The State of the Music Is Strong
I spent last weekend in Austin as part of a grant evaluation committee for the Texas Commission on the Arts. I was extremely honored to be asked to take part in the selection process for the Texas Young Masters program. The competition was across the artistic disciplines, and will give the selected high school students a grant of $2500 per year to help them with their training. I will admit that when I received almost 70 grant applications from high school students, I wondered what it was that I had volunteered for!
I was sent a binder with 66 grant applications from musicians all over the state with the instructions to read through each of the applications and be ready to critique them in the panel. I was a bit worried as I read through them because there were a lot of similar essays. (I have to say that it was the first time I’ve really felt like a crotchety old man – I kept muttering to myself about the state of writing in high school these days… dadgummit!)
By the time I finally arrived in Austin, I was preparing myself for a long two days of reviewing recordings from high school kids. I was prepared for a lot of all-state etudes, etc. (You can tell that I was a bit jaded by this point).
Then we heard them play.
I can say in all honesty that I am thoroughly convinced that we will see some major concert artists (in everything from jazz to pop to classical) coming out of Texas over the next few years. I am convinced that we’ll see some great classical guitarists, some inspirational pop artists, a few singers on Broadway or the Metropolitan Opera (or Opera Vista), and some violinists that go on to solo careers or major orchestra jobs – with musicians at all levels in between. It was amazing to see how high school students put together such wonderful videos. Some of them played so well that my jaw dropped! I also appreciated the process that the TCA had in that the applicants would receive our critiques. I also had wonderful colleagues on the panel, and I felt that everyone brought extremely constructive critiques to the table.
I am pretty sure that I’ve seen the next Yo Yo Ma. You’ll all be seeing an incredible cellist coming out of Texas in the next few years. We were all getting pretty tired by the time we saw his video, and for a really young kid who hadn't been playing that long, he was truly impressive. He oozed music, but more importantly, he loved every single note he was playing. I was truly awed.
I can say that after my worries about the crazy number of applicants, the difficulty in scoring and evaluating them all, and the long days that I found it to be one of the most inspiring experiences in a long time. Texas is going to be turning out some great musicians over the next years, and that’s something to be proud of… let’s just hope they edit their essays!