Inspired by art

Students’ work reflects PSO concert

By Keith Loria, Special Writer
   For six years, the PSO BRAVO! education program has brought together a group of artistic middle school students to enjoy a night at a Princeton Symphony Orchestra concert and then given them a chance to create visual art in response to the live music they heard.
   On Dec. 6, 25 students, their families, teachers, and friends, gathered at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the opening of the 2012-13 Listen Up! exhibit, where the results of the students’ musical-inspired paintings were on display.
   ”It’s a really exciting program and the impact is really strong for those who participate,” says Carol Burden, education coordinator for the PSO, who heads up the Listen Up! program. “When we started this in 2007 we had 12 students participating, and now we more than doubled it in what was our largest amount of students ever.”
   The students attended the PSO’s Nov. 4 concert and spent the next month in their schools’ art studios expressing their reactions to Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” through the creation of original art and written reflections.
   ”The students were chosen by their art teachers and this program provides an opportunity to invite direct response from middle school students and engage them on an active level,” Ms. Burden says. “Some art teachers have an after-school club so a month or so before the exhibition, the students can come in after school and listen to the music and talk about the piece and the work. I love that the art teachers are continuing the communal aspect of it.”
   Keri Zhang, an eighth grader at John Witherspoon Middle School, did a painting using acrylic paints that depicted two bright and colorful birds flying high above an ocean of many layers.
   ”In the music, I heard what sounded like huge, powerful waves crashing onto a rugged coastline, yet I also heard gentle swells rolling along the sea; I felt like there were so many contrasting melodies and harmonies, but they somehow all wove together to create a sound that was whole and complete,” she says. “This made me think of the sea; I thought of an ocean, interwoven with layers that were all different — with different moods and emotions, different voices and personalities — but that still came together to create something beautiful.”
   The ocean in her painting contained different shades and she used complementary colors for the birds to make them stand out, just like the notes that inspired them.
   ”What also inspired me was the clarity of certain notes, the ones that were penetrating and pure — ones like the violin solo, the very manifestation of Scheherazade herself,” Keri says. “Those moments seemed to me like birds, like hope itself, soaring above the chains that anchor it to the ground. It is unbound, unstoppable, it is free.”
   Brandon Li, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Montgomery Lower Middle School, said he heard a lot of things in the music that inspired different parts of his artwork.
   ”First the loud and dynamic drum beats brought me an image of an elephant dancing, with vivid contrasting colors in the background, symbolizing the strength and emotion,” he says. “The violin solos made me feel like flowing in a river, surrounded by harmonious color. I changed my idea of background to match the flow, very calm and peaceful with blues, greens, yellows, and purples. These two seemingly conflicting aspects coexist harmonically in the music as well as in my artwork.”
   He added a touch of Middle Eastern culture in his painting, and included a rug in the center, which shows the king and Scheherazade together.
   ”I think this is a good program for the students my age because it lets them express their senses visually, which is sometimes critical later on in life,” Brandon says. “It also lets them see how other people respond to the same thing so differently yet beautifully in artwork. I learned from the program that these two forms of art, musical and visual ones are actually connected.”
   Keri adds that it channels inner artistry and also calls upon musicality.
   ”It makes us more aware of the effects of music upon people’s perspectives; we can see things differently,” she says. “So, I think this is a great program in developing artistic ability and musical connections to art, as well as just providing an experience to enjoy music and the art of other young artists.”
   The Listen Up! artwork will be on exhibit at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center through Jan. 25, before moving to the Richardson Auditorium during the PSO’s Jan. 27 concert, where Listen Up! students will again be in attendance.
   The artwork will make its final stop at The Bedens Brook Club, where it will be on view throughout the evening of April 13 during the PSO’s annual gala.
   This year’s 25 Listen Up! participants included Lawrence Levy, Trevor DeMonico, Rhianna Haynie-Cion, Soo Min Park, Raymond Wang, Heeyoung Joe, Soobin Han (Montgomery Upper Middle School); Keri Zhang, Hsihsin Liu, Lucia Firbas, Fia Miller (John Witherspoon Middle School); Anchal Kannambadi, Mindy Rosengarten (The Hun School); Katelle Donkar (St. Paul School); Henry DeCheser, Saumya Malik, Valeria Torres-Olivares (Princeton Charter School); Athena Hallberg, Melissa LeDonne, Dylan Wagner (The Cambridge School); James Maraviglia (St. Paul School); Brandon Li, Samantha Gottlieb, Joe Johnson (Montgomery Lower Middle School); and Iyanna Cavicchio (Medford Memorial Middle School).