Reflections on the 2023 Young Musicians Program (YMP)

From Seth Brenzel, Director of YMP and Walden School Executive Director

I had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family here in San Francisco, and I hope that for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, you enjoyed a peaceful time with loved ones, as well. This is a wonderful time to reflect on all of the things for which I am grateful, and one of the things for which I am most appreciative this year is the amazing 2023 Young Musicians Program (YMP). We had a terrific session in Dublin on the gorgeous campus of the Dublin School. 56 students from around the United States, China, and Belgium joined 23 faculty, staff, nurses, and administrators for five outstanding weeks (and in some cases three weeks!) of creative music making.

We had exciting residencies with Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses; an opening concert given by percussionist and this summer’s Technical Director, Ross Karre; TAK Ensemble, led by Laura Cocks, which performed student works as well as faculty commissions; members of the International Contemporary Ensemble; and The Walden School Players, who this year were composed of Mabel Kwan (piano), Chris Wild (cello), Erica Dicker (violin), Zachary Good (clarinets), Dennis Sullivan (percussion), and Kyra Sims (horn).

Kari Francis was back for her second year as Walden’s Choral Director, and our choral concert was a wonderful success, featuring music by Veljo Tormis, Simon & Garfunkel, Lili Boulanger, Reena Esmail, Meredith Monk, and Billie Holiday, among many other wonderful composers and songwriters. Faculty members Nate Trier, Theo Trevisan, Francesca Hellerman, Lukáš Janata, Luke Schroeder, and Emi Ostrom assisted Kari in conducting choral ensembles and leading a summer filled with singing.

We were blown away and so very fortunate to have Nicole Mitchell as Walden’s Composer-in-Residence at YMP. In addition to her artistry and her own amazing music-making that she shared with our community, we were delighted by the way in which she worked with our students, providing insight and leading constructive dialogue with each YMP composer. She joyously interacted with the students, faculty, and the whole community, and indeed became a Walden community member herself during her seven-day residency. We all hope that our paths cross again sometime soon!

The summer was replete with fun—swim trips, Halloween-in-July featuring a haunted house, and beautiful mountain hikes, including the pinnacle trek up to the top of Mount Monadnock. We had an optional, non-denominational-holiday-in-July gift exchange. And we enjoyed dancing along to the music of Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses in their now-annual appearance on the “FAB-io,” the patio just outside the Fountain Arts Building on the Dublin School campus. This concert is a wonderful collaboration between Dublin School, The Walden School, and the Monadnock Folklore Society. Walden made its annual pilgrimage to MacDowell, the country’s preeminent artist residency program, in Peterborough (just 10 minutes from Walden!) to meet with and learn from composers Ashkan Behzadi and Aubrey Johnson. Thanks to Ashkan, we had the opportunity to visit one of the artist studios, outside of which the visiting students, faculty, and staff from Walden launched into spontaneous singing of one of our choral concert selections. On the walls of the artist studio, it was fun to see the names of past residents, including several Walden faculty members and artists-in-residence!

Some of you may have heard about the tornado that struck our campus during Festival Week, right in the midst of the Musicianship Demo for parents, guardians, and family members. Thank goodness we were all together and inside when the tornado touched down, and luckily very few of the buildings were damaged; most of the damage that the campus experienced were downed trees. The tornado certainly rattled our nerves, and yet the community came together to support one another during this time. We were grateful that nobody on campus or in the Walden or Dublin communities was injured, and all of us were grateful for how Dublin School responded to make sure the Walden community was safe. The David Hogan memorial tree that had been planted on the quad nearly 20 years ago was destroyed during the tornado, and we’ll be working with Dublin School to replace that tree.

A parent of two 2023 Young Musicians Program students writes: “Rarely a day goes by without my children rehashing how much fun they had at Walden last summer. I can’t thank you and the entire Walden community enough for making it possible for them to be a part of what I believe has been a life-changing experience. They’re discovering their own inner musical voices. It’s as if a spark has been lit in them.”

We hope to see you (or your student or cousin or neighbor or child) at Walden 2024, for which applications are now open. We can’t wait to light more sparks and help more eager Walden students find their musical voices!