Musical Minds Meet During UH, HGO, Kashmere Gardens Collaboration

Opera Features Kashmere Students' words, UH Composers' music, HGO Voices

Two generations of artists are coming together to deliver an afternoon of opera on May 28.

This spring, University of Houston composers, Kashmere Gardens Elementary School students and Houston Grand Opera (HGO) singers teamed up to create the opera “The Name Jar.” Coordinated by Houston Grand Opera Community Outreach (HGOco), the project will feature poems written by Kashmere 5th graders set to music by UH composers. At 5 p.m., May 28, HGO singers will premiere these works alongside the Kashmere Gardens band (led by teacher Earnest Prince). The performance will take place at the Kashmere Community Center (4802 Lockwood Dr.).

The collaborative effort is part of HGOco’s “Create an Opera” program and connects creative minds of all ages. Among the UH participants are Cougar composers Joshua Zinn, Austin Fromhader, Daniel Webbon and Jonathan Booker with UH doctoral candidate Mark Buller playing piano.

Webbon, who just graduated with his master’s degree from UH’s Moores School of Music, composed “Heart of Change,” which will be the opera’s closing piece.

“Most young students like the ones at Kashmere Gardens have never met a living composer. A project like this introduces them to people like me, who write music,” Webbon said. “It opens their eyes and minds to a new way of communicating. It’s also significant for them because they are working on a premiere piece that no other band is performing. This music is written especially for the Kashmere Gardens band and the lyrics are composed by students. It’s rare for a young artist to be involved in the creation of an original composition.”

Other works to be performed include Zinn’s “Little Overture,” Fromhader’s “Like a Sword” and Booker’s “Future for My Way.”

The opera’s title, “The Name Jar,” is based on the book of the same title by Yangsook Choi. Kashmere Gardens students studied the text and worked with Writers in the Schools artist Deborah Mouton to develop poems. In creating their works, students explored themes of change  – things they would change to impact their future.

“This project is very encouraging for students,” said Alisa Magallón, HGOco Touring and Ensembles manager. “It offers them another view of reading and writing and also is a creative outlet. They’re exposed to artists in the community, and work together to put their ideas into music.”

Performing the songs written by UH and Kashmere Gardens students are HGO artists Priscilla Salisbury (a UH alum) and Alejandro Magallón.

This is the second musical partnership between UH, HGOco, Writers in the Schools and Kashmere Gardens. Last year,  artists from these institutions collaborated on a project that also combined UH compositions with poetry from elementary school students.

“It’s a great experience for the elementary school kids, but the composers also benefit,” Webbon said. “We also learn through this process as we write for a school band. We have to specifically tailor the compositions for these musicians. It can be challenging, but in the end, it’s a fun project for everyone involved.”