Each year, the Aspen Music Festival and School partners with the AmeriCorps “ArtistYear” program to bring a handful of recent higher education graduates from across the country to the Roaring Fork Valley. The Aspen area is one of only four places – along with Philadelphia, Queens and the Carolina Sandhills – that is on the national program.
The Valley Artist Fellows spend the year teaching music and the visual arts to students in the Roaring Fork School District.
“I think everyone is capable of creating music,” said local string player Julia Foran, who is one of this year’s scholarship recipients. Foran, who grew up in the valley, taught general music lessons at Carbondale Middle School as well as string lessons for students at Basalt Elementary School.
“So each of us was matched with a partner teacher at a school somewhere in the valley,” she said. “Most of us work with music teachers, but some of us are matched with a visual arts class or a first grade teacher or early language development teacher.”
The idea behind ArtistYear is to reduce inequalities in arts education by making music and art classes more inclusive and accessible to all students. To this end, Artist Fellows work in schools that receive Title I funding to help meet students’ educational goals. Title I is a federal aid program for schools that serve a high percentage of children from low-income families.
“We’re not exactly trying to make professional musicians or future symphonic musicians or anything like that,” she said. “It’s more about helping kids learn to connect to music.”
And with the pandemic, Foran says, the work they’ve done with schools seems even more crucial than before.
“The most important thing this year is just the social and emotional health of the children. And art is such an amazing tool for this stuff, ”she said. “We are just trying to communicate with the children, to make them feel important, to help them express themselves. And it’s really fun.
While the move to virtual music lessons comes with its own challenges, including a lack of reliable internet access, the move has also had an unexpected silver lining.
“I really think being online has helped us narrow that gap and reach more kids than ever before,” Foran said. “There is no real barrier of space or transport. I can just bring the music to them directly. “
The Aspen Festival and Music School also provides things like instrument scholarships for students.
“I don’t think they’ve ever turned a student away because of the cost preventing them from taking a class,” Foran said. “So whether it’s tuition fees or buying an instrument, we make sure everyone can play.”
Foran says the program is one of a growing number of student-focused music and arts initiatives springing up in the valley.
“I can tell growing up here, just the difference in 10 years that I’ve seen with the amount of arts programming and music exposure that kids get,” she said. “I think it makes a huge difference.”
As the school year draws to a close, Foran says she and the other artists are grateful for the connections they have made in the Roaring Fork Valley, including with each other. In addition to their regular teaching duties, this year’s string players decided to get together and start their own musical group called the Sopris Quartet.
“There are six of us working here in arts schools and classrooms, and four of us were string players,” Foran said. “We were the perfect instrumentation for a string quartet, so we just started playing together and had a lot of fun.
In the all-female group, Foran plays viola, Emily Acri and Delaney Meyers play violin and Jeanette Adams plays double bass.
“We play everything from jazz and folk music to Haydn quartets, basically whatever we feel like playing,” Foran said.
Although they haven’t been able to host concerts in person yet, the Sopris Quartet recently performed on Grassroots TV as part of Basalt Library’s “Music From the Library” – a virtual program created to keep music alive. during the pandemic.
“We played all the music by black composers,” Foran said of the performance in early February. “It was a great opportunity for us to learn new music and to throw a concert for the community.”
Most recently, the quartet appeared on “Music From the Library: Spring for Sopris Strings,” which aired on GrassRoots TV Thursday night (it’s now available on the Basalt Library website). The show started with a group of folk songs from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, followed by several Italian and American songs. The famous Mexican bolero “Besame Mucho” closed the concert.
“Their performance as a group represents a real ensemble,” said library music program coordinator Charlotte McLain. “They seem so seasoned for a quartet that only exists for one academic year.”
Last week the Sopris Quartet gave back-to-back performances – the next day, Friday, the quartet performed at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. The live stream was available on Grassroots TV and is archived on the nonprofit’s website, grassrootstv.org.