Written by Garrett Mendez:
One of Archipelago’s main objectives has always been to demonstrate how music is a reflection of cultural identity. We aim to show how music can bring people together from all different social and cultural backgrounds. Through the years of Archipelago, I have seen this take place numerous times, but the two and half day residency that took place just recently in Stamford, might have been one of the best examples of this social and cultural interaction I have ever seen. Over the course of 3 days, three programs from very different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds came together to collaborate and perform with one another. King Low Heywood Thomas, the private school where I run the K-12 instrumental music program, hosted 8 students from the Baltimore OrchKids program(run by Dan) and 8 students from the Bravo Waterbury! program. Each program also brought 4 teachers from their programs. The collaboration definitely had an Archipelago vibe to it.
The purpose of residency was to have students from different backgrounds learn about each others’ lives by using the ensemble as the means to communicate. The students had long and intense rehearsals, preparing a wide range music styles from Dvorak to Michael Jackson, and of course, Sacred Fanfare. What I found amazing was how the students started to interact with each other very organically with out any predesigned activities to learn about each other. The goal of preparing the music for 3 school performances was all they needed to find common ground to open up the channels to communicate. By the end, everybody was hanging out in the lunch room and practicing their dance moves in the halls. As the program concluded, the students traded pictures and contact info and were trying to figure out when they would have their next chance to make music together.
During the 3 days, the OrchKids and Bravo students also came down to PROJECT MUSIC, Stamford’s new El-Sistema inspired program and helped mentor the young students. Personally, this was one of the most powerful experiences and it is hard for me to even express in words. I have been around the OrchKids and Bravo programs for quite a while and I have known some of the students who came up since they were in 3rd grade. To see how music has helped make them into such thoughtful and kind young men and women is amazing. That they gravitate towards mentoring other young musicians shows how successful these programs have been and why they are so important for us to support in any way we can.
To sum up the experience of this 3 day residency, I would just say it has reinforced my belief in how important music and music education is in our development and why it is necessary for us to keep pushing everyone to make music a more important part of our lives. I can’t wait to see the OrchKids when Archipelago comes to Baltimore next month and I look forward to bringing some Bravo students with me to Traverse City this summer!