Janet Song Kim describes their new position as Director of the UConn Wind Ensemble as a dream job, one that leaves room for personal creativity and student instruction, as well as the opportunity for community outreach.
The fresh start could explain the momentum behind the four-part concert series, “American Dream,” which begins Oct. 13, but anyone who knows Kim understands there’s subtext to almost everything. they do.
“My way of scheduling concerts is based on what’s happening in the world, and I want to create a show that’s relevant,” says Kim, who is also an assistant professor in the music department.
Take for example last year’s holiday performance at Nebraska Wesleyan University, where they led the instrumental program before coming to UConn. In “Messages From Mother Earth,” Kim paired the school symphony band with a multimedia presentation featuring TikTok videos, actors from the theater department, and the state climate scientist to talk about global warming.
It was a reaction, Kim says, to students’ remarks about there being more snow in the winter than today and noticing less emphasis on simple practices like recycling in the center. from the country.
While “American Dream” might feel like a celebration of Uncle Sam, its four chapters take a critical look at the tug of war in today’s society: American exceptionalism, human rights to guns and abortion, and the tumultuous history of black Americans and immigrants.
“It’s not for me to dictate what people take away from the show,” Kim says. “It’s just something I created and exhibit. You may have a reaction, or you may not. You may come away with deeper thoughts on one side or the other, or not. In both cases, I am happy to have shared a part of myself and a part of the students’ work. »
Kim knew of the Wind Ensemble’s abilities the moment they came down from the podium during the practical part of their job interview, they say, and laid out what the student musicians had to work on and what they could be pushed to do.
First, the acceptance of the job offer. This is followed by a search for project funding, and then an application for a grant to the OVPR’s JEDI Research Initiative, which funds projects that focus on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Finally, came shaping a series of concerts to fit the grant parameters.
“There’s nothing in this world besides the arts and music that brings people together to understand what other people are feeling,” Kim says. “I guess if people could take anything away from those gigs, it might be the idea that when you consider other people, great things can happen.”
The first concert, “Americana”, features the UConn Wind Ensemble and Symphony Group performing music including Morton Gould’s “Fanfare for Freedom” to depict a beautiful idyllic country and William Grant Still’s “Summerland” to move from celebration to acknowledgment of the country’s dark history with slavery. Augusta Read Thomas’ “Magneticfireflies” demonstrates today’s societal divisions and William Schuman’s arrangement of Charles Ives’ “Variations on ‘America'” reinforces varied beliefs, intentions, goals and starting points citizens.
“For someone who doesn’t think too deeply about it, it’s just an American gig,” Kim says. “But if we dig deeper into what’s going on structurally in music, we can see a lot more of what’s going on in America.”
The second concert, “Our Right to Bear” on November 17, uses “Voice of Guns” by Kenneth J. Alford, “Portrait of a Peaceful Warrior” by Catherine Bostic, “Until Morning Comes” by Andrew Boss and “Give Us This Day” to examine the emotions that go into arguments around gun control and child carrier regulations.
“A lot of people talk about these two issues separately, but they are very much related, especially because of how many times these gun issues occur in school settings with young children. Look at how much money is spent advocating or against gun rights and compare that to supply chain shortages and not enough infant formula in the United States. They are intertwined whether people want to admit it or not,” Kim says.
The final two shows – “Black History” on February 23 and “Move Along” on April 13 – examine the history of Black Americans and immigrants, with pieces such as “Shadows” by Henry Dorn, “Roma” by Valerie Coleman and “Nebal Maysaud”. On the Mountains of Orphalese. The “Black History” concert will also feature Ricardo Brown of UConn, Associate Director of Groups and Associate Professor in Residence, and UConn’s Voices of Freedom in a special performance.
Each of the concerts is part of Kim’s artistic vision, but the finale is more personal, they say: “My whole life has been about chasing the American dream. That’s why my family left Korea and came here. “Move Along” is the most personal perspective I can offer because I come from an immigrant family. »
But their mere presence on stage is also a personal statement.
The JEDI grant – which they will learn if they received it on November 1, after the series began – would pay for community outreach expenses. Kim hopes to combine highlights from each concert into a single show that can bring the set to public schools with predominantly non-white populations.
They hope to expand the music library shared by the wind ensemble and symphony group to include composers of different color and genre. They also hope to hire professional musicians to not only fill in the instrumentation holes in the set, but to give public school kids a taste of what they could accomplish.
Kim points to a 2021 American League of Orchestras guide to inclusion that notes only 1.8% of orchestra members are black as reason enough to make it a priority.
“If we’ve hired ringers who are people of color, if we have our diverse body of students on display in front of students in Hartford, which has a large Vietnamese population, a large black population, and a large Latino population, they can see what is possible,” Kim says. “And then, for them to see me, someone who is a non-binary, gender-fluid Asian, presenting an Asian woman in a position of power, as opposed to the traditional white male band manager, is also going to reveal to them.”
For Kim, there is always subtext.
“The real American dream for me, if I can define it, is for all the different people and all the different experiences to come together, in one place,” they say. “I don’t think that’s happening in any country other than ours.”
The “American Dream” concert series will be presented at 8 p.m. at the von der Mehden Recital Hall. “Americana” will take place on October 13; “Our right to carry”, November 17; “Black History”, February 23; and “Move Along,” April 13. Tickets are available on von der Mehden’s Ticketleap website.