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Doctoral student strives to build bridges through music festival

Melanie Brooks

Melanie Brooks

January 25, 2018

Melanie Brooks, a doctoral student in wind conducting in ASU’s School of Music, has a passion for projects that focus on community building through music performance.

Brooks received funding in 2017 from the School of Music to create a collaboration between ASU and the Harmony Project Phoenix, a non-profit music program in south Phoenix that provides lessons and instruments to students in low-income communities.

For that collaboration, ASU student composers wrote innovative compositions that were premiered by Harmony Project Phoenix students and ASU’s Concert Band. This year, the collaboration expanded to include 22 composers from around the world who have composed 28 short concertos for beginner musicians with intermediate band or orchestra accompaniment — the Building Bridges through Music festival, which takes place Jan. 26-27. 

Samuel Peña, coordinator for community engagement for the School of Music, said students will have an opportunity to be near the School of Music and ASU Gammage and will be on campus interacting with music therapy students. He said the visiting students will also have an opportunity to experience another form of music in the participatory drumming and percussion session. Peña said the festival could be considered a pilot for future community engagement projects.

ASU Now talked to Brooks about the upcoming festival.

Question: How did Building Bridges through Music come about?

Answer: Last year I led a collaboration between the Harmony Project Phoenix and the ASU Concert Band, a campus band comprised largely of non-music majors. We commissioned seven mini-concertos from ASU student composers and performed two concerts with the Harmony Project Phoenix. One concert was a community-building concert held in south Phoenix and the other was at ASU. The experience was incredibly rewarding for the Harmony Project students, the ASU students and the ASU composers. I wanted to expand the "mini-concerto" and involve students and composers from around the world. My advisor, ASU School of Music professor Gary W. Hill, reached out to Ron Wakefield, director of the Tijuana-based Niños de La Guadalupana Villa Del Campo music school, and Lisa McKim-Hill, director of the Brophy Xavier band in Phoenix. With so many students from such diverse backgrounds participating in the project, we decided to dream bigger than simply playing new concertos and formulated the Building Bridges through Music festival.

Q: What is the Building Bridges through Music festival, and what’s your involvement?

A: The Building Bridges through Music festival on Jan. 26-27, 2018 is an event focused on connecting musicians of all ages and backgrounds into a collaborative performance process. Musicians from the ASU School of Music will join young students from the Harmony Project Phoenix, Brophy College Preparatory School, POTER, Inc. youth music program for refugees and the Niños de La Guadalupana Villa Del Campo music school in a cross-departmental musical collaboration.

My main involvement in the festival includes commissioning the concertos as part of my (doctoral) project; collaborating with the ASU School of Music music therapy and community engagement departments to organize the drum circle; and conducting the concertos in recording sessions and the Saturday concert.

Q: What types of events will the participating students be involved with during the two-day festival?

A: On Friday, Jan. 26, Melita Belgrave, associate professor, and Samuel Peña, faculty associate and coordinator of community engagement — both in the ASU School of Music — and ASU music therapy students will lead a drum circle, coordinate lunch and conduct team-building activities with visiting students. On Friday and Saturday afternoons, the visiting students will participate in a recording project with the ASU Wind Orchestra. The compositions are primarily "mini-concertos" that feature novice-level soloists with a more advanced-level wind band accompaniment. The concertos, written by composers from across the U.S., Canada, Finland and ASU, aim to empower young musicians as soloists and engage musicians of all ages in community-building performances. The festival concludes on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in ASU Gammage with a free public concert, which involves short selections by all participating organizations and a grand finale on the ASU Gammage organ.

Q: What do you hope this festival accomplishes?

A: I hope this project truly does build bridges across different generations and cultures. Each of the visiting groups bring such unique experiences and perspectives to the festival, and they all share a common passion for music. It's thrilling to see everyone come together for a common purpose.

More information:

Building Bridges through Music Festival
Jan. 26–27, ASU Gammage, Tempe campus

Participating groups in the festival include:

• Harmony Project Phoenix, an evidence-based after-school mentoring program that uses music as the means for positive youth development and social inclusion.

• Brophy College Preparatory School, a Jesuit Catholic High School for Boys that maintains a mission to service others through social justice outreach projects as a central part of its educational system. 

• POTER INC. (Providing Opportunities to Empower Refugees), a local program that assists refugee families to better acclimate to the American lifestyle through language classes, life skills, customs and laws.

• Niños de La Guadalupana Villa Del Campo, a Tijuana-based music groupfounded by Ron Wakefield, for underserved children to make music and perform in local orphanages, homeless shelters and senior assisted-living homes as an alternative to drug abuse, violence and human trafficking.

• The Arizona State University School of Music, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is committed to inspiring and empowering students to become creative leaders who transform society through music.