A Look at What’s in a House – by Jessica Meyer

Jessica Meyer

Jessica Meyer

Each year more than 5,000 students from area schools participate in various Arts-in-Education programs at Caramoor. Jessica Meyer is a violist and composer who recently led a workshop with a class of 5th graders from Yonkers, and wanted to share her experience: 

I am really excited to be part of Caramoor’s two-day educational residencies called What’s in a House, a series of workshops where students visit with both an architect and a horticulturalist, then compose music with me based on rooms of the famous Rosen House.

When I first saw the house, I was shocked by how unique and captivating it is. I have traveled the world as a classical violist, but I have never seen a house like this! What makes it really special is that there is an entire room devoted to music, and that Ms. Rosen loved to play the Theremin – which is proudly displayed next to the stage.

The residency officially starts off with a warm-up and discussion with me just after students tour the house. They briefly describe what they noticed while looking in each room, especially about patterns and structure. We then make the connection that music also usually has patterns and a structure as they get ready to hear a piece I composed for solo viola and loop machine. It was quite a happy accident that both myself and Ms. Rosen worked with electrified instruments, and we spend a brief time composing with a few kids from the audience using the machines before lunch.

During the rest of the residency, I work more in-depth with smaller groups of children. We name specific parts of the house and then brainstorm how we can convey a certain mood or story through sound. For instance, questions in the past have included:

What is the story being told by that room/tapestry/painting?
What instrument would be best for that?
Let’s pick up our pretend (instrument), sing something that this instrument would play…and so on.

In 30 minutes time, we have composed several pieces for viola, piano and percussion based on different places in the house, and we practice performing it before the rest of the students get back. Students quickly learn the essence of teamwork and detailed listening skills, and methodically tweak their pieces to make them better down to the wire…. until it’s showtime.

With so many music programs no longer available in the schools, teachers are always pleasantly surprised to see some of their more challenged or quiet students have their moment in the sun when given the opportunity to get creative in an inspiring space.

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