As a lifelong musician and lover of music, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about music, studying different instruments, and partaking in the amazing musical gifts this community offers in its generous sweep and variety of genres.
My daughter, Eva, like many children who live here, has had the privilege of growing up in a community overflowing with musical performers, performances and opportunities. Beginning as a toddler with “Music Together,” Eva moved on to piano lessons with the late Anna Gold, then to more piano with Joan Tumilty. She has also studied trumpet with Glenn Smith for many years.
Like many of her friends, Eva has participated in every possible music program from elementary school through high school. In 5th grade, she started trumpet with Ruth Mary Harrup, and went on to band and choir at both Seven Hills and Nevada Union. This translates to many hours of music played on any given day while in school as well as after school and on weekends.
Summer brings joyful immersion into Alasdair Fraser’s Sierra Fiddle Camp. Her father and I rarely experience a day without Eva’s trumpet, piano, singing, and humming weaving through the texture of our soundscapes.
Five years ago, Eva started studying with professional composer Mark Vance, in his brilliantly constructed Composer’s Program that teaches composition to middle and high school students. Mark has a special talent for igniting compositional interest in students and enormous capacity for guiding that interest into well-constructed pieces that express each student’s unique sensibilities. While several short films have been made about this program, it’s easy to imagine a full-length documentary about the creative relationships that are fostered between teacher and students, as well as students with each other.
During her years in Mark’s program, Eva has composed many different musical arrangements, based on poems by Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, William Butler Yeats and Robert Frost, as well as in collaboration with local nonprofits and agencies, including Hospitality House, the Crocker Art Museum, SYRCL, Sierra Harvest and the US Forest Service. Notably, all pieces completed within the project are performed by professional musicians.
Children and young adults participating in InConcert Sierra’s Composer’s Program learn a variety of excellent life skills including research, public speaking, resume writing, composition software, and visioning and overseeing performances of their pieces. They learn what goes into musical composition and develop sensibilities about art, creativity, and music that easily transfer to writing, dancing, theatre and other forms of creative expression. They learn what steps are required to bring the seed of a creative idea to fruition.
While a good number of his students have gone on to pursue musical careers in performance, film and theater scoring, and other musical paths, Mark is clear about his prioritization of teaching skills that can be used in life in addition to music.
In the past year and a half we watched Mark pivot, seemingly effortlessly, to meet the needs of his students once Covid-19 prevented meeting in the usual way. The compositional results were better than ever. As father and stepfather to five young men, and an active grandfather to all of their children, Mark has an easy-going, unflappable, humorous approach to working with young people wherein he is able to meet each child at their individual skill level and set of interests to create works of art that will be noteworthy and beautiful.
When students see their pieces performed, they are amazed. I’ve witnessed incredulity, as though they were thinking, “I did that. I had an idea and look where it went.” In a world where a sense of agency and volition are critical to navigating forward to solve the myriad problems facing humans, this kind of inventive thinking brings joy and comfort and carries over to many other aspects of life. Doors open for these students as they build confidence and believe in their talents.
In response to the most recent series of compositions resulting from the Spring 2021 session focusing on wildfire in collaboration with the US Forest Service, professional cellist and former Nevada County music instructor David Eby writes, “As a professional cellist versed in contemporary music, I am astounded at the level of creative artistry in each of the young composers’ pieces over time and in this most recent concert on Sunday, Aug. 8. I love seeing how Mark Vance taps into what the young composers want to express. I love that he makes subtle suggestions that bring fuller expression in the pieces, but leave them in the composer’s voice. Instead of ‘here’s how I would do it,’ Mark opens the door for the young composers to see for themselves other possibilities that light them up.
The compositions in these performances hold no trace of intellectual entanglement, and express beauty without pretense.
As a performer and composer myself, listening to this music is the freshest experience imaginable. I love it.”
InConcert Sierra’s Composers Project is just about to begin accepting applications for the ’21-’22 year. For more information, visit www.inconcertsierra.org > education > composers project.
Annette Dunklin is a resident of Nevada County since 1987. Her daughter, Eva, is a senior at Nevada Union High School