Music’s Newest Career Track has a Social Conscience

21CM | By Diane Haithman

Sebastian Ruth

Sebastian Ruth

The word “outreach” in the performing arts conjures up visions of the local orchestra performing for underserved communities – then rushing back to the concert hall in time for the 8 p.m. curtain.

But a new crop of classical music entrepreneurs wants to make social activism the main event. Musicians are forming more ensembles outside the orchestra in pursuit of new models of giving back. They are devoting their careers to music as social entrepreneurship.

Sebastian Ruth is a violinist, violist and the founder of Providence, R.I.’s Community MusicWorks, which provides music education for at-risk kids. The landscape was different 19 years ago when he founded MusicWorks. “When we started in the late ’90s, our work was much more of a marginal activity,” Ruth says. “I would say people were not flocking to do this kind of work. That seems to have shifted pretty dramatically.”

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Published June 7, 2016
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The Duke, Dizzy & Eubie return to Yale in film, jazz event Friday

Conservatory-vNew Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

Willie Ruff, the music faculty member at Yale who was playing jazz with the greats back when there were dance halls in many towns, is jazzed up about Friday’s event at Morse Recital Hall that will pair a TV documentary with a live performance.

The 7:30 p.m. event, titled “Conservatory Without Walls,” begins with a “lost” video documentary originally created by WTIC-TV in Hartford, later to become WFSB-3. After intermission, 11-year-old drum prodigy Kojo Odu Roney will take the stage with the Antoine Roney Trio: saxophonist Antoine Roney (Kojo’s father), guitarist Billy “Spaceman” Patterson and bassist Rashaan Carter.

“I just learned of the existence of (the documentary),” said Ruff in a phone chat. “Actually, it was two half-hour shows that John Sablon and Brad Davis (had done).”

Ruff, 84, said there was a constellation of jazz stars at the event, which he organized in 1972 and led to the Ellington Jazz Series that includes this event.

“It was Duke Ellington and his whole orchestra, and 39 other people — Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Ray Brown, Slam Stewart, Cootie Williams,” said Ruff. “It was 40 individuals being honored by the university with an Ellington medal. And they stayed on the campus here; actually, the events on campus lasted three days…”

Ruff said the TV station’s crew was bowled over by the talent present.

“They were overwhelmed by all those people assembled. So while Duke’s band or Eubie Blake … was playing on the stage at Woolsey Hall, they had cameras on them and cameras downstairs in the dressing room, where they were interviewing Dizzy Gillespie and Stanley Dance, the (jazz) journalist.”

Ruff and organizers had been forbidden from making a documentary for copyright reasons, but “you can’t copyright the news, so these two TV men working together and separately made a half-hour show and they had so much material left that they made another half-hour show.”

Ruff said the 1972 videotape was discovered by an archivist recently, but there was “hardly anything you could play it on.” So Yale’s Film Study Center sent the material to a California company to digitize it. And folks there were too young to know who was in the film, so Ruff was called in to help out, and he discovered a bit of lost treasure.

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Published May 16, 2016
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‘Traveling the World’ in Music Haven/IRIS concert

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Yaira Matyakubova, ’06 AD (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Cei — Music Haven)

New Haven Registrar | By Joe Amarante

For families helped by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, this city is aptly named. And with the Music Haven nonprofit also getting involved, it’s a place of new musical horizons.

The Whalley Avenue music education group, home to the Haven String Quartet, is presenting a series of workshops and concerts for IRIS families, including a concert by the quartet at 6 p.m. Friday night at Fair Haven School, 164 Grand Ave.

Students will also perform in the free concert, “Traveling the World with the Haven String Quartet,” open to newcomers and any other members of the public. There will be an instrument “petting zoo” for children to try out.

According to a Music Haven release, the first collaboration with IRIS was last month, when Senior Resident Violinist Yaira Matyakubova took a group of Music Haven students to the IRIS after-school program at Fair Haven School to play for a group of refugee children who are new to New Haven.

The idea for the project came from some of the youngest Music Haven students, during a discussion about refugees, the release said. The kids decided they wanted to share music with recent refugee children, since language isn’t a barrier in music. Matyakubova came here from Uzbekistan when she was 16, a memory that replays when she sees the children of IRIS.

Music Haven recently received a $5,000 Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant (a short-term initiative of the Mayor’s Community Arts Grant Program) to support the collaboration with IRIS.

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Published April 26, 2016
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The New Yorker: Fish Out of Water

Lang-by-David-Serling-webThe New Yorker | By Alex Ross

On the day of the Golden Globe Awards, in January, the composer David Lang, who teaches at the Yale School of Music and won a Pulitzer Prize for his radiant choral work “The Little Match Girl Passion,” found himself in a Chevy Suburban on a side street in Beverly Hills, creeping toward the Beverly Hilton. He had been nominated, in the Best Original Song category, for a piece called “Simple Song #3,” which appears in Paolo Sorrentino’s film “Youth.” His competitors were Sam Smith, Brian Wilson, Wiz Khalifa, and a team led by Max Martin. Lang was at a far remove from the Manhattan new-music world where he has long been a fixture, notably as a co-founder of the Bang on a Can collective.

Lang, who is fifty-nine and has a droll, sanguine manner, was with his wife, the artist Suzanne Bocanegra. “This tux belonged to my dad,” he said. With his shaved head and his round architect-style glasses, he could be mistaken for a studio big shot. “But, more often, people ask me to park their cars,” he said. He grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a doctor and a librarian, but in his youth he had only glancing contact with movie culture. As a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies, he worked as an usher at a theatre in Westwood; one of his duties was to attend to patrons who had thrown up during “The Exorcist.”

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Published February 26, 2016
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YaleNews: School of Music launches ‘Music and Social Action’ Coursera course

ruth_sebastian-h-webYaleNews | By Bess Connolly Martell

The Yale School of Music launched its first massive open online course (MOOC), titled “Music and Social Action,” on Yale’s Coursera platform Feb. 22. Taught by Sebastian Ruth, the Yale College Class of 1957 Visiting Professor of Community Engagement, the course explores questions about musicians’ responses to the condition of the world.

The course, which took 13 months to develop, is being offered in an “on demand” format, and as such does not have to be viewed sequentially. “This process has deepened my own understanding of this material and has presented an interesting challenge to think through what makes compelling learning online,” says Ruth. “We hope we have crafted a learning experience that is rich and three dimensional.”

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Published February 24, 2016
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SF Gate: Eighth Blackbird and 6 composers, working together

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

Composition Collective Sleeping Giant

SF Gate | By Joshua Kosman

Coming into Sunday’s concert by the perennially inventive new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird, I was a little unclear about the nature of the programming. Was “Hand Eye” — the six-part evening-length work by the composers’ collective Sleeping Giant that constitutes the entire program — a collection of individual works, or a single suite whose movements had been written individually?

The answer, it turned out, was yes.

Among the many exciting aspects of this undertaking, presented by Cal Performances in UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, perhaps none was more striking than the formal blurriness on display. The six pieces, each running between 10 and 15 minutes, stand alone, but they also call out to each other in various ways.

Although each piece bears the name and the stylistic thumbprint of a different composer, there are obvious similarities in musical language and dramatic strategy. Thematic ideas go underground in one piece, only to resurface unexpectedly much later. And in performance, Eighth Blackbird ran the pieces together so that the end of one and the beginning of the next was never clearly marked. MORE

Published February 19, 2016
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YaleNews: Take 5 with Composer Hannah Lash

lash-take5YaleNews | By Susan Gonzalez

Take 5 offers a brief introduction to Yale faculty members in a Q&A format. The featured faculty member selects 5 out of 10 questions to answer. Any opinions shared are not necessarily those of YaleNews.

Hannah Lash, a member of the School of Music faculty since 2013, is a composer of chamber, choral, orchestral, vocal, and solo works, which have been performed throughout the country and abroad. Her music has been commissioned by the Boston and Alabama symphony orchestras, Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, and the Aspen Music Festival and School, among many others, and have won her numerous awards and fellowships.

Closer to home, Lash’s work has been debuted by Yale Choral Artists and by the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, which last fall premiered the first installment of “The Voynich Symphony,” an ongoing collaboration that the orchestra will introduce in four parts in concerts over two seasons. Lash’s inspiration for the piece is the Voynich manuscript, an illustrated codex in an unknown writing system housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library that has long been a mystery to scholars and cryptographers worldwide. MORE

Published February 8, 2016
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Willie Ruff is called a “legend in his own time” at Arts Council Awards

ruff-willie_artscouncilawardZip06.com | By Amy J. Barry, Correspondent

Willie Ruff, a world-renowned jazz musician and educator who has lived in Branford for more than 30 years, is a “legend in his own time,” says Cynthia Clair, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.

During the Arts Council’s annual awards ceremony earlier this month at the New Haven Lawn Club, where Ruff was the recipient of the C. Newton Schenck III Award for Lifetime Achievement in and Contribution to the Arts, Clair pointed out that Ruff, who attended Yale School of Music as an undergraduate after serving in the Army, performed internationally for 50 years with the late pianist Dwike Mitchell. The duo shared the stage with such jazz icons as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan and is credited with bringing jazz to new audiences around the world, most notably in the Soviet Union in 1959 and China in 1989.

“Among the many things I find fascinating is Willie speaks seven languages,” Clair says. “And he brought the jazz greats of our time to New Haven over the past 30 years. Through the Duke Ellington Fellowship [that he established], he not only introduced them to New Haven audiences, but took them into New Haven Schools.” MORE

Published December 18, 2015
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Review: Matthew Welch Offers Ethereal Chamber Music at the Stone

welch_matt_webThe New York Times | By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

The music of Matthew Welch, who began a weeklong residency at the Stone on Tuesday, draws on a world of influences. His opening set, performed by the ensemble Cantata Profana, packed in references to Highland bagpipes, Balinese funerary rites, Minimalism, Borges, Beckett and Buddha. Yet much of the resulting chamber music is exquisitely ethereal, made up of delicate, transparent textures that hum with expressive tension. If Mr. Welch were a chef, he’d be the kind who pushes the boundaries of molecular gastronomy, transforming earthy ingredients into translucent beads of pure flavor.

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Published December 18, 2015
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NYT: David Lang Strives for an Unusually Emotional Melody

David Lang, composer

David Lang, composer

The New York Times | By Rachel Donadio

“Youth,” the first feature film by Paolo Sorrentino since his Academy Award-winning ode to Rome, “The Great Beauty,” stars Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger, an aging composer passing time at an Alpine resort and reflecting on his life. Much of the drama hinges on whether he will conduct a concert of a work that made him famous, his “Simple Song #3,” inextricably linked in his mind to an irrecoverable past.

To score the film — and to write “Simple Song #3” — Mr. Sorrentino turned to David Lang, the celebrated new-music composer, based in New York, whose work has been described as post-Minimalist.

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Published December 14, 2015
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