Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Moir’

Bringing Music Back to Palm Springs High

November 9, 2010

Jake sings a funny song while Nelms accompanies him on piano

By Marcia E. Gawecki

For two glorious hours, a select group of Idyllwild Arts students brought music back to the Palm Springs High School. The “Classics in the Schools” event held on Nov.2 was made possible by the Steinway Society of Riverside County, a classical music outreach program that now involves more than 60,000 students, by providing piano instruction, keyboard loans and live performances like this one.

Savannah sings a love song

The “Classics in the Schools” was a half-day of entertainment for these middle and high school students, whose music funding has been drastically cut.  It also was an opportunity for the Idyllwild Arts Academy to promote itself.

“We’re always looking for more students,” said Dr. Nelms McKelvain, from the Idyllwild Arts Music Department, who chaperoned the event.

Ruth from the Steinway Society, introduced the students after the show

“We’ve got a great group of kids from Idyllwild Arts Academy to entertain you this morning,” said Ruth Moir, founder and president of the Steinway Society of Riverside County. “In the future, you will see these professional level artists on television, in the movies, and on Broadway.”

In the audience, was Stan Walden, who was invited to the first show by Ruth. He wrote the music and lyrics of the 1969 Broadway show, “Oh! Calcutta!” Ruth had wanted Stan to see the Idyllwild Arts students perform because he puts on variety shows like this one all over the world, she said.

The 13 Idyllwild Arts students who performed included: Manjie, Anni, Savannah, Juwan, Bohan, Timmy, Ashi, Alejandro, Ariann, Adrianna, Geneva, Jake and Lake. They were from the Jazz, Classical Music, Theater and Dance Departments. Each decided on their own songs, dances and monologues.

Although the students didn’t know Stan was there at the 11 o’clock show, he was impressed with their performance nonetheless. He liked the songs that the jazz combo made up of Alejandro, Ashi and Lake, were playing.

The jazz trio (from L) Lake, Ashi and Alejandro, got to play their own music

“That song is called ‘Round Midnight,'” Stan said, as he listened closely to it, sometimes closing his eyes.

Although the middle and high school students in the audience were listening politely, some of them were fidgeting.

“Jazz is age appropriate for pre-teens,” Stan said. “All kinds of music will reach them.”

He was right. Next up was Geneva, who performed a dance that she had also performed at the Spotlight Award preliminaries the week before.

“You go, girl!” one female student shouted from the audience.

After Geneva, dancers Ariann and Adrianna also performed their Spotlight audition dances.

“I wish I could have performed for Spotlight like I did today,” Ariann said later.

Stan said that Adrianna’s dance was especially good because she also used the middle of her body.

Adrianna performed the same dance she did for her Spotlight audition

“See how she’s also moving from the center?” Stan pointed out. “She’s pretty good.”

Next, came Jake, a musical theater student, who sang a funny song with Nelms and Anni at the piano.

After Jake’s rousing performance, Juwan, a theater student, slowed the tempo a bit. He came out and sat on a stool, and sounded like he was talking directly to the audience.  In fact, it was an over-the-top monologue from a murderer who was going to the electric chair.

Juwan had to change his monologue for the second show

“Have you ever killed anybody?” he asked the audience. “Ever want to?”

The audience reacted with cheers and laughter. Juwan was following his lines, but changed them for the one o’clock show.

“A couple of teachers complained about the killing part,” Juwan said during the break. “So I changed it from killing to love. I think it still worked out OK.”

Savannah sang a love song that wowed the audience. Like Juwan, she had to “wing it” for the show. Instead of a script, hers was a wardrobe malfunction.

“We got there, and she saw the hole in her stocking and said, ‘Oh darn!'” Jake recalled. “So she just added a few more to make it fashionable.”

Nelms had asked all of the students to wear black and white for the show.

“It looks classy,” he said.

When the classical pianists Bohan and Timmy played, some of the handicapped students in the audience were transfixed and transformed.

14-year-old violinist Manjie said that she wasn't nervous

A boy in a wheelchair had sat during most of the show with his head down, looking at his lap. Yet, when Bohan and Timmy played classical songs on the piano, he lifted his head towards the stage and smiled.

“You never know what kinds of music will reach them,” Stan had predicted.

Stan was also impressed with Timmy’s confident performance. Two years ago, Timmy had won first place in the classical music category at the Spotlight Music Awards. After his performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, he received a $5,000 dollar scholarship.

The final two performers performed together, Anni on piano, and Manjie on violin.

This was 14-year-old Manjie’s first public performance in the schools. She and Anni said they weren’t nervous, because they knew the music. Manjie had practiced it many times in her native China. Her mother even has it on video on her laptop computer.

Afterwards, Ruth Moir invited the Idyllwild Arts students to come out for one last bow and asked them to recite their names and country or city of origin. The 13 performers came from China, Mexico and various U.S. cities.

Bohan performed a classical piano piece

Before the last set, Juwan had invited the students in the audience to visit the campus or look on the academy’s web site,

For their part, the Palm Springs middle and high school students cheered, clapped, and took pictures, yet were reluctant to leave. The first two arrivals said that the seniors had decorated the auditorium with hundreds of pink, purple white and black balloons. As they left. some of the students grabbed them as mementos.

“We’ll be back next year,” Ruth promised the audience.

Satisfied, Stan stood and congratulated Nelms and Ruth backstage.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved..

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Student Documentary Screened at ShortFest 2010

June 12, 2010

Idyllwild Arts film crew from "The Piano Virtuosos"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

On May 28-29, the Idyllwild Arts Academy screened five short films, and trailers for three documentaries. The students work was well received by those who attended, including the media. The school plans to send the short films to area film festivals for review, however, some films don’t start getting attention until almost a year later.

Case in point: “The Steinway Virtuosos,” a short documentary produced by Idyllwild Arts students last year (2009), is now being screened at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival on June 22-28. ShortFest 2010 will present more than 300 short films from 40 countries.

IA students Amelia (L) and Joel (R) interview a grade school student in one of the piano labs

ShortFest 2010 is known worldwide for its extraordinary community of filmmakers it attracts, and the quality and scope of its programming. In 2005, an Idyllwild Arts student, Alexis Echavarria won the “Audience Choice Award” for “18 Minutes,” a short film about the last 18 minutes of sunlight on earth. The 16-year-old student died before the screening at ShortFest 2009, but a student award has been set up in his name.

His mother has not forgotten Idyllwild Arts and has been generous over the years. In Oct. 2009, she dedicated “Alexis Annex,” a building on the Idyllwild Arts campus, in his name.

“She also donated all of the computers that we used to edit the films this year,” said Dr. Ira Abrams, from the Idyllwild Arts Moving Pictures Department.

Teacher and students in a piano lab sponsored by The Steinway Society

“The Steinway Virtuosos,” the 2009 student documentary, is about a piano contest sponsored by the Steinway Society of Riverside County, a nonprofit organization that helps put music back into California grade schools what government funding has cut over the years.

Ruth Moir, founder and head of the Steinway Society of Riverside County, said that she hopes that her organization will help to nurture interest in music in grade school students. They have set up a “piano lab” targeted at students from third to fifth grade, in which they learn to play on pianos at school and read music.

The Steinway Society also has an outreach program for talented piano students in which some receive piano keyboards to practice at home. Marcos, a grade school student featured in the documentary, came to the Steinway Society by accident. He was called into the principal’s office for tardiness, and saw a piano there. He asked if he could play it, and impressed the principal, who immediately called The Steinway Society.

Emily discusses the next steps with her crew

Up until that time, Moir said, he was playing “by ear” on a broken down old keyboard at a home that he shared with his single mother and sister with special needs. The Steinway Society gave him a new keyboard and music lessons, and within a year, he has learned to read music.

When the Idyllwild Arts crew came to interview him at his home near Palm Desert, he performed “I Will Always Love You,” a song he created for his grandmother who had just passed away. The strength and intensity of his playing hushed them into silence.

Kitty (L) won the Steinway Competition that is featured in the documentary

The documentary crew consisted of Amelia, Emily, Joel, Ben, and Scarlett. Two of them graduated from Idyllwild Arts on June 5. Emily plans to study film, while Amelia wants to try acting in front of the camera in her native Vancouver. Daphne or “Kitty,” who won the piano competition that was featured in “The Steinway Virtuosos” documentary, will study piano in college in the fall.

Other Idyllwild Arts music students and faculty who appear in the video include: Doug Ashcraft, Nelms McKalvin, Ie-Seul, Georgina and Timmy.

When Amelia, the producer, graduated this year, she was unaware of the screening at ShortFest 2010, but knew about its potential to appear on public television.

“Guess I’ll have to wait until it appears on TV,” she said. “That would be pretty exciting.”

Scarlett, who edited “The Steinway Virtuosos” as well as five films this year, said it was one of the most difficult to complete. She was working day and night, right up until the screenings on campus last year.

“It changed direction three times,” Scarlett said, as she groaned, remembering. “It was about the Steinway Society, and then the competition. But, in the end, we were pretty happy with the way it turned out.”

Abrams said that he hopes to attend ShortFest 2010, along with others from the Idyllwild Arts Moving Pictures Department, but the film festival is held during their summer break.

“‘The Steinway Virtuosos’ will be shown in a package appropriately called, ‘Performance Anxiety,’ which screens on Saturday, June 26,” said Dr. Abrams. “There will be nine shorts starting at 1:30 p.m., so our documentary will start an hour later, roughly at 2:30 p.m.”

For more information on ShortFest 2010, visit, for “18 Minutes,” visit, and for attending Idyllwild Arts, visit

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.