NEH-Funded Education Project "Dvořák and America" Provides Context behind Music


Thanks to a generous (and rare) grant from the National Endowment of Humanities (NEH), Pacific Symphony is about to dive into an exciting new education initiative—“Dvořák and America”—led by Music Director Carl St.Clair and developed by New York-based author/scholar and Pacific Symphony artistic advisor, Joseph Horowitz. The project links symphonic performance with humanities content to provide in-depth exploration to deepen students’ understanding and connection to Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.” The project is also an extension of the Symphony’s innovative “Music Unwound” series, which endeavors to contextualize music to provide deeper emotional and intellectual engagement of the audience. While “Music Unwound,” now in its third year, has previously targeted adults, this latest incarnation targets for the first time a younger segment and includes Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (PSYO), plus hundreds of Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) students and faculty (including Alderwood Basics Plus Elementary and orchestra students from the district’s four high schools (Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge).

“It’s an honor to be one of the few orchestras to receive funding from the NEH,” says St.Clair. “To our knowledge this is a nationally unprecedented initiative, combining a multi-media thematic youth orchestra concert with an educational exercise not only for the audience, and for area schools, but for the youth orchestra musicians themselves. Through the series of activities the students will participate in prior to the concert, we hope they will gain a broader understanding of Dvořák and, we hope, a strong appreciation and bond to this special piece of music.

“We know that a well-rounded music education is not about simply learning to play the notes,” St.Clair adds. “It is equally important to develop the capacity to listen and respond to music.”

The project looks at how Dvořák, in coming to America, became an “American composer”; that his American accent in such works as the “New World Symphony” and American Suite is not a superficial overlay, but a distinct American style different from the more chromatic and texturally dense style of his European works. The Dvořák story exemplifies the importance of the arts in pedagogy and in human life, as well as how culture can help individuals or communities better understand themselves. “Dvořák and America” focuses on issues of race and national identity catalyzed by urbanization and immigration a century ago—issues which remain crucial to the American experience today.

“Music Unwound,” at its core, is a concerted effort to correlate language, literature, culture, philosophy and visual arts with music, while forging new alliances between and among orchestras, museums and universities in each host city. A consortium of four orchestras led by Pacific Symphony, including the Buffalo Philharmonic, North Carolina Symphony and Louisville Orchestra, became the joint recipient of a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—a multi-year commitment to “Music Unwound,” integrating humanities content with live concert performances. This is the first NEH public programs grant to go to an orchestra in a decade. The NEH National Education Project supported the creation of Horowitz’ young readers book, Dvořák in America, and the Robert Winter/Peter Bogdanoff companion interactive DVD.


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