The Youth Orchestra and Ballet School Project

A Conversation on Growth and Opportunity for Young Creatives

by Brianna Sörne | Photography by Dave Barfield

Our city continues expand with events, projects, and organizations that encourage meaningful engagement between diverse groups of the community. Now more than ever it is imperative for us to participate in the conversations that lead us to further discovery so that we may inspire and enlighten our future successors. As a lover of the arts and an advocate for their representation, I feel that more people in our community should be better informed about local projects that are contributing to the culture of our growing city, and the different ways it is beginning to manifest. One such project is the collaboration between the Tallahassee Youth Orchestra and the Tallahassee Ballet School. I spoke with former Executive Director Achia Floyd and Dr. Alexander Jiménez, Music Director, who are among many that have put forth much effort into inspiring and educating Tallahassee’s youth groups towards truly special experiences and impressive workmanship. At the time of the writing of this article, both TYO and TBS rehearsed for a joint concert to showcase Ballet 2017, a work written by Pulitzer Prize-Winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwillich, which Dr. Jiménez specifically commissioned for the youth groups.

Organizing a concert like Ballet 2017 means that the children of both groups were challenged to perform a professionally written artistic piece and present it to the people of Tallahassee as a message of what we can offer each other. The music doesn’t follow a strict story or narrative, but rather is “an abstract modern piece meant to showcase the students and the fact that what they do is worthwhile and worth seeing, even if they’re not professionals.” The work also extends beyond the local stage, as it has been published and is available for orchestras to perform across the nation. TYO will have the rights for two years and their name will be on the first page of the published work. So while the project is showcase of artistic talent on a city level, it is also a statement to the country, on behalf of Tallahassee; an invitation for different platforms of creative collaboration. Following is an excerpt from my discussion of these topics with Dr. Jiménez.

What new opportunities do you hope this project will bring for TYO and TBS? What are you aiming to say on behalf of Tallahassee?

Jiménez: “What I hope is that the students, no matter what they do, they’ll have the experiences of playing an instrument and also having been somewhat sensitized to other art forms. We hope that will affect them and that they’ll have an appreciation; the audience too. We hope that through the publication of this work, that we can perhaps encourage other youth groups to do something similar, finding out where their local dance school is, and connecting… It elevates the conversation to something a little bit beyond the local environment.”

Why commission a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer to write a piece specifically for the youth groups?

Jiménez: “There’s a lack of music written by major composers for younger orchestras. Most of the music that’s written for younger orchestras is written by people who sort of have a pedagogical approach to writing music; educators that perhaps have compositional background, and they’re good composers, there’s nothing wrong with them at all, but they’re writing specifically for an educational purpose, and usually the pieces are graded in a certain way… we learn certain scales, certain rhythms, etc., but an artistic work for youth orchestra? That’s what’s missing… I’m very, very fortunate to have a relationship with someone like Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. We’ve worked together quite a bit, we’ve recorded together, etc., so why not offer to this our kids? And I was fully expecting her to say ‘No, I’m not doing this.’ She had quite the opposite reaction, which was, ‘I think this is a great challenge.’ This is a woman who has already sewed her professional oats internationally; there’s no reason for her to do this. But she loved the concept of the students having the opportunity to interact with her, and interact in the creative process. So it moves beyond simply recreating music and puts them also in a situation where they are experiencing and appreciating what composers do… she wrote a work that is very appropriate for our orchestra that still is very much her music. That’s part of the challenge. It’s hard to write for a younger group and also say all the things you want to say as a great artist…she’s managed to do that, and I knew she would because she has that kind of craftsmanship.”

What differences do you see working with young musicians?

Jiménez: “What you get out of them, once you tap into them. Once they get going—what they give you in energy, what they give you in passion—[they’re] in awe about what’s happening, it’s so rewarding. Sometimes a professional won’t give you that, I mean they play really well and they don’t miss anything, but…they’ve played that Beethoven symphony a hundred times, so unless you’re doing something spectacularly different than what they’ve done before, they’ll go through it, they’ll do it well, there’s an audience out there, they’ll collect a check, and we’re done. These kids, it’s a process of molding, shaping, discovery. And they are kids so they don’t know what it is yet to walk off the street, sit down, and get to work, so sometimes it takes twenty minutes to get them moving, but once you do it’s really a beautiful thing.”


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