Making serious music interesting to kids
Jade Simmons is a classical pianist who's equally happy playing music by Samuel Barber or hip hop master DBR, and making serious music interesting to kids.
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Try to put Simmons in a box and she'll do whatever it takes to bust out of it. The former beauty queen concertizes widely as a solo pianist in classical repertoire. She is also a part of The Rhythm Project. They have just released a CD called "Revolutionary Rhythm." It features classical piano music from composers Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, Russell Pinkston, and Daniel Bernard Roumain, or as he is known in the hip-hop world, DBR.
There is an over-arching theme that holds this recording together. "My debut CD serves as an honest reflection of who I am personally and artistically. I also think saying that it's a collection of revolutionary composers. It shows a wonderful view of the diversity of the American musical landscape in each of these composers' time."
The pieces chosen for the release show that Simmons is clearly distancing herself from a marketplace already over-saturated with releases of the standard repertoire. Her recitals often include cornerstones in the pantheon, as well as new and contemporary pieces.
"I could have done a debut CD that included the giants of the classical literature, but does the world really need another set of Chopin Ballades?"
Education is another facet of Simmons' approach to music. "I play in schools a alot, and the way that I introduce all of this music to them, from Mozart to DBR to Corigliano, is I allow them to give me an emotion, an adjective. I have to come up with a piece of classical music that represents that emotion."
Kids respond quite well to Simmons' appearances in their classrooms. "I think we forget how willing they are to accept anything that has merit. When I do a class, I don't talk about classical music, I talk about good music. It just works that I also love other genres -- I really like hip-hop, and I like some rap, I like rock and alternative. If it's done well, it is easy to like," Simmons says.
"By letting them decide what I am going to play based on the adjective they give me it is letting them prove to themselves that this music is pretty darned cool.
"There is an issue that many classical artists forget about, and that is the ability to relate to their audiences, to be able to make tangible connections. I think that if we want to talk seriously about expanding our audiences and breaking down barriers, we have to do a lot more than just talk about it. We have to program it in a different way. We have to take the music to the audiences, many times. That's something that I'm trying to do, and I'm having a lot of success with it. It has been a rewarding experience."
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