Music educator Miriam Capellan returns (her previous blog is here) with a vivid account of special day in the life (pandemic version) of a primary level music teacher. The new work being rehearsed can be heard in performance Saturday March 13, 2021 (links below)
Composer and poet Regina Harris Baiocchi meets with students
On a chilly morning this January, snow was in the air in Arlington, Virginia. Just across the Potomac River from Washington DC, 4th and 5th grade children clicked the familiar link to join their weekly live chorus session. They leaned in close to their school-issued iPads, eager with anticipation and ready to meet someone they had been hearing about for months: composer and poet Regina Harris Baiocchi.
“I love the way the sun shines on the frozen lake,” Ms. Baiocchi told them when asked what kinds of things inspire her to write music and poetry.
“That must be beautiful. Can you see the lake from your window?” I asked, adding “remember, Ms. Baiocchi lives in Chicago, so who knows what lake she might be able to see from her window?”
“Lake Michigan!” one student unmuted to exclaim.
In each 4th and 5th grade rehearsal, the children took turns singing phrases of the pieces she wrote for each group: “Things Change” and “Journey”. The young singers beamed as Ms. Baiocchi praised their performances, letting them know that the articulation in the beginning should sound just like the stopper on a pipe organ opening and closing. In another phrase, she demonstrated the necessary syncopation for the triplets.
“Why did you write a piece for us?” asked one student. Ms. Baiocchi smiled and told them that she first set out to write one piece but that sometimes composing is ‘like a faucet you can’t turn off’ and she ended up writing two.
I thought back to last spring (2020) when Ms. Baiocchi and I first started the planning for this project. I have always been completely blown away by the helpfulness and generosity of so many composers I’m lucky enough to interact with over Twitter. Still, I was overwhelmed and incredibly grateful when I tweeted asking for help understanding choral commission fees, and Ms. Baiocchi immediately responded, offering to help with more information. We began to chat a bit more and the seeds were planted for the commission project. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that a composer of Ms. Baiocchi’s experience and international acclaim would really consider doing a commission for our little 5th grade choir. I was over the moon!
Elementary choir directors like me often struggle with available scores for our groups. A glance through the JW Pepper “Editor’s Choice” list for elementary choral is a frustrating experience. So many pieces honestly lack the depth and musicality that our youngest singers deserve. Worse, the composers featured are almost all white men. If I followed the major publishers and distributors ‘editorial guidance’, a majority of my choir would not be represented by the composers we perform. What message am I sending to all the students in the choir if I choose to ignore this? What music can elementary choir directors seek out to ensure that our students receive a more accurate picture of who a composer is, past and present?
Regina Harris Baiocchi has been advocating for women and Black composers for years. A student of Hale Smith and mentee of Margaret Rosezarian Harris, Ms. Baiocchi’s compositional style is wide-ranging and encyclopedic, representing instrumentation from solo frame drum to pipe organ and opera. “I had a goal from a young age to write for every instrument I possibly could,” Ms. Baiocchi told the choir students.
In 2010, Ms. Baiocchi founded the 6Degrees Composers, celebrating women composers from different musical backgrounds. Composers Patricia Morehead, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Ester “Hana” Hanviriyapunt and Kyong Mee Choi join her in the group, performing numerous concerts throughout the year (a concert from July 2020 is here). On March 13th, the 6Degrees composers will present a live-streamed concert of their original music, highlighting women performers, and directors. Included in the family-friendly performance celebrating women composers will be the Arlington 4th and 5th graders, premiering “Things Change” and “Journey” via virtual choir.
Back in our January virtual rehearsal, the young singers still had more questions for Ms. Baiocchi. Their questions definitely reflected both the curiosity of childhood and the current events that often weigh heavily on their young minds.
“Do you have a pet?” one 4th grader wanted to know.
“No, I do not have a pet but one day I would like to have a teacup terrier”
“Why do you like writing songs? Does it make you feel anything?” one girl asked.
“Writing music allows me to express myself in unique ways. I learn to
use metaphors, similes, different languages (like Swahili), etc. Since I love learning, reading and writing makes me feel good,” Ms. Baiocchi answered with a smile.
“Where did you get the idea to write the songs? Are they related to Black Lives Matter?” asked a 5th grade girl.
“I was inspired to write “Journey” by a poem I read. I was inspired to write “Things Change” because of lessons my Mother taught me. Neither are related to #BlackLivesMatter, but I think the thing about music is that, if you hear something in the music, then it is there. So I may not have started out to write about Black Lives Matter but if it reminds you of the Black Lives Matter movement, then that makes the song even richer.”
The 6Degrees Composers Women’s Heritage Month concert will livestream on twitch.tv/HotHouseGlobal
For more info, visit the HotHouse Event Page :
6Degrees Women’s Heritage Month Concert 3/13/21
We look forward to the excitement of this premiere, and what an adventure for the young musicians to work with a composer and take part in bringing a new work to life!