Posts Tagged ‘student artists’

From Caracas to Idyllwild

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

William performed at the Redlands Bowl this past summer

By Marcia E. Gawecki

It’s not unusual for Idyllwild Arts Academy to attract music students from all over the world. Last year alone, they came from China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Venezuela and Germany. Yet, only one auditioned for the school via You Tube from the mountains of Caracas, and has studied with the LA Philharmonic’s hot new conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

William, a flute player at Idyllwild Arts, is tall, modest, and could be a dead ringer for President Barak Obama. His English has improved greatly since his audition from the mountaintop a year ago. And, as a postgraduate senior, he stands a good chance of getting into college.

His whirlwind journey began when Peter Askim, Idyllwid Arts Music Director and Composer-in-Residence, contacted one of his friends from the Venezuela Philharmonic, William said, and asked her to find him a flute player.  However, William was up in the mountains when he got the call.

“I was 10 hours from Caracas,” William said. “There was no way that I could make a demo tape and send it.”

So he missed the deadline, but they called him again.

“So my friend videotaped me playing, and I posted it on You Tube,” William said.

When the school e-mailed him that he was accepted, William’s mother (who didn’t speak or read English) was skeptical.

“She wasn’t going to send me halfway around the world based on an e-mail message,” he said. “She thought I was going to be abducted.”

So Marek Pramuka,  Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Idyllwild Arts, asked Georgina, a music student from Costa Rica, to talk to his mother in Spanish, William said.

“She told her all about the school, and the orchestra, and she convinced my mom  that it was OK for me to come to America,” he said.

Although William was accepted on a full-ride scholarship, the logistics of getting to Idyllwild was challenging.

“First, we had to transfer bolivars (Bolivar fuerte currency) into dollars,” William explained. “But we couldn’t do that at the bank, so we had to rely on street venders.”

Then he had to get a passport and visa to leave the country. Since his mother doesn’t have a car, they relied on public transportation and a family friend to take them to the various places.

“Although gas is cheap in Venezuela, cars are expensive,” William explained. “Gas is about 25 cents a gallon, but a car that costs about $25,000 in the US, would cost nearly double in Venezuela.”

He lives with his mother (who is studying to be a nurse) and uncle in a tough neighborhood. His father remarried, and William worries that his younger stepbrother will get into trouble with gangs. According to various web sites, 30 percent of Venezuelans live on less than $2 US dollars a day.

'El Sistema' is supported by Gustavo Dudamel, LA Phil's conductor

“William is a product of ‘El Sistema,'” said one of the Idyllwild Arts patrons while talking about scholarship recipients during the Jazz in the Pines concert this year. “It’s an excellent model of how to keep young at-risk kids interested in music. They give them instruments and keep them so busy that they’re not tempted to join gangs or get into trouble.”

According to various web sites, the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, commonly known as ‘El Sistema,’ is a government-funded organization, founded by maestro José Antonio Abreu, aimed at music education through symphony orchestras and choruses. A link to ‘El Sistema’ is listed under “Fesnojiv” in Gustavo Dudamel’s personal web site.

William said that his orchestra rehearsals began right after school, and lasted for hours. They also kept them occupied during summer vacations.

“I was glad that I was part of the orchestra,” William said. “I had somewhere to go after school.”

He chose the flute because he’s always been attracted to the sound. And, although female flutists are common in the US, male flutists are more common in South America, he said.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra was a great training ground and that’s where he worked with LA Philharmonic’s conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. But he didn’t say much about him.

William and Kitty (partially hidden) won $500 in scholarship money from the Redlands Bowl

“Maybe he’s sick of talking about it,” said Kitty’s mom at The Redlands Bowl. William and Kitty, a fellow Idyllwild Arts music student, won $500 scholarships and were asked to perform before a live audience in June.

“All of LA is talking about Gustavo Dudamel,” Kitty’s mom said. “He’s LA Philharmonic’s hand-picked darling. Of course, the New York Philharmonic thinks he’s too young and inexperienced, but we don’t think so.”

William and Kitty talked about the other performers that evening, including a violin player who couldn’t be more than 10 years old.

“We hate to follow her in the program,” William said. “How can you compete with that cuteness?”

The night before, William had been to the Redlands Bowl for a practice run and sound check with his flute teacher, Sara Andon, and his piano accompanist, Lara Urrutia.

William and his piano accompanist, Lara Urrutia

“Lara’s great,” William said. “She keeps up with me. Other accompanists I’ve played with fall behind, and I end up following them.”

They discussed the amphitheater’s acoustics and what to wear for the performance. Since William was playing excerpts from Bizet’s French Opera, “Carmen,” they decided to wear red.

However, William was concerned about playing in an open-air ampitheater, something that wasn’t made clear to him.

“When you play a wind instrument, you already are maxing out your lung capacity,” he said. “Now I have to project even more so that the audience can hear me. I just hope that the wind is not blowing at me, but away.”

William’s selections from  “Carmen” was a crowd pleaser at The Redlands Bowl. Kitty played two contemporary pieces, “Prelude,” and “Alternating Currents,” but wasn’t as happy with her performance. Kitty, who attended Idyllwild Arts all four years, now attends Rice University on a full music scholarship.

When William applied for the Redlands Bowl scholarship, he had to save up for the $50 entry fee.

“At school, you get $20 a week allowance, so I had to save up for three weeks,” he said.

In fact, 68 percent of the 250 students who attend Idyllwild Arts receive some sort of scholarship money, states The Boarding School Review.

When William told his grandmother about the competition, she was certain that he was going to win.

“She said, ‘You’re going to win,'” William said. “Even when I told her how many people tried out. But she’s always believed in me.”

Another person who has believed in William is Askim, who brought him here from Caracas. William said that he didn’t see Askim for two weeks after he arrived. Then when he was in the orchestra, he was annoyed by his name.

“You see, there are two Williams in our orchestra, me and a clarinet player who sits right behind me,” William said. “Whenever Peter would shout, ‘William,’ we both would answer. So he tried calling us ‘William No. 1’ and ‘William No. 2,’ but we both wanted to be ‘William No. 1.”

So Askim nicknamed William the flute player, “Baldy” and William the clarinet player, “Hairy,” for his spiked hairdo.

Hear “Baldy” playing the role of the bird during the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra’s performance of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” on Oct. 16 and 17. The show will also feature guest narrator, Harry Shearer, from “The Simpsons” fame. The show is free and open to the public and will be held in the Bowman Arts Building. For more information, visit

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‘Gold Standard’ Vans

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Idyllwild Arts just added two new gold vans to their fleet

They’re like two shiny gold crowns amongst rows of pearly whites.

The Idyllwild Arts Transportation Department has just added two new vans to their fleet. However, instead of the standard white GM vans, these vans are gold Chevrolets.

Tucker McIntyre, head of Transportation, is pleased about the new additions to his fleet of 13 vans and cars that service the Idyllwild Arts student body. Vans are used to transport students to and from LAX, Ontario and Palm Springs Airports. They’re also used for field trips, weekly music lessons and trips to the doctor and dentist–just about everything students need in a boarding school.

“These new vans are all about safety for our students,” Tucker said. “Naturally, they have low mileage and are much safer for us to drive.”

With these two new additions, Tucker gave up an older white van to the Film Department. Film students need a van at their disposal to transport cameras, tripods and other film equipment while they’re shooting on location.

“It just makes sense for them to have one at their disposal,” Tucker said.

The two new gold vans are a physical reminder of the ongoing excellent service the Idyllwild Arts Transportation Department provides.

“We’re setting the gold standard for service,” Tucker said with a smile. He often gets good comments about the friendliness and professionalism of his drivers, many of which have been with him for years.

Neil will drive number 10 on a regular basis

The two new vans will sport the numbers 8 and 10.

Neil will drive number 10 on a regular basis.

“Ten is the best number in soccer,” Tucker teased. “All the great players wear the number 10.”

Neil, who was born in Peru, is a big soccer fan, and is thrilled to be driving a new van. He’s been waiting for this day to come for months.

However, his waiting is not over yet. The new gold vans have not been road tested.

“We’re still waiting on all of the papers,” Tucker said, referring to their registration and insurance papers.

When the snow comes, rest assured these all-wheel-drive vehicles will be able to get us around, Tucker added.

Student Learns from ‘Burning Man’ Event

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Morgan, who wants to be a professional clown, learned a lot at Burning Man

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The students are coming back to Idyllwild Arts now, full of stories about what they did during their summer break. However, one student’s story stood out from the rest.

“I learned how to eat fire this summer,” said Morgan.

It happened at “Burning Man,” a weeklong arts event held Aug. 20 to Sept. 6 in the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. The event has a strong emphasis on pyrotechnics. Attendees bring all of their own food, drink and lodging, and must leave nothing behind. It’s considered a “commerce free event,” meaning you can only buy coffee and ice there. Everything else must be traded. According to the Burning Man web site, the event attracted 48,000 people this year.

“There’s young people and old people, kids, naked people, some strung out on drugs or alcohol,” Morgan explained. “But if you don’t drink or do drugs, that’s OK with everyone too.”

It was the fourth Burning Man event that Morgan, now a senior, has attended. This time, he went with his father.

“It’s hard to explain what Burning Man really is all about,” Morgan said, after he arrived at Ontario Airport with dusty luggage. “You really just have to experience it firsthand.”

He said that the dirt will likely last about a week. It’s coated his skin. He also burned his tongue and the hair off of his arms.

“We also played fire baseball,” Morgan added. “The ball and bat are on fire. We don’t really keep score or anything, but it was fun trying to catch a burning fly ball.”

He said that eating fire wasn’t really hard, but afterwards, he couldn’t taste anything for about a week. His tongue blistered, he said, but didn’t have any lasting effects. When he stuck it out, it looked pink and normal.

“The trick of fire eating is to make sure that it stays mysterious,” Morgan said. “If everyone in the audience knows how to do it, then no one is going to pay to watch someone do it, right?”

He said that he also learned how to breathe out fire, much like a fire-breathing dragon.

“But you have to be careful not to breathe in because the fire could go down into your lungs, and you know what a disaster that would be,” Morgan said.

Morgan approached Burning Man like a student going for an internship. You see, Morgan wants to be a clown when he graduates from Idyllwild Arts. He hopes to go to a special clown school in Australia, that he visited before coming to Burning Man.

At Burning Man, he also learned to juggle with fire, something that he cannot practice on a heavily-wooded campus within a national forest.

“At school, they frown upon anything having to do with fire,” he said.

Morgan learned how to eat and breathe fire

He admitted that Burning Man, has an emphasis on fire, and attracts many pyromaniacs.

“One year, I saw them blow up a fuel tank, which sent a mushroom cloud into the air for about 200 feet,” he said. “Only people crazy about fire would want to do something like that.”

On the Saturday night before Labor Day this year, they burned a 100-foot image of a man that can be seen for miles. Check out some spectacular photos on the Burning Man web site,

For his senior year, Morgan took a big step and switched majors from theater to dance.

“I still love the theater,” Morgan said. “But, if I want to go to clown school, I have to work on my strength, and switching to dance was the way to do it. In theater, you just don’t move around a lot.”

Part of his college clown auditions include holding up other performers, much like cheerleaders do. He practiced a little bit of his strength training at Burning Man. At 6 foot something, he says he is not too tall to be a clown, but prefers being the one on the bottom holding everyone up.

Clowning comes naturally for Morgan who “grew up in the Renaiessance Fair.”  His father played a pirate, and his mother played a witch. In fact, he was named after the famous pirate, Captain Morgan, one of the most dangerous pirates who worked in the Spanish Main.

All in all, the Burning Man event turned out to be a good experience for this would-be professional clown. After college, he wants to join Circus de Soleil, or another one in Europe.

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Idyllwild Jazz Fest = Student Scholarships

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

A photo of Jacob, a jazz scholarship student, was featured on the program

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Many of the jazz enthusiasts who attended last weekend’s Jazz in the Pines event didn’t know it was a scholarship fundraiser (although it was clearly written on all of the promotional materials).

“Ticket prices are a little high,” said one attendee from San Diego of the $60 entry fee. “Other jazz fests like the one in Monterey only charge $35 to get in, but it’s a great being up here in the mountains.”

When she was told by another attendee that the money raised from the jazz fest went to student scholarships for the Idyllwild Arts Academy, she was impressed.

“Well, that’s different,” she said. “There’s a lot of talented kids out there who can’t afford to go to a good school. If my ticket today helps them get there, I’m all for it.”

At least three scholarship students performed live at this year’s Jazz in the Pines event, including Jacob on sax, Caleb on trumpet and Connor on trombone. Marshall Hawkins, head of the Jazz Department at Idyllwild Arts, always invites his Idyllwild Arts jazz students (and some classical students) to play with his band, the Harry Pickens Trio.

Not only did they play with him on Sunday, August 29, but he showed them off to the crowd.

“The students were playing in the back, and he brought them up front and center, and made them play some solos,” explained one jazz fan from Palm Springs. “Poor kids, they were put on the spot, but they did great!”

She said that she saw Jacob afterwards while waiting in line for the shuttle, and asked him if he was nervous about being singled out.

Little did the fans know, but Jacob, Caleb and Connor, had been practicing all summer for that very moment in the spotlight.

Caleb was a teacher’s assistant during one of the summer school sessions at Idyllwild Arts. Jose, who lived in the same dorm and heard him play at concerts, was impressed with his dedication.

“We’d see him in the mornings, and after dinner,” explained Jose. “All the time in between, he was practicing his horn.”

Jacob knew that he’d be playing at the jazz fest when school ended last June.

“Come and hear me play at the Jazz Fest,” he told his friends and teachers.

In fact, a photo of Jacob was featured on a full page advertisement on the back of the jazz fest program. It showed him intently playing his sax.

“I was really surprised when someone pointed it out to me,” Jacob said. “That’s really cool!”

Connor, who lives in Palm Springs, and spent his summer tutoring grade school music students in his dad’s office, was also ready for his solo at the jazz fest.

For them, to be in front of a live audience, especially one that understands and appreciates jazz, was quite the thrill. For most of the year, they play before select audiences made up of friends and faculty.

Mariya, a classical bass player who had a four-year scholarship to Idyllwild Arts, also played with Marshall Hawkins at the Jazz in the Pines last year.

“It was a good experience playing before a live audience,” Mariya said. “But it got a little cold in the shade. My fingers were frozen.”

Since then, Mariya graduated and earned a full scholarship to The Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles. She hopes to come back and play with the Idyllwild Arts Student Orchestra as a “ringer” (a professional player) sometime this year.

“We’re coming back!” Jacob shouted as he walked along Tollgate to his car after the show. “Caleb and I are coming back here for our senior year!”

Ticket sales at Jazz in the Pines 2010 must’ve been good this year.

Student Chamberfest a Surprise & Delight

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

This quintet, which included a 14-year-old prodigy, played Shuber's "The Trout"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The Student Chamberfest Recital on Wednesday evening, August 18, showcased five soloists and five chamber acts in a relaxed, indoor/outdoor setting at Stephens Recital Hall. Most of the audience members were faculty, staff and friends who had just celebrated the final potluck of the summer. The mood was happy, relaxed, and the students didn’t disappoint them. There were some surprises that included a 14-year-old prodigy and several broken drum heads.

First up was a trombone quartet that played “Achieved in the Glorious Work,” by F.J. Haydn. The group, which included Karl, Allison Jason and Micah, started immediately, and played without pretense.

“That was well done,” exclaimed Andrew Leeson, a writing teacher at Idyllwild Arts Academy, who attended many of the concerts this summer. “A trombone is not an exact instrument and they hit every note.”

When Kevin finished, the audience got to their feetThe next student playing a solo was Kevin, on French horn. He was accompanied by Edith Orloff, a faculty piano teacher. Kevin stood the entire time and played “Concerto in E-flat Major, K 495,” by Mozart. If you were to close your eyes, his horn sounded like a trombone at times. Afterwards, many people in the audience got to their feet, which surprised the young man.

The next soloist was actually a duo playing “Toccata,” by Koppel. It included Lindsey on vibraphone and Lauren on marimba.
“That girl’s really good,” exclaimed Andrew, of Lindsey afterwards. “She could go pro now.”

The two played a duet with double mallets that were moving so fast that they always turned up blurry on camera. The incredible thing is that each of them were hitting four different keys with those mallets at the same time.

(at L) Lindsey and Lauren (R) played Koppel's "Toccata" at a fast pace on vibraphone and marimba

“They’re not necessarily different notes,” said Andrew. “It’s just like fingers on a piano keyboard.”

Yet, the precision, speed and acccuracy of the piece was remarkable. The piece was lively, strong and uptempo, and then it suddenly went soft and smooth.

Next up was Alek on bassoon with Edith Orloff accompanying him. Alek played, “Scherzo in G Minor,” by Miroshnikow.

Rarely do you get a chance to see a bassoonist play up close. Usually they’re cloistered in the back of an orchestra, and one just marvels at the slender size of the instrument. Yet, the mouthpiece is rather ornate with a swan’s neck, and the player has to blow and suck on the reed to make the perfect sound. The effect is not glamourous, with a lot of puffing of the cheeks, but fascinating nonetheless.

“That reed of his is shot now,” Andrew said. “Most bassoonists make their own reeds, and throw them out after each performance.”

The final soloist, Anna Sigmund, a German student on violin, was impressive because of the high notes that she hit in her selection, “Conncerto in E Minor, Op. 64,” by Mendelssohn. Anna stood tall and proud in a black dress and ankle bracelet. But all eyes were on her violin when she commanded the high notes in this moody, intense, and rather long piece.

Anna, a German violinist, commanded the high notes in the Mendelssohn piece

“It’s all in the bow,” Andrew said afterwards. “She didn’t back off from the high notes, like many others would have. In time, she’ll own that piece.”

The first chamber group of the evening included two violins, a viola and a cello. They played, “String Quartet in C Major, K 465,” by Mozart.

The lead violin, Michal, a high school student from Poland, had gone on a Sunday trip to Venice Beach a couple of weeks earlier. He took a lot of pictures of the California scenery, and marveled at the six-lanes on Hwy. 10.

“We don’t have this many lanes on highways in Poland,” he said, taking pictures of the cars and trucks. “But everyone is going very slow. Can’t you go any faster?”

Said like a true impatient teenager.

Along with Zoe, Michael and Tiffany, he played the lively, upbeat Mozart piece with enthusiasm.

The next group played the Shubert favorite, “The Trout,” or “Quintet in A Major, Op. 114.” It included a piano, bass, cello, viola and a 14-year-old violin player from Germany. He sat in the first chair during the first concert of the season.

“He started young, but that doesn’t mean anything,” said Christophe Wyneken, a violin and viola teacher from Germany, who brought him to the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program. “He’s got ability.”

(from L) Michal, a violinist from Poland, played the Mozart piece with authority

Michal agreed. “Leo’s good.”

In this quartet, Leo played like a master. The other players, including Alex, Anna, Dana and Noah, kept looking at him to lead the piece. However, Noah, on piano, held his own, and didn’t get drowned out.

“You’re going to enjoy the flute player in this next piece,” said Andrew, who had heard him perform before.

Dressed in jeans, white shirts and tennis shoes, this group, made up of Kevin on flute, Ross on oboe, Louis on clarinet, Carl on Bassoon and Nick on French horn, looked relaxed for this short piece, “Quintet” by Blumer.

Kevin, who played the flute effortlessly, and sounded like a bird in flight, also was animated, moving about to the music in his seat.

The next group included two violin players,  a viola, cello and double bass, that played, “Quintet in G Major, Op. 77” by Dvorak.

(from L) Mimi, a tiny German violinist with a big sound

Tiny and prim, Mimi, the lead violin player, who is also German, had an incredibly loud sound. She didn’t drown out the other players, but I kept looking for a hidden microphone. How did so much sound come out of a tiny girl with a standard violin?

Grecia, who played the double bass, brought in her huge, unwieldly instrument like a pro. Although it was double wide, it sounded like a standard bass. But it was fun to watch because many of us had never seen one before.

Before the final chamber piece, Jonathan, who was teching the show, invited everyone in the audience to come closer to the stage that was set with drum heads, sticks and pillows. Many students sat and laid on the floor in anticipation.

Leo, a 14-year-old violinist from Germany, played with authority

“You’re really going to love this piece,” exclaimed Andrew, who had seen it performed by the Chamberfest Percussion Ensemble the night before.

The modern piece by M. Ford was called, “Head Talk.” As the name suggests, the four drummers only played drum heads, with drumsticks as they sat cross-legged on the ground.

The piece included some antics, including hitting, rolling, tossing and slapping of the drum heads. They were clear and of varying sizes. When Una, a former Idyllwild Arts student, rolled her drum head to Lindsey, who resumed play, it looked spontaneous.

“That was all written into the piece,” said Una and Lauren later.

But their facial expressions and feined impatience with Severin, the only male drummer, was spontaneous, they said.

Severin sat in front with a dramtic blue scarf tied around his neck. During the piece, he’d bang louder than the others, or bounce the drum head off his head, to the mock disgust of the rest of the girls.

In "Head Talk," the drummers rolled, tossed, hit and slapped only drum heads

Yet, it was a perfectly choreographed piece, that ended with each of the players, Una, Lauren, Mika and Severin, all breaking their own heads through their drum heads at the final bow.

“They cost about $20 bucks each, but we replace them all the time,” explained Una, later of the broken drum heads.

For the finale of "Head Talk," the drummers broke them on their own heads

Many of these students will be playing in the High School Chamberfest Concert today at 1 p.m. It will be held in the IAF Theatre in the Bowman Building. This final concert of the summer is free and open to the public.

German Students See Sand & Surf

Monday, August 16th, 2010

German students at IA meet the Pacific Ocean for the first time

By Marcia E. Gawecki

For the past six years, Christoph Wynecken has been teaching violin and viola to students in the Chamber Orchestra at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program. Each time he comes, he brings along several students from his orchestra in Germany that has toured Europe, South America and Asia. This time, he brought along seven students aged 14 to 18 years old. As promised, part of their “American experience” was seeing Venice Beach and other Los Angeles tourist attractions.

“You can’t bring these kids halfway around the world, and not show them California,” Christoph said on Sunday, as he was headed for his second trip to Venice Beach. The week before, his group had also visited Disney Hall and the Armand Hammer Museum at UCLA.

A few years ago, Christoph had a rented home right on Venice Beach, as he taught at USC and Idyllwild Arts. He went swimming every day, impervious to the cold water.

(from L) Christoph Wyneken gives last-minute instructions to his German students

“It’s been a great experience living so close to the ocean,” he said.

Many of us in Southern California take beaches for granted. They’re a couple of hours away, and perfect for people watching, especially the crazies at Venice Beach. Yet, Germans don’t have ready access to the ocean, only the North Sea without sand and surf, explained Wayne Parker, one of the Idyllwild Arts van drivers, who has visited there.

Most of the the 10 music students who went to Venice Beach on Sunday were seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. When they turned the corner from the alley, they stood in awe for a moment, just smiling at each other.

“Is it true that women have to wear tops on the beaches here?” asked Daniel, a clarinet player, looking at his guide book written in German.

“There are beaches in Germany where women don’t have to wear tops,” Christophe explained.

The Germans blended right in with the rest of the tourists on the Venice Beach boardwalk. That day, some LA police officers were trying to evict an illegal peddler who was angrily resisting. There was the regular reggae guy on rollarskates playing his electric guitar. An Elvis impersonator, dressed in white spandex, posed with tourists for tips. One bum had a handwritten cardboard sign that read: “Why lie? All I want is money for a beer,” and people gave him some. But the one thing the German students marveled at was the “medical marijuana” shops.

German students horseplay

On the way back, they felt the overbearing 100 degree heat in Palm Springs as they dined at an inexpensive steak house. It was too late for them to shop at the Cabazon Outlet Mall.

“Can we stop on the way back and feel the desert sand?” asked Fabian, a violin player.

This seemed like a strange request since they had been walking and playing in the sand at Venice Beach all day.

“We don’t have any deserts in Germany,” explained Christoph. “All of Europe has pretty moderate climate, although we do get snow.”

All of the students, including one American, ran around in the desert sand in the dark along Hwy. 111. They laughed, took pictures of each other, and didn’t want to return, even when Christoph insisted.

They scrambled to return to the dorms at 10 p.m., giddy from seeing the ocean and the desert for the first time.

“These students work really hard all week, and it’s nice to get away for a day,” Christoph explained. “So much of music is in your head, so you have to have a balance of work and play.”

Leo, the youngest violinist at age 14, has been to Venice Beach twice, and has taken hundreds of pictures of Venice Beach, Disney Hall, and even the Armand Hammer Museum, where he didn’t want to go at first.

“Why do we have to go?” he asked, sunburned and tired from the beach.

“Because there’s more to California than just beaches. There’s a lot of culture here,” was the answer.

Leo ended up marveling at the Rembrandts, van Goghs and Singer Sargeants that make up the permanent collection at the Hammer Museum. They allowed him to take photos of them without flash.

Leo and Christoph will leave Idyllwild Arts on Sunday morning, headed for LAX, while some of the German students are staying on in LA for another week. They’ll have their photos, T-shirts, and other mementos, while those of us who heard them play in the Chamber Orchestra have songs in our hearts.

Christoph said that he’ll likely come back to Idyllwild Arts next summer and bring along more German music students.

“The music program is definitely good, but there’s something special about Idyllwild,” he said. “I’ve always had a good feeling about this place.”

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Gadzooks! It’s Comics Class!

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The Comics class depicts a story about a battle between the goblins and the humans

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Gadzooks, Batman, the Joker just fell into a vat of hot lava!”

Ever since DC Comics came out with “Superman” in 1932, America has had an ongoing love affair with comics. When Marvel Comics expanded the lot with Spider Man, the Hulk, Wolverine, and Iron Man, and jumped to the big screen, even wider audiences are loving comics.

“It used to be that comics were not considered ‘high art,'” said Jessica Shiffman, a local book illustrator, who has taught a comics class at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program for the past seven years.

Yet, on a back table in the outdoor studio in the Children’s Center on campus, there are piles of coffee table art books solely devoted to comics and graphic novels. Jessica keeps them back there to refer to when she’s talking to her class. She also encourages her students to read them to learn more about the craft.

Comics are high art and the subject of many illustrated books

The Comics class is small, only five students, but optimal for one-on-one teacher interactions. The students, mostly from southern California, are aged 11 to 13 years old. But don’t let their young age stop you.

“Each of them has created their own comics at some point,” Jessica said. “They’re all incredibly smart and gifted artists.”

When Jessica asked them to write a story that they all could illustrate, they couldn’t agree on the ending.

“So now we have two endings,” Jessica said.

Their story goes like this: Goblins and humans are fighting, and there’s only one person who can talk to both sides, Megan, a little girl. She convinces the goblins that they need to make peace with the humans. So they devise a plan to set the forest on fire, and then put it out, and save the day. That way, the humans will be grateful, and everyone will be happy.

11-to-13-year olds use clay, construction paper, cardboard and feathers to illustrate

“They had to solve a problem,” explained Jessica. “And forest fires are topical, and reflective on what’s going on in the real world.”

Yet, for three of the students, there is a different ending. Saskatchuwan, one of the evil goblins doesn’t want to make peace with the humans, and says, “Let the forest burn!” Other goblins don’t agree, but they’re too weak to stand up to him.

Sophie, whose mother is a movie producer defended her decision for that alternative ending.

“Happy endings are so predictable and dumb!” she said.

Her friend, Tritzah, age 11, agreed. But when asked how they could tell a story in which the humans die, the two girls, frowning said, “Who said that we were human?”

“You didn’t grow up watching ‘Dr. Who,’ did you?” Sophie asked. “When you see them, come back and talk to me!

Jessica Shiffman holds up a portrait of herself that one of her student's drew

On Wednesday, August 12, the class was finishing up their shadow boxes that would tell the goblin-human-fire story with two endings. Sophie was rolling out small pieces of clay to make bricks for a house in her shadow box.

She planned to use them again later to make a clay animation video, she said.

The brightly colored clay is called, “model magic,” and it’s made by Crayola. It soft, and pliable like clay, but less brittle and easier to work with. Next to the clay images of goblins and humans are dialog boxes of what’s being said or what’s going on in the scene.

Construction paper, glue, feathers, and clay. Simple materials to tell a story.

One student builds a house made out of construction paper and tape

The next day, Jessica and the students were going to share their progress with the rest of the school at “Share Pad.”

“We only have a few minutes to show what we’re doing,” Jessica said. “They won’t be able to see everything, but just get a jist of it.”

She said that the parents would be able to see the shadow boxes up close later.

No rest for the wicked, or the imaginable. On Friday, the Comics class was going to hollow out gourds that they’ll later use to make puppets. Jessica and her artist husband, Bill, went to Fallbrook last weekend and picked out 12 gourds.

“We have to soak them and scrape off the skin,” Jessica said.

Next week, the class will learn how to make gourd puppets.

“We didn’t start out making gourd puppets in Comic class,” Jessica explained. “I was actually thinking of turning it into another summer class. But the kids liked it so much that we kept it as part of the curriculum.”

The Comics class runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for two weeks. The students get a lunch break, and snack breaks, but they often work right through them, Jessica said.

Max, one of the students, wrote his name in comic-style letters

To warm up each day, the students do traditional drawing exercises. Yesterday, they did gesture drawings, or 60-second pose drawings of each other. Gesture drawings get students to look at bodily poses.

The previous day, the exercise was portraits. They each drew each other, and Matthew drew a portrait of Jessica.

“See? This is what I look like,” Jessica said, as she held up a portrait of herself.

Max, age 13, from Palm Springs, had completed his shadow box was doodling on paper in a far corner. He had written his name in block letters using black and silver markers. On the wall next to him is faded graffiti. Max doesn’t consider that art.

“All they’re doing is writing their names,” Max said. “It’s not art, but vandalism.”

Yet, his name in block letters resembles the tagger’s style. Where it all came from, you’ll have to look up in the history of comic books.

Connor illustrates one of his comics for class

Connor, who was rolling out some clay, had to rewrite the word, “dos,” meaning, “two” in Spanish for the second ending to their story. It looked too much like the word, “dog,” Jessica warned.

Jessica couldn’t stop talking about how imaginative all of her  students were, even the quiet ones like Matthew.

“In one of his stories, the earth ends, to stop global warming,” Jessica explained. “It eats up all the people, but spits out the wildlife.”

In another one, in honor of Friday, August 13th, Matthew created a comic about a flying burrito that caused a large hole in a woman’s stomach. When one surgeon refused to treat her, she climbed to the top of a flagpole and got stuck (because of the hole in her stomach).

All of this from 11 to 13-year-olds.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

All student’s artwork and stories are copyrighted to the students who created them. All rights reserved.

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Celebrating an Idyllwild Artist & Pioneer

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Lora Woodhead Steere was ISOMATA's first ceramic's teacher

It all started when her family called the curator of the Krone Museum at Idyllwild Arts.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

They were having a reunion in August and wanted to arrange an exhibit of some of her sculptures, illustrations and early photos. Since then, it has grown from a private family reunion to a public event. The Idyllwild Area Historical Society has gotten involved, and others have contributed more photos and sculptures. Speakers, live music, and videos will help celebrate the life and art of Idyllwild Arts’ (ISOMATA’s) first teacher, Lora Woodhead Steere.

Idyllwild Arts donated 13 of Lora's pieces to the exhibit

The daylong celebration will be held today, Saturday, August 7, starting at 11 a.m. with the video, “When Art Met Idyllwild: A Tribute to Lora W. Steere,” by an Idyllwild Arts student, held at the Rustic Theater. It will be followed by an art exhibit and reception at 1 p.m. at the Krone Museum on the Idyllwild Arts campus. Both events are free and open to the public.

In the small space of the Krone Museum, Sydney Cosselman, acting director, and Carol Mills, owner of the Courtyard Gallery, have created a welcoming tribute to Lora Woodhead Steere (1888-1984).

Lora’s parents (a Los Angeles socialite and a grocer/rancher/developer) first brought her to Idyllwild as a toddler on horseback. Loving the outdoors, she studied and received advanced degrees in zoology and paleontology, although she is best known as a sculptor including a commission by Helms Bakery for the 1932 Olympics. She was later recruited by Max Krone, founder of the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA), to become the school’s first teacher when it opened in 1950.

“We wanted to create an exhibit that looks like Lora has just left her studio,” said Sydney Cosselman.”That’s why we left her hat hanging on her easel, clay moulds and her tools coated with clay.”

Among the many bronze busts of people, two stand out: the full-sized disc thrower for the 1932 Olympics and a portrait bust of Maria Martinez, a Native American ceramics artist.

Standing about four feet tall, the bronze disc thrower is impressive with its attention to detail and atomic proportions.

“Be sure and get a good look at it today because we have to return it to LA on Monday,” Sydney said. “They need it for another exhibit.”

Lora's bronze dic thrower was a commission for the 1932 Olympics

The other piece, a terra cotta bust of Maria Martinez, sits on a desk on the back wall. It’s without ornamentation and fancy glazes, but you get a good feeling from it.

“She got a good likeness of Maria, who is a prominent North American sculptor,” said David Delgado, a ceramics instructor at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program, who, along with Greg Kennedy, brought in a youth ceramics class for a sneak preview on Friday.

He said it was important for the young students to see Lora’s work because she is an important figurehead at the school and the summer program.

“We work every day in her studio, and we wanted to come and see her work and pay tribute to what she’s done for us,” Delgado said.

The 15 summer students were impressed that Lora had climbed Tahquitz Peak nearly every day of her life. And, when she was 95, her friends carried her up to the top in a chair so she could see it again. The Idyllwild Town Crier and the Idyllwild Area Historical Society furnished photos of these trips.

Idyllwild Arts ceramics students got a sneak preview of the exhibit

“She climbed to the top 83 times,” said Charles Russell, her grandson, who spoke privately about Lora Steere at a cookout on Friday at the home  of Don Parker and Marti  Manser. “She taught us how to appreciate nature.”

He said he had been coming to Idyllwild every summer since he was three years old, and has kept her cabin here.

“She taught me how to see,” said Charles, who is now an architect.

He remembers the time she helped him create a sculpture of a Viking.

“I was in the Cub Scouts, and needed it for a merit badge,” he said. “She was patient with me, and it turned out pretty good.”

He no longer has the Viking sculpture, but contributed several of Lora’s works to the exhibit.

“She was multi-dimensional,” Charles added. “Not just art, she liked science and nature. She saw beauty in the smallest things.”

Maria Polmar, a French teacher at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, helped with the exhibit at the Krone Museum. She sewed the white curtains behind the bronze busts of the “Women of the World” series in the display cases.

“The cases had a dark background and we added white curtains to lighten them up,” she said.

Since then, Maria said the exhibit has had a positive effect on her.

Curator Sydney Cosselman expects 200 people to see the exhibit today

“I carried a lot of Lora’s sculptures around, and could see the detail and feel their weight,” she said. “Now, I want to create my own sculpture of my son.”

Sydney said that she expects 200 people to visit the Lora W. Steere exhibit today. It runs from August 7th to September 3rd at the Krone Museum, located within the Krone Library on the Idyllwild Arts campus.

At today’s opening event, there will be a film, speakers, drama and musicians, including:

Dr. Evan Mills: As a child, Mills was mentored by Lora, and grew up to be one of a group of scientists whose research and writing helped earn the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with Vice President Al Gore.

Calvin Levels: a Tony-Award nominee, performing a dramatic reading of passages from Lora’s letters from Idyllwild.

Paris Deesing: an award-winning film student at Idyllwild Arts Academy, whose mini-biopic of Lora Steere features rare archival stills (1890’s -1980’s) along with Woodhead and Steere family footage (1920’s-1960’s) taken in Idyllwild.

Lora's daughter, Florence (center), age 95, will be attending today's celebration with other family members

Dr. Diana Steere-Wiley: Lora’s granddaughter will speak for the family patriarch, and legendary award-winning horseman and veterinarian Dr Jim Steere, Lora’s youngest son, who died suddenly on Wednesday as he was preparing his speech on his mother. Lora’s 95-year-old daughter, Florence, will also be attending.

Carol Merrill: a recording artist, former musical partner, and protégé of international balladeers and ISOMATA regulars Marais and Miranda.

The Golden Grotto Group, with recording artist Jeremy Toback, Bruce Ryan, Kent Weishaus, Amy Fogerson and other surprise guests.

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Worth Getting up for Sat. AM Drum Concert

Friday, August 6th, 2010

(at R) Guest soloist Naoko Takada Sharp plays the marimba with enthusiasm

By Marcia E. Gawecki

If tonight’s concert was any indication, it would be worth getting up  early this Saturday morning, August 7, to hear the the Symphonic Percussion Ensemble at Idyllwild Arts. Although they are teenage musicians, their eight short songs sound, at times, like Buddy Rich on caffeine, the Blue Man Group, and various African drum circles. The fast-paced concert will wow your socks off and leave you panting for more. It’s worth staying for the last song that features guest soloist Naoko Takada Sharp, a world-class marimba player.

Throughout the concert Thursday night, these young players showcased the various instruments that make up the percussion part of an orchestra, including the marimba, xylophone, timpani, snare drums, bass drums,  chimes, cymbals, and even a gong. Some songs were kinetic, moody, upbeat and frenzied, while others were soothing and classical. But one thing’s for certain, drummers are the hardest working members of an orchestra or wind ensemble, and it was nice to see them singled out to “strut their stuff.”

The hour-long concert included six group songs and two short solo pieces. The songs included: “A la Strata” by M. Peter; “Debussy Day at the Fair,” by C. Debussy; “Triplets” by G.H. Green; “4 1/4 for Four” by A. Cirone; “Matrix” by S. Grimo and “Concerto for Marimba and Percussion Ensemble” by Ney Rosauro.

The second song, “Debussy Day at the Fair,” was classical and enjoyable, showcasing the talents of the senior percussionists on marimbas and xylophones. The next song, a modern one, “Triplets,” showcased six music students, two sets of playing on a xylophone and marimba at the same time, while a soloist lead them in the lively, upbeat song.

The group plays "4 1/4 for Four"

The next song, “4 1/4 for Four” is as complex as its title suggests. It featured four students playing the snare drums, the timpani (kettle drums), a bass drum set and the bongos with sticks. This song sounded  like the Blue Man Group, playing loudly, boldly and in unison. It brought out one of the Idyllwild Arts drum directors, Robin Sharp, who lead the group to a splashy, and perfectly-timed ending.

My favorite was “Matrix,” for its frenzied, frenetic complexity, and ability of the players to showcase about 15 different percussion instruments, sometimes all at once, that I couldn’t even begin to name. Chimes, cymbals, a gourd rattle, a triangle, snare drums, a marimba, a xylophone, a large gong and other instruments made horse clomping sounds, popcorn popping sounds, church bells chimes, and melded them all together into a truly enjoyable song. It also brought out the other modest, but talented drum director from Idyllwild Arts, Bill Schlitt.

Dylan playing marimba showed that he learned from the Master class

Dylan and Lauren, two students who participated in a Master Class with Naoko Takada Sharp, from last Thursday night, got to show off what they learned in two short solos, including “Etude in C Major” by C. Musser, and “Mexican Dance No. 2” by G. Stout.

Yet, it was the last song that made the show definitely worth seeing because the Master Class teacher was also the featured soloist. “Concerto for Marimba and Percussion Ensemble” by Ney Rosauro, a brilliant Brazilian composer, may have a boring title, but it leaves you on the edge of your seat. Mostly because it’s played with the unbridled energy of Ms. Takada Sharp, who, with double mallets in each hand, moved across the marimba keyboard with the intensity of a hummingbird in flight. Both arms were a blur throughout the entire song. It was even difficult to even get a photo of her because she didn’t stop moving for a second!

Una (at R) was in awe of Ms. Takada's playing on the marimba (L)

Her passion for the marimba showed in her facial and body expressions. She was the hardest working marimba player during that song.  Afterwards, the young students playing alongside her, congratulated her, took pictures, and stood smiling and in awe.

“She plays simply amazing,” said Una, a percussionist from Taiwan, who also attended Idyllwild Arts Academy for two years.

“I sounded good because you were my backup,” Ms. Takada Sharp answered.

“I hit one wrong note,” Una confessed, but the Master teacher said that it didn’t matter.

The 15 student percussionists take the stage for a final bow

The next Symphonic Percussion Ensemble Concert, with Ms. Takada as soloist, will be held at 9 a.m. this Saturday, August 7, at Ataloa (next to the Parks Exhibition Center) on the Idyllwild Arts campus. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, call (951) 659-2171.

Copyright Idyllwild Me 2010. All rights reserved.

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Nash’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Photo Exhibit a Hit

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Eric Metzler gives instructions to students before entering MOPA

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Baby Boomers are going to love this photography exhibit.

Imagine seeing candid photos all of your favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands with their “hair down,” and vunerable waiting backstage, and then see their sweaty, electric performances close-up like you’d never see them before. Or, catch them after the concerts, exhausted and numb “zoning” on the bus or back in their hotel rooms.

“Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash,” is the current exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park in San Diego. The show continues until Sept. 26.

“There isn’t a bad picture in the bunch,” said Eric Metzler, head of the Photography Department at Idyllwild Arts. He falls into the Baby Boomer category, but he took a group of 10 teenage photography students to see the show on Tuesday, July 20.

For many reasons, taking photographs of the exhibit was not allowed.

There were more than 100 mostly black-and-white photographs, as seen through the eyes of 40 legendary photographers including Lynn Goldsmith, Annie Leibovitz, Henry Diltz, Jim Marshall, Neal Preston, Mick Rock, and Graham Nash, among others.

“What was neat about this exhibit was there were photographers that I had never heard of before,” said Metzler, who has been teaching photography for more than two decades.

Many of the standout photos of this “Take Aim” exhibit were taken by lesser-known photographers, like Alfred Wertheimer, Joel Bernstein, Bob Gruen, Lew Allen, Anton Corbijn, and Jurgen Vollmer.

In fact, the exhibit’s “showcase” photo of Elvis eating breakfast at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VA, was taken by Werthheimer. The photo shows a close-up of a young Elvis, hair slicked back, blazer on, eating bacon and eggs. Elvis’ eyes are downcast, more interested in the meal, than posing for a photo. He looked like an angel eating breakfast.

According to the web site, the photos in this exhibit depict Graham Nash’s view of rock ‘n’ roll music, and showcase images of live concerts and behind-the-scene shots by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and Bill Haley & the Comets, among many others.

We knew that Graham Nash, from Crosby, Stills and Nash, could sing, but who knew that he could also take pictures?

“You can get many great shots when people don’t know that you’re really taking their image,” said Graham Nash, a quote that was printed on the wall of the exhibit.

Summer students said they enjoyed the exhibit

Metzler admitted that the “Take Aim” content would appeal mostly to Baby Boomers.  Most of the rock ‘n’ roll groups were from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. But he said that he saw photos from bands from 2003 that would appeal to a younger audience.

Part of the summer students’ assignment was to examine one photograph for clarity, depth of field, composition, and other aspects of good photography, and write their opinions on it. After 30 minutes of looking them over, each student selected a different photograph.

Most of the ones that I liked had mostly to do with rock ‘n’ roll history. For example, a memorable photo of John Lenon and Yoko Ono, taken by Annie Liebowitz, depicts their relationship. It features Yoko, fully clothed, lying on the floor of their NYC apartment, hair spread out like the Venus di Milo. By contrast, John is totally nude, kissing and clinging to her like a baby possum.Yet, what most people don’t know (until this exhibit), is that this photo was taken only a few hours before John Lenon was shot to death.

MOPA wouldn't allow any photos to be taken of their current "Take Aim" exhibit

Nash and his curator did a nice job of grouping photos. For example, they placed a photo of Bob Dylan’s hands just below a photo of Johnny Lee Hooker’s hands. Johnny Lee’s hands were open, palms up, depicting many lines, or a hard road. In one of Bob Dylan’s hands was a lit cigarette, nearly down to the butt. His nails were long, especially the ring finger on his right hand. The left hand was turned over, nonexpressive.

Nash also coupled two photos of Janis Joplin, one by the well-known Jim Marshall, while the other by the lesser-known Elliott Landy. Marshall’s photo depicts a young Janis backstage, all dressed up, yet still defiant. On her lap rests a full bottle of Southern Comfort.

Landy’s photo shows a close-up of Janis Joplin onstage, singing into a microphone. Her hair is frizzed, her eyes are closed, and her right breast has fallen out of her beaded top. Although Marshall’s photo shows a vunerably, Landy’s depiction of Joplin onstage is personal and a bit vunerable too. She is so caught up in the song, that she’s unaware of her “wardrobe malfunction.”

Although there was a couple of photos of Cass Elliot from the 60s vocal group, The Mamas & the Papas, photos of John Phillips was noticeably absent. Perhaps Nash didn’t want to stir up negative feelings after John’s actor daughter, Mackenzie Phillips, recently came out with her incest book. For my part, I was glad not to see him grinning.

Of all the stage antics in these “Take Aim” photos, the ones I liked the best were of Elton John doing a handstand on the piano keyboard, while his platform shoes were flying in the air, and the one of Bill Haley (of Bill Haley & the Comets) playing guitar, while his bass player was standing on top of his bass while playing.

MOPA is located in Balboa Park, the site of many museums and attractions

“Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash,” will continue at the Museum of Photographic Arts until Sept. 26.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it’s closed on Mondays. For more information, call (619) 238-7559 or visit

Metler’s class will also showcase their photos that they’ve taken over the past two weeks today from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Studio D on the Idyllwild Arts campus. For more information, call (951) 659-2171.

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