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Visiting composer brings music to life for Vigo County students

October 28, 2013

More than 160 fourth and fifth graders at two Vigo County elementary schools had a unique experience as part of Indiana State University's Contemporary Music Festival - they were able to meet a living composer.

The students watched as Evan Chambers, principal guest composer for this year's festival, opened a nondescript black case and pulled out his fiddle.

"I'm a composer. I write music and I teach others how to write music," Chambers said. "And I play the fiddle."

His goal during visits to Deming and Franklin Elementary school was simple -taking music composition down to basic levels, emphasizing that composing is as easy as tapping on a desk or clapping your hands in hopes of nurturing a new appreciation for all types of music. In addition to interacting with the composer and hearing some of his works, the students were invited to attend the opening concert of the festival Wednesday evening on the Indiana State campus.

"How many people have written a tune or made up words to a silly song?" Chambers asked students at Franklin Elementary. Roughly half the group raised their hands.

"Guess what? You're a composer," Chambers said. "Music is an expression of how you feel about things."

Chambers, who serves as chair of composition at the University of Michigan, had something in common with the students he visited. He started writing music when he was their age - putting sounds to what he was feeling and writing music with lyrics.

"Anyone know why you have to sit still and be quiet during a classical music concert?" Chambers asked.

"So the musicians can concentrate," answered a student. Another commented about not disturbing the people sitting nearby.

"It's so you can feel the music," Chamber explained. "Think about the music moving through you. Listen for ups and downs and contrast in sound."

Raising his fiddle to his chin, Chambers began playing a traditional Irish folk tune."What are you playing?" one student asked.

"One thing to remember about Irish folk music - There's all these tunes and no one remembers their names," Chambers responded with a chuckle.

He continued playing as his young students tapped their feet.

"What makes music cool is how it makes you move," Chambers said. "In Irish music, you can tap your foot - it's almost required. It's like a drum."

One student bravely asked the obvious question.

"What's it like being a composer?"

Chambers started by saying that it is a different experience for everyone.

"I like Irish music," he said. "So I take the music I like to play and put it into the classical music I'm writing."

"So, are you Irish?" a student asked.

Chambers, with fiddle in hand, smiled.

"I'm not Irish," he said. "I'm Polish, Scottish and German. I got into Irish folk music because it's so much fun."

Another student asked the composer, who has performed at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall, if he ever experienced stage freight. Chambers responded with a reference to the "Beetlejuice" movie before giving his straight answer.

"If you're nervous and excited about going on stage, that's OK," he said. "Going on stage is no big deal."

Franklin, like other Vigo County School Corporation elementary schools, has a string program for fifth grade students. Chambers took time to emphasize the discipline it takes to learn an instrument and provide some timely advice.

"Discipline, in this case, means practice," Chambers said. "And practicing shouldn't be thought of as punishment.

String students at Franklin are encouraged to practice 50 minutes a week. Chambers encouraged the young musicians to break that down into small pieces - 10 minutes a day, five days a week.

"You can get a lot accomplished in 10 minutes a day," he said, adding that he practices as much as he can just because he enjoys it.

This is the first of a two-part school outreach program, funded through a grant by Indiana State's Center for Community Engagement. Indiana State students will return to these schools in the next month or two to perform works by Chambers.

"Educational outreach is one of the most important missions of the festival," said Kurt Fowler, artistic director of the Contemporary Music Festival and a professor with the School of Music. "Visits to the schools connect a prominent, living composer and his music to young minds to nurture an appreciation for music."

Contact and Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or paula.meyer@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

More than 160 fourth and fifth graders at two Vigo County elementary schools had a unique experience as part of Indiana State University's Contemporary Music Festival - they were able to meet a living composer.

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