The Bay Atlantic Symphony visited Vineland High School for the third year. Video by Jose Moreno
VINELAND - In the Vineland High School South band room, tucked at the end of B-wing, student string musicians focus on two lessons.
Their teacher, Douglas Neder, instructs them on the basics so their instruments don’t screak.
It is the mission of resident artist, Genaro Medina, to inspire the 27 teen musicians to make their music speak.
He builds their confidence in solo play and then unites them into something bigger to create “this glow of sound.”
“Each of you is very important.” Medina tells them.
For the third year, the Bay Atlantic Symphony continues its educational programming, funded through last week’s gala held at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa that attracted 700 patrons.
This outreach was a priority when the symphony announced last year it was making the Landis Theater its Cumberland County home base.
“I know, first-hand, from working with young people, that when they touch something as powerful as great music, it lifts their spirit,” Jed Gaylin, the symphony’s music director told The Daily Journal. “When kids understand the capabilities of human souls working together for something beautiful like music, they have a sense of well-being, curiosity, and compassion that nothing else can surpass. Of course, focus, concentration, empathy, and discipline follow. How could it be otherwise?
“For this reason, having Bay Atlantic Symphony professionals working in the schools with them and then bringing young people to our concert halls to experience some of the most powerful music ever written is so vital,” Gaylin said. “It is not an auxiliary activity, it is as fundamental to their development as STEM, good nutrition, and a positive, caring environment.”
In addition to VHS, the symphony has educational programs at Atlantic City High School and the Sovereign Avenue Middle School, also in Atlantic City. Students not only learn, they get a peek into what it’s like to be a member of a professional orchestra.
Neder welcomes Medina’s input.
“He brings a lot of, I’m going to call, the fine details,” Neder said, explaining how Medina shares the violin-specific tips and tricks. “It almost been a tag team relationship where I’m getting them to read the music and play the right rhythms and he comes in and gets, I’ll say, very violiny.”
Neder also enjoys being a student as well.
“I’m actually a piano player,” he said. “It’s interesting to me, I learn things from him all the time.”
Medina, a violist, leads a tutorial lesson every two weeks during the school day with the VHS musicians.
It starts simply with tuning and properly holding a bow.
But Medina quickly moves on to what he’s most passionate about, bringing the notes to life.
“It makes me better, he teaches technique,” sophomore Diana Briones said, appreciating how he encourages musicians to see more than sheet music. “He changes some things to make it more interesting.”
She thanks Medina for teaching her how to hold a bow.
“For me, it was really hard and he told me how to,” Briones said.
Sophomore Erica Sanchez, who picked up the violin as a Johnstone Elementary School fourth-grader, hopes to have a career in music.
Was has working with Medina taught her?
“It’s cliché but not to stop trying, no matter what,” Sanchez said.
This week, the students are working on a Christmas tune. Medina shows them how subtle changes in bow strokes can manipulate the mood of the music.
“The audience hears the difference, but they don’t know what it is,” he tells the students, who follow his lead. “It was beautiful, you sounded professional.”
Gabriella Rivas, junior, plays the lone viola, and welcomes Medina’s constructive criticism.
“He wants us to learn more than just the written notes,” she said, explaining they are learning about the dynamics of music.
That’s not easy to explain.
“You have to have feeling,” Rivas said
Medina tells Rivas that viola is the heart of the song. Her notes give the tune its Christmas bells.
Students also learn to be professional.
Medina expects eyes on him as the conductor. He refocuses distracted students with a simple and soft “thank you.”
When his student musicians get it right, he is lavish with praise.
Keeping beat with snaps of his fingers, the musicians play the requested measures.
“Bravo,” he tells them. “You sound great guys.”
Marisa Giraud, a junior, takes the class as well as lessons outside school.
“I’ve been playing since fourth grade and I went to Petway Elementary School,” she said. One day, she might like a seat in the Bay Atlantic Symphony.
Medina says he would welcome that.
“Our mission is to reach as many kids as we can,” said Meg Sippey, the symphony’s executive director. “A lot of kids have access to musical instruments but not everybody, there are some schools in South Jersey that don’t even have strings in their schools.”
Having professional musicians work with youngsters can help them understand how detailed it can be to play.
“You never really master an instrument, it’s always about improvement,” Sippey said. “In math, you always find the answer — in music, there’s always inspiration.”
There’s a central theme to Medina’s teaching.
“How together, with different mindsets, we can reach common goals,” he said.
Medina, 38, of Voorhees, grew up in Venezuela, where young musicians, once they reach are certain level, are expected to teach others.
“I realized the only way music can survive is to teach it to others, pass it along,” he said.
When a student finds a connection to the music, Medina said he watches the smile spill across their face.
“That is what all my life’s work is for,” he said.
The N.J. State Council on the Arts, Bergen Foundation, PNC Arts Alive and the Friends of Music also contribute the symphony's community and educational outreach initiatives.
Deborah M. Marko: (856) 563-5256; firstname.lastname@example.org