Reflections on “Music from the Americas”

The University Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra and I will present the “Music from the Americas” concert this Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8 PM in Wilson Hall, Lexington Virginia. Tickets are required. Go to the University’s website for information and to purchase tickets >click here.

The program includes the beautiful music from the Americas featuring Villa-Lobos (Brazil), Ginastera (Argentina) and Randall Thompson (United States). MaryAnne Vardaman will perform Bruch‘s Kol Nidre.

As I study the two pieces from South America, I can’t help but recall and reflect on my visits to both countries.

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959

Hector Villa-Lobos 1887-1959 (photo credit:

Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, with its sensual and suave tenor sax solos juxtaposed to the rustling sounds of the desert and the chugging sounds of the little countryside train of Caipira, capture the swaying rhythms of a country I proudly call my second home. Villa Lobos’ homage to Bach, captures the unique spirit of Brazilians; kind-hearted, full of humor, and proud of their beautiful country.

In contrast, the stylized more aggressive percussive style of Estancia by Ginastera portrays a country which gave birth to Tango; not only the dance but the song. Tango dancing contains sharp, definitive moves that often bring the two dances close in proximity but far in a personal sense; almost a battle of two wills. The songs of Tango are sad melodramas perhaps influenced by the difficult history of a country still defining itself.  “Maambo,” the final dance is a wild, out of control dance that ends the Suite in an explosive fashion–so different from the train from Caipira.

I met many Argentinians in my travels; often sharing stories with me of sadness and profound loss. It is a humbling experience hearing about a friend who passed away, leaving a loving family to grieve or a talented singer going it alone even after so many disappointments. The long melodic lines of the second movement of the Ballet gives us time to pause and pray for a better life.

Thompson’s home-spun Second Symphony is from an era of innocence and patriotism. Though parts of each movement often reflect the new machine age with its repeated highly rhythmic motifs, there are countless singable, folk-like melodies that dot the entire work. Though the composition doesn’t incorporate the jazz rhythms that were showing up in concert pieces during the same time, the “American sound” sung by the strings at the end of the last movement leaves us with feeling of pride and hope. Whatever country you call home, we all cling to hope…all of us.


Autism (ASD) and Music–Insights and Lessons for All of Us

“Emmanuela reported feeling more confident about being part of the school band. She showed pride when she received her report card with a “B” in music.  Emmanuela for the first time in her life felt part of a group. She complained about other situation when she was not accepted, even during lunch break when students still move when she comes to their table. Emmanuela feThe Kolman Familyels like she belongs to the band, and even brags about being much better than other band members.”

– Grace Y. Kolman, M.A. in Counseling; Early Intervention Graduate Assistant, University Health Center’s Substance Abuse Prevention, James Madison University

 Teaching children and adolescents with ASD to play an instrument is a matter of inclusion more than performance. The ability to recognize emotion in music is preserved in their brain, and it would not be an issue.”  – Grace Y. Kolman

School counselors need to work close with music teachers to support them and the children during the learning process. Music is an open avenue to communication due to its universal language.”  – Grace Y. Kolman

” Be aware of ethnic and cultural differences is very important. Repertoire should be sensitive to these differences.” – Grace Y. Kolman

Quotes from Emmanuela:

“It is difficult to learn how to play, but you don’t give up.” 

“Mamma and Daddy, I got a B in the band, are you proud of me?” 

“You never give up” 


Postscript to A Family Project–Music for Autism Therapy

On November 16, My wife, Grace, and I presented our findings regarding Autism and Music. This concluded a four month investigation of the effect if any clarinet lessons would have on my daughter Emmanuela, who has been diagnosed with highly functional autism, and me as her father, conductor and clarinet instructor. I kept a journal of each lesson and Emmanuel also kept a journal.

My wife presented a case for music and its regenerative powers of certain portions of the brain. “Mano” explained how difficult it was to play the clarinet but expressed her happiness of finally being accepted into a group, her school Band with a grade of a “B!” She is very proud of her accomplishments as we are.

It was difficult to hold back the tears when we talked further about Mano’s many challenges in middle school, socially (she is often a target of bullying) and scholastically with English intense subjects like history.

As a grand finale, Mano and I performed two duets from her Band book. Mano performed very well and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. This was a special experience for me as a parent and my ties with my daughter have never been stronger.

It was a family affair of collaborating with Grace, a counselor, and myself, a musician. This was Grace’s idea that was first suggested during the summer. It was a great journey that still has not ended.