DRANOFF FOUNDATION INTRODUCES STUDENTS TO
THE JOY OF MUSIC
By Lawrence Budmen
When the Duo Antithesis (pianists Petros Moshos and Dimitris Karydis) took the stage of Coral Gables High School Auditorium on January 26, a new educational outreach initiative was born. "Family of Music Lovers" - a program that introduces students and their families to great duo piano music - is the brainchild of the Dranoff Foundation's new Executive Director Carlene M. Sawyer. Sawyer, a native of Coral Gables and graduate of Gables High, has returned to South Florida after a successful career in public relations that spans two decades. As managing partner of Tom Sawyer and Associates in Chicago, Sawyer represented such clients as the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Archdiocese of Chicago, and the American Cancer Society. Having worked on many educational projects Sawyer is focusing on expanding the Dranoff Foundation's outreach activities. Her work is strongly motivated by a desire to return music education to the public schools. Coral Gables High School was once a model of enlightened music curriculum. In the late1950's two consecutive classes yielded gifted student composers who would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize for Music - Ellen Taffee Zwilich and Lewis Spratlin.(Zwilich and Spratlin knew each other and played in the school orchestra together. Today Gables High does not have an orchestral program.) Budget cuts have decimated most school music programs. Sawyer intends to harness the Dranoff Foundation's resources and prestige (as producer of the only competition in the world devoted solely to duo piano music) to bring great music back to the schools while also involving the community.
"Family of Music Lovers" entails bringing the award winning two piano teams of the Murray Dranoff 2 Piano Competition into public schools for one hour lecture-concerts. Students are given a voucher redeemable for free tickets to a public concert if they are accompanied to that performance by one or more family members. At the performance the voucher is stamped to validate the students' attendance. The students then return the voucher to their school where they will receive extra credit in one of their subjects. This is a win-win project. Students get exposed to great music; their parents become involved in the cultural nurturing process; and the students gain academic credit for attending a concert performance. For many students this project is their first exposure to classical music.
The initial results were highly encouraging. At Gables High hundreds of students were mesmerized by the playing of the Moshos-Karydis duo - the Third Prize Winners of the 2003 Dranoff Competition. After riveting the audience's attention by initially speaking in Greek, the pianists played Darius Milhaud's "Scaramouche" Suite. "This is a 'fun piece' which brings out our different personalities," Karydis told the rapt audience. (This audience was quieter and more attentive than many concert audiences in South Florida.) Petros Moshos preceded the "Night Love" movement from Rachmaninoff's Suite for two pianos by reading the poem by Bauer on which the music is based. Moshos illustrated an arabesque (repeated notes) on the piano that illuminates the line "The nightingale's high note is heard." He played octaves to illustrate Rachmaninoff's musical illusion of "Gentle winds and waters near." Cheers rang out in the auditorium when the Antithesis Duo played the "Easter" section of the Rachmaninoff work with its agile pianistic depiction of tolling bells - the church bells of the Russian Easter so dear to the composer's heart. Moshos and Karydis performed "Island Dances" by Yanis Constandanilis - a classical-World Music fusion piece that combined Greek folk traditions with contemporary classicism.
The Gables students really liked "Samba Trieste in the Style of Hard Rock" by the octogenarian British composer and jazz and cabaret pianist Richard Rodney Bennett (best known for his film scores for "Far from the Madding Crowd" and "Murder on the Orient Express"). When Karydis announced "We are going to play a work by a Cuban composer," the students applauded loudly and cheered; even more so when he identified that composer as Ernesto Lecuona - "the Cuban Gershwin." The Duo Antithesis's own brilliant transcription of "Malaguena" featured Karydis strumming the piano strings as well as playing in duo. They were rewarded by a standing, cheering ovation. A student asked the pianists to give an encore. Even though they had not prepared an extra piece, Moshos and Karydis obliged with a delightful Scott Joplin rag. A beaming Loretta Dranoff (founder of the organization) was enthusiastic about the students' response to the program.
After their performance the Duo Antithesis reflected on the event. "It is our biggest pleasure to play for children. They are our most difficult audience," noted Karydis. Moshos finds youthful audiences "very enthusiastic, very extroverted." The duo has performed smaller scale 20 minute concerts in schools throughout Europe. They have also played Camille Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals" at many educational and family concerts. The pianists are deeply dedicated to performing contemporary music. "It is important to include new works in our programs," Karydis emphasized. (They have recently commissioned the Greek composer Giorgos Koumentakis.)
On the rainy, cold, wind swept evening of January 28, Moshos and Karydis presented a more formal concert at the Steinway Concert Hall in Coral Gables. Despite the inclement weather, 80 people (students and parents) filled most of the 100 seat auditorium. Many of the students (vouchers in hand) were from Gables High. Others came from Coral Reef High School and the New World School of the Arts - schools where the Dranoff winners had also presented their program. Several Greek-American students from Arcamedian Academy surprised the pianists with their attendance. True to their commitment to contemporary works, Duo Antithesis premiered a new score by the British composer Rhien Samuels. Many of the young people in the enthusiastic audience insisted on having their pictures taken with the pianists.
Renate Ryan, President of the Dranoff Foundation, was ecstatic about the response to the project's initial events. "We wanted to introduce young people to the two piano repertoire. The response of the students was thrilling, heart warming, and truly gratifying," Ryan observed. Ryan added that this outreach effort could not have taken place without "the vision of Carlene Sawyer and the talent and passion of our young, personable team." Sawyer added "the programming and artists were wonderful." Future plans call for another series of events on April 18-22 at middle schools (including Carver and Ponce De Leon) with a Russian and Ukrainian two piano team. Ryan has even higher goals for the series. "We are doing far more than branching out artistically," she said. "Through music we hope to touch other people's lives." The "Family of Music Lovers" project is clearly off to a great start!