Spotted in Manila, 2014

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thank you D'Addario Music Foundation!

While in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing young musicians at the Philippine High School for the Arts. Although filled with talent and drive, it was clear their improvement as musicians would be an uphill battle from then on since they lacked accessible tuners and metronomes. These tools are necessary for every young musician and Brian and I saw that the students were not only in need of these tools, but very deserving. Since purchasing a tuner and metronome for themselves would present a financial hardship on the students, Brian and I took our chances and reached out to a dozen different manufacturers and sellers requesting donations. We sent each company this letter:

September 4, 2012
Hello! We are young professional musicians who perform and teach in the New York City area. We recently returned from a charitable music outreach project in the Philippines that we helped organize. During our month-long residency there, we had the good fortune of working with a group of twenty-five extremely talented, motivated, and determined music students at the Philippine High School for the Arts. Many of these students could easily be accepted into some of the top music schools in the United States, though most would not have the financial means to leave the Philippines.
There was one other factor that might prevent their development to this level. On our first day working with the students in a master class setting, we asked for a show of hands of who owned a metronome and/or tuner. One student raised his hand, and class explained that it wasn’t necessary that they each owned one, because he was willing to share his one metronome with the rest of the students at the school. Shocked at this, we explained that it was a necessity that everyone owned their own metronome and tuner in order to improve. We said that they would only cost around 800 Philippine pesos ($20), which we considered perfectly affordable. The students were heartbroken and embarrassed to admit that this would present a financial hardship for most of them, given their economic status. Needless to say, we struggled during our residency to help the students improve their intonation, rhythm, and inner-pulse. Many of the students had hit a plateau that we were positive they could overcome if they simply had regular access to these tools.
We write this letter to you in the hopes that you will consider making a donation of a few tuners and metronomes (or tuner/metronome combination units) to these promising young musicians. This donation could be in the form of all 25 units, 5 units, or a discounted rate, whichever your company is able to do. Even one metronome or tuner would make a dramatic improvement at this school. Whatever the donation, we will credit you on the blog for our organization: as well as the website for the school:
Though we were only able to spend a couple of weeks with these students, they made a lasting impression on our lives. We thank you in advance for helping us create a lasting impression on their lives as well. We look forward to hearing from you.
Salamat and Mabuhay,
Midori Samson, Bassoon, The Juilliard School; Brian Gnojek, Clarinet, Freelance Musician

Like we expected, a few responses we received were unsuccessful: “We’re sorry, but our company does not have this type of donation program” and “We are unable to do so at this time”. However, we were inspired (and surprised) to receive enthusiastic responses from Suzanne D'Addario Brouder of the D’Addario Music Foundation. After correspondence with this generous organization, we are so excited to send 30 new metronome/tuners and sheet music to our students at PHSA.
Brian and I would personally like to thank Suzanne and her company for their kindness, cooperation, and generosity.  I am in disbelief of the amount of compassion these companies have shown in this process. They have taught me to show the same compassion in my music and teaching and I am inspired to say the least. Thank you D’Addario Music Foundation!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reflection on Project Philippines

Here is a reflection I wrote soon after returning to America from my recent outreach trip to the Philippines. This is the reflection I used to send donors and supporters. I have tried to illustrate just how much that month of teaching changed me as a musician and person. Thank you again to everyone for your continued support and love. Salamat and mabuhay!
Being raised somewhat Filipino-American, I was taught from the beginning to have pride in where I came from and to give back what I can. I can remember being ten years old and begging my parents to let me go to the Philippines to “learn about my heritage”. So finally getting to travel to the Philippines and give back by teaching music was a dream come true.
I was shocked and relieved to work with kids who were so excited to learn about music and willing to try new things. I also never would have imagined that I could learn so much from teaching that I could directly apply to my studies as a music student. The day after arriving back in the states from the Philippines, I traveled to Northwestern Connecticut where I studied at a summer chamber music festival. Even there in Norfolk, CT, a town that could not be more opposite than the Philippines (since it is filled with ivy covered brick castles for houses and private swimming pools which are just “summer homes” for the locals) I was continually reminded of my experiences as a member of Project Philippines. Every day since returning to the US, I use my memories as inspiration to create my art and realize why I became a musician in the first place.
I have to admit, while in the Philippines, I did not do my usual routine of practicing scales and long tones for hours. It felt great. I felt guilty for feeling this way and for a while even had very negative thoughts toward my decision to become a professional musician. I kept asking myself things like, “what is the point of me slaving over this hollow piece of wood when some of these students don't have clean water and have to beg for food?” My art suddenly seemed pointless knowing these kids were fine, living their lives without even knowing what a bassoon is. Our students in Northern Samar had basically never expressed themselves through music and had never been told that it was ok to, so why was I ripping my hair out when I couldn't play a note perfectly in tune? My whole life seemed so excessive.
But the day that Brian and I started to teach the group song we would perform at the end of our workshop with them, I was stunned to hear that several of them had very beautiful voices and fantastic rhythm. More importantly, I could just see that they were in love with singing and really aching to perform, a feeling that I know very well. If I had just met them, I would have assumed that several of these students had been taking voice lessons for years. This was definitely not the case—we learned from Brenfred, a local who watched out for us during our stay, that up until recently, it was a sign of wealth in Northern Samar if a family owned a bicycle. These families certainly couldn't afford voice lessons.
Knowing that these students had no training, but still could sing with so much passion and virtuosity made me realize something that I have been trying to directly apply to my own studies since returning: music is embedded in every human and it is my job as a professional musician to connect with that basic instinct to be expressive and creative. Otherwise, my art IS pointless and excessive.
It was heart breaking to leave our students and beautiful Northern Samar. But leaving with this powerful lesson learned eased the pain. I wish that I could buy instruments for every one of my 110 students. I wish that I could pay for all of the music lessons they want. I wish that I could guarantee that they will always have three meals a day. However, my goal in teaching in the Philippines was none of these things. I had three goals I wanted to accomplish in my brief time in Northern Samar. I wanted to introduce to my students a new way to communicate and be expressive, I wanted them to feel important and special even just for that one day when they performed for their town, and I wanted to give them the tools to be expressive and feel important even after I had gone home. I am very proud that with the help of the other members of Project Philippines, I achieved these goals and seeing how appreciative our students were was proof that we succeeded.
I can only hope that my students some day realize how much they taught me and changed how I create music. For what they did for me, they deserve much more than I could give them in such a short two weeks. They reminded me how important music is in my life and every child deserves the chance to see if it is as important in theirs. It is my responsibility as a musician to provide that chance. So I know that I will continue to teach music to young people in developing communities to fulfill my responsibilities.