But 'Hey, Mozart!' is a partnership."

Although the final product--a fullblown symphony concert--evolves from a partnership, the process begins with simple melodies composed by children. Using "Hey, Mozart! New Mexico" as an illustration, here's how the program works.

Submitting The Original Melodies

Each year, children ages 12 and younger are invited to submit original melodies for consideration by a "Hey, Mozart!" reviewing team. The melodies may be submitted either in music notation or recorded on a CD. Some children play their melodies on instruments, while others simply sing them. No entry fee is charged, making the project open to children from all economic levels.

Selecting The Compositions

A reviewing team composed of two professional musicians listens to the entries, looking for those that best lend themselves to arrangement for an orchestra. The reviewers select pieces from 16 composers, and these melodies are given to arrangers. Several "honorable mentions" are also named.

Katie Harlow, the musical director for "Hey, Mozart! New Mexico," is a member of the reviewing team. She currently teaches on the performing arts faculty at Albuquerque Academy, a private school for 6th through 12th grades. Harlow teaches composition to 6th graders at the Academy.

"I help kids mine their own melodies," she says. "It's wonderful when a child follows their own individual, 'quirky' style--and I mean quirky in the best sense of the word. I admire kids with a strong sense of creative authority."

Harlow says that when reviewers consider the "Hey, Mozart!" melodies, they can "just tell" which of them is a candidate for finalist.

Arranging The Final Selections

When the "Hey, Mozart!" project began at Hartwick College, both music faculty members and music students served as arrangers. The inclusion of students brought yet another generation of musicians into the project.

For the 2009 "Hey, Mozart! New Mexico" project, arrangers included music students from New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico, and Eastern New Mexico University; music faculty members from UNM; Harlow and Rutty.

"The arrangers use whimsy and delight in arranging the pieces," says Harlow. "It's all very 21st-century."

Recording The Compositions

Every year since Rutty's first "Hey, Mozart!" project in 2003, the melodies have been recorded on CD and made available to the public. The small chamber symphony orchestra "Chatter," conducted by David Felberg, associate concertmaster of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, recorded the 2009 "Hey, Mozart! New Mexico" CD.

The Symphony Performance

Perhaps the most exciting part of the "Hey, Mozart!" project happens when the composers perform their melodies and a symphony orchestra presents them in fully orchestrated form at a free concert. For the past two years, Felberg has conducted the NMSO in a "Hey, Mozart!" concert at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Four composers in the 2008 "Hey, Mozart!" who are from Las Cruces, New Mexico, also performed at the Pops 4 Kids concert held at New Mexico State University.

Composers have not heard the full arrangements of their pieces until the day of the symphony performance, and the opportunity for the composers to meet their arrangers and hear their compositions played by professional musicians "sends the kids to the moon," says Brookes McIntyre, president of "Hey, Mozart! New Mexico."

McIntyre also talks about the respect the children have for their arrangers. One NMSU arranger from the 2008 project was surprised and humbled when he met his child composer. "No one has ever asked me for my autograph before," he declared.

Perhaps the most gratifying of results is observed in the symphony musicians, says McIntyre. "One little girl broke down before the big concert. I caught the first symphony musician who arrived--a violinist--and asked him if he would talk with her. He gave her a pep talk, and she did it. You confront your fears and you move on. It was such a wonderful thing for the children to learn."

Currently, "Hey, Mozart!" projects have taken root in New York State and New Mexico, and Rutty has started developing the program in North Carolina, where he now teaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He also offers technical assistance to the projects, including a "carefully crafted, intertwined set of events that have to take place in a particular way," he says. For example, after children have submitted their melodies, "judges have to know the process arrangers must go through to make the melodies okay for orchestras." Harlow seconds this, adding that the pieces selected must be ones that will "play well" by a small chamber orchestra.

That doesn't mean, however, that the children's pieces, which they name themselves, need stodgy titles. Recent compositions include "17 Flying Horses," "Elephant Fingers" and "Becoming Rat Food." Listening to a CD of these pieces, one can see how much "whimsy and delight" the arrangers have captured.

"There's something magical about the program," says Rutty of his "Hey, Mozart!" experiences. "Every single 'Hey, Mozart!' done in New York and New Mexico has been successful. It's a full circle that leaves everyone happy."

Rutty hopes other states will adopt the project now that its success has been shown in both New York and New Mexico. Work is being done to establish a formal licensing agreement that will allow musicians in other states to run their own projects while maintaining the goals of "Hey, Mozart!" In New Mexico, those goals are to:

* Provide New Mexico children an opportunity for individual creative expression.

* Allow children to participate in a professional music enterprise culminating in a CD and one or more live performances.

* Have children co-create a music repertoire for children.

* Make possible a life-transforming experience for children initiated by their own independent music composition.

* Promote music appreciation in children, especially those limited by geography, ethnicity, economics or disability.

* Advance statewide arts education and support music educators.

Kathy Kuenzer is a free-lance writer, pianist, former piano teacher and retired professor of literature and writing. She has a Ph.D. degree in the humanities, with an emphasis on early 20th-century literature, music and art.
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Author:Kuenzer, Kathy
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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