Houston AFA relaunches Summer Music Festival for young musicians

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Jude Vaclavik, AFA faculty artist and alumnus, with composition student Danae Venson.

Photo: David DeHoyos

Last month, after a pandemic-related hiatus in 2020, the AFA celebrated the return of its annual summer music festival and marked a milestone in its history.

Despite ongoing coronavirus precautions, the 25th anniversary of the flagship program has prevailed, serving approximately 300 musicians in grades 3 through 12 with five weeks of training under the direction of renowned teacher artists. Held at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the intensive will conclude this week with chamber recitals for various instrumentalists, performances for junior and intermediate level pianists, a final concert with orchestra and a virtual premiere that will present new films of dance works by a handful of high school students participating in the Composition Studio session.

The latter – which will air on AFA’s social media on the evening of July 23 – will offer viewers a glimpse into the creative process with behind-the-scenes interviews of composers while highlighting the organization’s long-standing collaboration with the Houston Ballet Academy.

“Being a successful songwriter is all about collaboration,” says AFA Executive Director Amanda Fisher, who approached former Houston Ballet General Manager Cecil C. Conner Jr. with founder of the AFA, J. Todd Frazier, to discuss a possible partnership two years after the nonprofit music provider. education was established in 1993. “The Houston Ballet, they really taught us how to collaborate. There is no program for high school students like this in the country. College level, absolutely, but high school, that’s what we’re known for.

The pre-professional experience, which usually ends with a live performance at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, began with a week of brainstorming as usual. The composers were given a five-minute time limit and a predetermined set of instruments to write for, but unlike in previous years, the student choreographers at the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive, with whom they are paired, were tasked with filming dancers. solo at a maximum of two locations around town.

“We have what I consider to be a songwriter-choreographer speed dating, where they’re all sitting at a table, and they’re talking about the direction they want to take, their own tastes and styles,” says composer Mark Buller, who serves as AFA’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “Then they vote in order of priority to see who wants to be with whom. “

After the first table chat, which took place on Zoom this year, student choreographer Olivia McBain teamed up with composer Danae Venson, a recent Dulles High School graduate, who set out to recreate the hazy nature of Camille Pissarro’s “The Fog Effect”. by sound.

“I was very inspired by the way the blue just blends together,” she says of the painting. “I have something called synesthesia, where I can see music, and so I wanted to do the color blue. I wanted my song to sound blue – fluid, airy, beautiful, lyrical.

First video from AFA Composition Studio

When: 7 p.m. 23 July

Or: AFA’s YouTube and Facebook (www.youtube.com/afatexas and www.facebook.com/afatexas)

Details: afatexas.org

Also this week at Kinder HSPVA, 790 Austin St.: chamber recitals – July 22 at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. junior piano recital – July 24 at 10 a.m. intermediate piano recital – July 24 at noon; final orchestral concert – July 24 at 2 p.m.

Venson only discovered his interest in songwriting last summer, but his musical journey began in church long before that, from singing in a choir at age four on the keyboard in the then youth group. that he was a preteen. She took formal piano lessons before pursuing violin studies at college, during which time Amanda Heathco, AFA’s senior program director, visited her orchestra class to promote the organization’s educational opportunities. Intrigued by the prospect of staying productive over the summer vacation while meeting new friends, Venson auditioned and joined the AFA family in 2015.

Although the 2020 Summer Music Festival was canceled, Venson studied at a distance with Jude Vaclavik, a former AFA student turned world-class composer and PhD from The Juilliard School, after which she studied. joins the AFA Institute of Composers all year round. Recently, she received an honorable mention at the prestigious Morton Gould Young Composer Awards from the ASCAP Foundation.

In the fall, it will take one more step, just like the AFA. Bidding farewell to its longtime home in Sixth Ward, the organization will begin operating out of the new Garza Studios in the East End. Meanwhile, Venson intends to attend the Mannes School of Music.

“The most exciting thing about composing is that I’ll never be short of stars to hit,” she says. “I firmly believe that if I had never attended a summer at the AFA, I would not be preparing to move to New York to study composition. No book could replace the advice, mentorship and support I received from the composing faculty here.





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