Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

From Music Comp Class to March 1st Recital

February 27, 2011

(from L) Comp music student, Arik, and his teacher, Kevin Michael Sullivan, discuss the merits of the class

By Marcia E. Gawecki

A new honors music composition class is quickly gaining popularity at Idyllwild Arts. Mostly because of its recent collaboration between music students and poetry students on campus. The two groups are teaming up for a performance for “Idyllwild Arts Day” in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 12.

They are taking original poems and setting them to music. However, some of their collaborations will be previewed this Tuesday night, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. as part of an Idyllwild Arts Music Faculty Concert at Stephens Recital Hall.

Each of the four hand-picked music students in the comp class get individual attention, said Kevin Michael Sullivan, the instructor. The four students are Caleb, a trumpet player; Arik and Benny, pianists; and Chris, a viola player.

“They keep me on my game,” Kevin said of the group who has helped him with his own music compositions. “They’re good kids and very sharp.”

Vocal music student, Samuel (shown here at another performance) helps out the composition students with their ongoing work

Oftentimes in class, Samuel, a classical vocal music student, sings their compositions out loud, so they can make adjustments.

“The first few class sessions were hard,” Sam said. “Mostly because the writer and the composer didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”

Benny said that his first composition climaxed too early, and it wasn’t exactly what he wanted.

“Do you think I could transpose it?” he asked Kevin, while eating lunch in the cafeteria.

“I think that would work,” Kevin said.

Sam, who sang Benny’s first song, agreed that it needed a change.

“The high ranges almost killed my voice,” he said, jokingly.

Sam said that he takes notes on the poems during the composition class to see what the best interpretation might be. He said that he considers himself a “vehicle” for the writer, in keeping the words “sacred.”

The creative writers who are providing the poems and collaborating with the musicians, include: Rebecca, Whitney and two Austins.

Benny, a pianist, enjoys the challenge of the honors music comp class. Courtesy photo.

Caleb, who is working with Austin on his poem, “New World Order,” about mankind, said that he heard it at last year’s Parallex (a student publication) reading, and liked it.

Caleb is setting Austin’s poem to modern music, using a bunch of different instruments from a sound mixer to achieve the desired effect.

“Caleb’s piece is really cool, but very complex,” Sam said.

With most of the poetry collaboration songs, Sam will sing them onstage at the “Idyllwild Arts Day in LA. However, with Caleb’s piece, Austin’s voice will be prerecorded. Austin will be reciting the words, while Sam will be singing the melody.

“Caleb decided that only my voice was right for the voice over,” Austin said.

At the same time, Sam is a little nervous about the Caleb-Austin collaboration, because he’ll be out of town with his own senior vocal auditions while it’s being completed.

“It’ll all work out,” Sam said. “It always does.”

Whitney, a creative writing student who is working with Arik, a piano player, is also a little nervous about her collaboration.

Austin is collaborating with Caleb on one of his poems, "New World Order"

“I don’t want to say, ‘nervous,’ because it sounds like I don’t trust him,” Whitney said.

She said this was the first time that one of her poems has been set to music. She is looking forward to seeing it performed onstage.

“It’s terrifying to hear your work performed onstage,” Kevin said. “You’re like a parent in the audience, and have no control over what’s being done up there.”

At the last faculty recital, one of Kevin’s pieces was performed by Idyllwild Arts faculty and students. During Tuesday night’s faculty recital, not only will Kevin’s pieces be performed, but he will also be playing the saxophone.

Even though they are not completed, some of these music composition-poetry collaborations will be performed at the recital this Tuesday night, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Stephens Recital Hall on campus.  Faculty and guest artists will perform oboe, sax and piano, along with some classical music and jazz students.

All recitals and concerts at Idyllwild Arts are free and open to the public. For more information, visit or call (951) 659-2171.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

: Feb 27, 2011 @ 10:13

Student Pianist to Perform on Valentine’s Night

February 13, 2011

Timmy will host his senior recital on Valentine's Eve

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Looking for a special way to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Consider bringing your loved one to a free student piano recital at the Idyllwild Arts Academy.

Tianpeng, known as “Timmy,” at Idyllwild Arts, will host his senior piano recital on Monday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stephens Recital Hall on campus.

You may remember Timmy as the winner (classical instrumental) of the 21st Annual Music Center Spotlight Awards two years ago. As a sophomore, he beat out 2,000 other high school student musicians from Southern California. In addition to prize money and a summer internship, Timmy performed before a large crowd at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

In a close up video for the Spotlight Awards, Timmy talked about growing up in China, and how music grew into a bigger part of his life.

Nelms McKelvain, Timmy’s piano teacher, said that he had enormous music potential.

Timmy's senior recital poster on campus

“When you get a student as good as Timmy, it requires you to be the best possible teacher than you can ever be,” Nelms said. “Because you have a responsibility.”

“Music is a language that I can understand,” Timmy said in that same video. “And it understands me.”

During performances, Timmy is known for playing very soft and gentle. His fingers barely emit a sound from the keys. And then, suddenly, he is playing forcefully, thrusting his head and shoulders forward, hair in his eyes, as his fingers race across the keyboard. Needles to say, Timmy is an entertaining performer.

In fact, you can watch and hear Timmy play his 2009 Spotlight Performance on You Tube.  (Just “2009 Tianpeng Yu Performance” or “2009 Tianpeng Yu Up Close”).

On Valentine’s Eve, Timmy will play selections from some of his favorite composers, including Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Copeland. One can imagine that some of the selections will be romantic in nature.

Like all music recitals at Idyllwild Arts, Timmy’s Valentine’s Evening recital is free and open to the public. It starts at 7:30 p.m. sharp at Stephens Recital Hall off Apela Drive (at the end of Tollgate) on campus. For more information, call (951) 659-2171 or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Feb 13, 2011 @ 23:09

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Saturday Afternoon Faculty Concert with Oboe & Piano

February 12, 2011

Today, Jan. 12, at 4 p.m., three faculty members from the Idyllwild Arts Music Department will showcase their talents in songwriting and musical performance. They will be joined by friends on flute and guitar, and a student string quintet for a concert that you won’t want to miss.

Ryan Zwahlen, who heads the Music Department, will be playing oboe, Nelms McKelvain, who teaches piano, will be playing piano. “Composition for English Horn and Guitar,” a new piece written by Kevin Michael Sullivan, will be performed by the group, which includes friends of Ryan’s, Johanna Borenstein, on flute, and Roger Allen Cope, on guitar.

Ryan is one of Southern California’s most sought-after oboists. He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Diego Symphony, as well as the LA Ballet, Riverside Philharmonic, Bakersfield Symphony and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (Washington) as its Principal Oboe. His work also has been featured on films and commercials.

Ryan, Nelms, Johanna, Roger, and Idyllwild Arts music students (a string quintet), will be playing selections from eight composers, including Henri Tomasi, Giles Silverstrini, Benjamin Brill, Jenniven Stevesnon, Jenni Brandon, Mario Castlenuovo-Tedesco, Eric Ewazen and Kevin Michael Sullivan.

For his piece, “Composition for English Horn and Guitar,” Kevin admitted to being a little nervous.

“I feel like a parent sitting in the audience,” Kevin said of his piece. “I’m proud, but feel that it’s entirely out of my control. I’m sure they’ll play it beautifully.”

Kevin said that he finished the piece just a few short months ago, in Dec. 2010.

The Faculty Recital today, Jan. 12, will begin at 4 p.m. at the Stephens Recital Hall off of Apela Drive (Tollgate Road) on campus. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Idyllwild Arts at (951) 659-2171, ext. 2200.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Singer-Songwriter Will Teach & Perform at Idyllwild Arts

February 11, 2011

Singer-Songwriter Courtney Kaiser will teach a class and perform at Idyllwild Arts at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Courtesy photo.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Each day, the music students at Idyllwild Arts Academy work together to hone their crafts. They learn from their teachers, by their own discovery and from each other. However, most say the best teacher is a professional musician currently working in the field.

This afternoon, Feb. 11, Courtney Kaiser, a popular singer and songwriter, will teach a Master Class to Interdisciplinary Arts (IM) and other music students at Rush Hall on campus. And, at 7:30 p.m., she will perform with Ashi, a jazz student and percussionist at the same location.

Courtney has toured with John Mellencamp, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, and Tracy Bonham. Her group, Kaiser Cartel, is a low-fi, song-driven, harmony-heavy Brooklyn-based duo. Their music appears on popular TV shows as “Private Practice,” “Bored to Death,” “Exiled’ and “Alter Ego.” You can also hear her music on Starbucks’ “Have You Heard?” music compilation.

In her Master Class from 4 to 6 p.m. this afternoon, Courtney will focus on what makes a song successful and how lyrics can induce the musicality of a song.  Although the class is geared toward Interdisciplinary Arts majors, all students are welcome to participate. Courtney suggested that they bring a set of lyrics they love to the class. During that time, they will learn the intricacies of how songs become memorable.

Courtney has been playing and writing her own music since her early days in an arts high school. So she is especially fond of working with fellow arts students at Idyllwild Arts. And, to further the connection, two songwriting students will be chosen for a mentorship with Kaiser Cartel. They will receive feedback from Courtney and, at the end, participate in a music recording session and have their own CD.

“Our students are looking forward to interacting with a nationwide touring musician,” said Katherine Factor, head of the IM Department and poet-in-residence. “Her show promises to be both endearing and electrifying.”

The show, with Courtney and Ashi, will be at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Rush Hall on campus. It’s free and open to the public. For more information, contact Idyllwild Arts at (951) 659-2171 or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Student’s Poems Appear in Magazine

February 7, 2011

Austin's poem was published in an online poetry magazine

“The Relationship of One Half, One, Two,” a poem by Austin, a Creative Writing Student at Idyllwild Arts Academy, appears in the January issue of Quill & Parchment, an online poetry magazine.

“The title is symbolic of the hierarchy of life,” Austin explained. “One-half is representative of a dog’s life, one a human, and two God.”

The poem is about a neighbor’s dog who was killed by a car. Austin had left the gate open and the dog got out.

“Writing the poem was a way to learn from the experience,” Austin said. “But it didn’t help alleviate the guilt. Not really.”

Here is an excerpt:

“We are

Dogs to the universe. Ready to be run over by a car.

God bless you, Liam. I hope you find it better there.

After that, we went up to the mountain

and scattered his ashes in the snow.

Guilt eroded onto my head like a river.

And on a walk, I pondered dogs’ lives,

and what they might live for, if anything.”

Austin is happy about getting his poems published

Austin got his poems published because of his father heard a story on National Public Radio about a Las Vegas gallery owner, so he told her about Austin. Later, Austin read some of his poetry at her house, where he met the Quill & Parchment contact.

“Getting my work out there into the world so strangers could read it is astounding. It was a major goal for me,” Austin added.

His other poem, “Rise of the Jellyfish,” about the WWII parachutes that hang over the Holmes Ampitheater on campus, will appear in the June issue of Quill & Parchment.

“That poem is a lot lighter,” Austin said, of the poem that he read at Coffee House, an open mic night on campus.

Here is an excerpt:

“What would it be like to live in a jellyfish

city, nebulous blobs suspended in water,

unrestricted by the Law of Gravity? Can you see it

gentle tendrils moving, slipping, finger-licking.

What kinds of secrets would jellyfish share?

The fall of man would most certainly bring about

the rise of the jellyfish.”

Copyright article & photo (but not poems) Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Soloists Shine in “Young Virtuosity” Concert

February 6, 2011

Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra will play The Firebird Suite at 2 p.m. today

“The two soloists from the concert last night did remarkably well,” said Maurice Mysenberg, a college professor from La Habra.

He and his friend, Priscilla, drove more than two hours to hear the “Young Virtuoisty” concert at Idyllwild Arts Saturday night, Feb. 5. The final performance will be held today at 2 p.m.

“After his solo, the young man (Xiao Fan) took a bow, but kept a smile on his face throughout the rest of the concert,” Maurice added.

Priscilla said that Maxine, the other soloist, obviously had a command of the piano, and played beautifully.

From where they were seated in the audience (second rise, left side) they could see the entire stage, with a good view of the piano.

“Her fingering on the keyboard was just incredible,” added Maurice, who is learning to play piano later in life.

Last night, they switched the program around to let Xiao play first, Maurice noted. He couldn’t get over how young both of the soloists were compared to their proficiency.

Today, Xiao will be playing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47, while Maxine will play Franz List’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major. Both pieces are the ones that helped them win the annual Concerto Competition.

Xiao (at left with Peter Askim) will be playing Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D Minor

The second half of today’s concert features “The Firebird Suite” from the 1910 ballet by Igor Stravinsky (which was choreographed by Michel Fokine). It is based on Russian folk tales of the firebird, a magical glowing bird that is considered both a blessing and a curse to its captor.

Maurice said the harp and the enhanced brass section (with guest artists) made “The Firebird Suite” sound wonderful.

Since the music was created for ballet, this part of the concert has piqued the interest of many of the school’s dancers.

Amira, a sophomore dance major, was looking forward to the concert. Last night, she was rushing back to her dorm room to change after a long day of dance auditions in Long Beach.

“It’s always great to hear ballet music performed live,” Amira said.

The final performance of the “Young Virtuosity!” Concert will be held today (Sunday, Feb. 6) at 2 p.m.  The concert is free and open to the public, but come early to get a seat. It will be held in the IAF Theater (located inside the Bowman Building) on the Idyllwild Arts campus, at the end of Tollgate Road. For more information, call (951) 659-2171, or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Idyllwild Arts’ Grad Grabs ‘American Idol’s’ Golden Ticket

February 4, 2011

(from L) Juwan and Casey Abrams at a student film screening last year

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Last night, they came out in droves to celebrate one of their own.

The Idyllwild Arts’ Fireside Room was packed with excited students and faculty on Wednesday night, Feb. 3. They came to see the man of the hour, ’09  alumn Casey Abrams, audition for “American Idol” in Austin. He’s one of the top 40 contestants for Season 10.

“He did great!” said Kevin Sullivan, Director of Residential Life/Music Faculty, who attended the event. “There was standing room only, with everyone clapping and cheering for him.”

Kevin immediately posted a New York Daily News article about Casey on his Facebook page.

“They were saying good things about him,” Kevin said.

Casey (center) at the LA Club in 2009

In fact, the Daily News reported: “The show-stopper was a Seth Rogen lookalike: 19-year-old Casey Abrams. He scatted and wailed Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor” out of the room.”

This morning, there were more: The Huffington Post, Fox 11 News, the Press-Enterprise, and the Idyllwild Town Crier, all sang Casey’s praises.

“You can see Casey’s audition right now on You Tube,” said John Newman, Dean of Students at Idyllwild Arts. “And all of the comments are positive.”

You Tube commenters said that Casey’s got “soul,” and that he put in a good name for Ray Charles. One woman has even started an “Abranism” movement in Boston.

Back in Idyllwild, an “American Idol” film crew has been on campus lately, John said, talking to people about Casey.

“They must really be interested in him,” John said. “All this attention is good for the school.”

If you haven’t seen Casey’s “American Idol” audition yet, you’ve got to see it on You Tube. It’ll make you proud.

He chose, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” a jazz song made popular by Ray Charles. He put his melodica down, but kept snapping his fingers. Each of the three judges, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, got into the groove. Before the song was over, however, Randy interrupted Casey, saying that their decision was unanimous.

“You’re going to Hollywood!” he shouted, as Casey gave a huge sigh of relief.

Let’s just say that Casey had a few things going for him. First, he’s from Idyllwild, a small town in California. People love to discover small town folks. Secondly, he brought along a good prop, namely a melodica (which looks like an oversized harmonica) that no one had seen one before, namely Steven Tyler.

“That was wicked good,” Steven told Casey after the audition. “Now let’s hear you play that thing.”

Thirdly, Casey looks a lot like actor Seth Rogen, of “Pineapple Express.” They have the same hefty build and full beard. Lucky for Casey, he can ride on Seth’s coat tails for awhile.

Casey is well rounded. He can sing, play, write and banter with the best of them.

Aside from all of those “Idol” gimmicks, however, what it really comes down to is talent. Not only can Casey sing, but he can write music too. (Last year, he wrote a film score for one of the student films.) He’s grounded, well rounded and went to a great arts school. If “American Idol” is looking for a jazz musician, Casey’s got it in the bag.

Up next are “American Idol” auditions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Julie Zorrilla, another Idyllwild Arts alumn, is auditioning.

“Julie Zorrilla went to Idyllwild Arts for two years,” said John, “but we didn’t offer enough courses in pop music, so she left. While she was here, though, she was a classicly trained singer.”

The best thing Casey has going for him now is the support of his fellow artists at Idyllwild Arts. With a fever pitch, they will email, twitter and post all the news about Casey on Facebook and other social media sights.

All of this “American Idol” audition hype looks like it came out of left field. At school, Casey was always the quiet bass player, content to sit in the background playing jazz. Now, he’s a frontrunner in on the “American Idol” stage. According to Casey, everything was going according to plan.

“I’ve been practicing my whole life for this audition,” Casey told a reporter.

Look for Casey on TV again this Thursday, Feb. 10!

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Young Virtuosity! Concert Showcases Violin & Piano

February 3, 2011

Xiao Fan (at L with Peter Askim), will play a violin solo during the "Young Virtuosity!" orchestra concert this weekend

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Young Virtuosity!” Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra Concert, will showcase two of their own, Xiao Fan on violin and Xue or “Maxine” on piano. Both will be playing the pieces that helped them win the annual Concerto Competition. Xiao will be playing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47, while Maxine will play Franz List’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major.

At the school lunchroom recently, Maxine admitted to being a little nervous about her upcoming solo.

“I don’t know why! She knows her music!” said her friend, and they both laughed.

Xiao and Maxine are both juniors this year, so this may not be the last time you will hear them play. But you don’t want to miss this performance. You can always claim, “I saw them when . . . ”

Last year, as a sophomore, Maxine performed at Piano Fest, an all-piano concert held on Jan. 18 in the IAF Theater (see Piano Fest blog post, dated Jan. 22). “Fantasy on Porgy and Bess,” with selections from Gershwin and Grainger, capped off that evening. Anni, Bohan, Meiling and Maxine took turns playing on two back-to-back grand pianos during this popular ensemble. Their rendition of “Summertime” warmed the crowd on the rainy evening.

Camille (shown last year with A-Tao) is excited about playing Stravinsky's Firebird Suite

Both Xiao and Maxine accompanied other music students during the end-of-the-year recitals last year. (Actually, as a pianist, Maxine is paired with students to help them with their auditions and recitals).

Xiao helped Henry, another violin player, during his junior recital last year  (see blog post, “Fast Fingers at Junior Recitals,” dated Feb. 24.) The four friends, Henry, RoGue, Ai Ching, XO and Xiao played Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.

Although this Saturday and Sunday’s “Young Virtuosity!” performance will appear seamless, it comes with lots of hard work and dedication from the orchestra students, and especially the soloists, Xiao and Maxine.

“They have to prepare for this concert, in addition to doing all of their regular schoolwork, attending classes, orchestra practice and small group practices,” said one music staff member. “And they just got done with finals last week.”

But don’t think that they’re too stressed to play. These young musicians crave attention from a live audience.

“We get to play the Firebird Suite!” exclaimed Camille, an oboe player, about the second part of the “Young Virtuosity!” concert.

The 1910 ballet by Igor Stravinsky (and choreographed by Michel Fokine) is based on Russian folk tales of the firebird, a magical glowing bird that is considered both a blessing and a curse to its captor.

Early on, not all of the music students were excited about Stravinsky’s Suite. Some have admitted that their parts are difficult, and they’re struggling a bit.
“Some parts might be difficult, if you have a solo or something,” said Wu Shan, a post-graduate cello player. “But the Firebird Suite is not hard for me.”

Idyllwild Arts Orchestra warms up

Wu Shan hasn’t played the Firebird Suite until just recently, but at 19, he’s been playing the cello for 15 years. He started in China at age 4, and just returned his tiny, first cello to his former teacher, so that another young student could learn to play.

Xiao, Maxine, Camille, Wu Shan and all of the orchestra students will be on stage at the “Young Virtuosity!” Concerts held this Saturday, Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. Both performances are free and open to the public at the IAF Theater (inside the Bowman Building) on the Idyllwild Arts campus, at the end of Tollgate Road. For more information, call (951) 659-2171, or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.