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Fiddling around on campus
Young Musicians Program teaches theory and practice — plus a good dose of college prep

| 20 August 2003

 

daisy newman

Daisy Newman, director of the Young Musicians Program
Charles Herlevic photo

When pianist Halley Warren took to the stage as part of the recent Young Musicians Program end-of-the-summer concert, the audience was already buzzing from an afternoon of extraordinary performance. But as the 17-year-old launched confidently into Emma Lou Diemer’s “Toccata” — an intricate arrangement that involves simultaneously playing notes and plucking the piano strings to simulate percussion — the Hertz Hall crowd rose to its feet, frequently erupting into bursts of applause throughout the five-minute performance.

Warren was one of 75 Young Musicians Program (YMP) students who performed that afternoon. For these young musicians, this final concert is the culmination of a summer spent studying, practicing, and performing music. For YMP, the concert is a tradition.

For 36 years, YMP has provided full scholarships to exceptionally gifted, underprivileged children ages 9 to 18 from around the Bay Area. In addition to offering year-round private instruction, the program welcomes students to the Berkeley campus for seven arduous but gratifying weeks during the summer, all in the pursuit of enlarging and perfecting their innate musical talent.
Despite its lofty goals, YMP faces daunting economic problems in the coming year. As an academic-outreach program, a portion of its funding comes from state outreach grants, which were slashed in half in the recently ratified 2003-04 state budget. Still, YMP administrators and instructors remain committed to continuing to provide free music training to those in need.

Cadenzas and camp too
Director Daisy Newman came to YMP in March after eight years with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Education Program. “I went through such a battle in Detroit trying to survive with a free lesson program, and they’re doing it here year-round, with a summer camp. I couldn’t believe it,” she smiles.

While YMP is designed specifically for disadvantaged children, Newman is quick to point out that it is not an entitlement program. Auditions are competitive and intense, requiring applicants to demonstrate their musical ability before a panel of judges prior to acceptance. This past spring, 110 children auditioned for a mere 23 openings.

Once admitted, the young musicians undergo a rigorous course of study. During the summer session, students are required to take classes in music theory and music history, and also receive hours of individual instrumental or vocal tutoring. While each child is already proficient in a particular instrument, they are all given instruction in both piano and chorus.

The majority of new students have had no formal musical training and enter the program unfamiliar with theory and sight-reading. Because this type of structured music education is new for many of them, there can be a period of adjustment. “A lot of the kids come into the program playing little folk tunes they’ve learned by ear. Because they have an innate musicality, they resist learning how to read music,” says Newman, explaining that the children are required to study sight reading for ten minutes at the close of each lesson.
The program’s training focuses on two genres of music — jazz and classical. “Some students relate more to jazz than classical,” says Newman. “But all our kids receive classical training first — starting off with basic scales and techniques, then moving on to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. I tell them that if they want to play jazz, theory is more important to them than it is to the classical musician. They must understand chord structures, because that’s what jazz charts are built from.”

Meet expectations — or else
One of YMP’s primary objectives is building each child’s sense of self-worth, which includes addressing issues of discipline and protocol. “A lot of the kids don’t understand that they must come on time,” says Newman, “with their music and their instruments in order. They must meet expectations or they will be invited to leave.”

The program also focuses on the future, placing a heavy emphasis on preparation for college. During their junior year of high school, YMP students receive SAT training, college-search counseling, and tutoring through Americorps. In the past 16 years, Newman notes, fully 100 percent of YMP seniors have gone on to some form of college.

A number of YMP graduates return to the Berkeley campus during the summer to work with the current students. Seven former students, including lead counselor Jeannine Anderson, spent this summer teaching and mentoring the kids. Anderson, who finished the program in 1991, has gone on to receive her bachelor’s degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and her master’s in opera performance from the Mannes College of Music in New York. She has come back to work with YMP nearly every summer since she left. “I learned so much while I was here, “ says Anderson, “and now I can come back and offer these kids advice about what awaits them when their time here is over.”

Though the current cuts in state funding are worrisome, YMP administrators are confident that they will survive with the help of private donations. Already receiving about two-thirds of their funding through corporate and civic sponsorship, they know that they will have to do even more fundraising in the future.

“I’m an optimist,” declares Newman “We have a unique opportunity here to help children from low-income homes become better musicians and better citizens. Part of my job is to raise money through private donations, and I intend to pursue that vigorously.”

Visit ymp.berkeley.edu/ for more information on the Young Musicians Program.