On Thursday, December 15, 2022, Rochester’s East High School Band (pictured above) premiered Freedom 2040: The Tomorrow We’ll Build, by Brittany J. Green. The piece, scored for both band and orchestra, was commissioned through support of the Paul R. Judy Center for Innovation and Research at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, along with additional support from Eastman’s Office of Academic Affairs. East High School’s current instrumental music teacher is Eastman alumna Hannah Wilson ‘22E. The following week, Rochester’s School of the Arts Intermediate Orchestra premiered the orchestral version of the piece. The orchestra’s director is another Eastman alumna, Elana Herman ‘06E, ‘12E (MM). “As educators, we are always seeking opportunities for students to identify and personalize experiences to heighten and enrich their education,” shares Herman. “As musicians and scholars, students working on this project were presented with the opportunity to diversify their experiences of classical music to culturally relevant contexts, all while working in a community of their peers towards rendering a common goal.”
As music educators continue to strive toward more equitable and inclusive practices, a challenge is providing students with substantial and compelling repertoire that is representative of and celebrates diverse ethnic, cultural, and gender identities. One solution that Eastman faculty members Lisa Caravan and Alden Snell are currently pursuing is commissioning new repertoire for intermediate ensembles. Brittany Green reflected on her experience collaborating with Caravan and Snell while discussing the genesis of Freedom 2040:
What was exciting about this project is that it felt like a true collaboration through and through. Between conversations before and during the compositional process with Lisa and Alden to attending rehearsals with East High School prior to the premiere, I got the opportunity to bring others into the creative process and connect with the ensembles. Preliminary conversations with Lisa and Alden and drafting melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic excerpts for the educational app helped me craft a piece that was not only fun and meaningful, but also focused on providing educational meaning for the students. In the case of this piece, the music offers an opportunity for ensembles to work on phrasing, balance, and blend, as well as syncopation.
Another challenge many instrumental music educators face is having the correct number of students per part for optimal learning and performance outcomes. A unique feature of Green’s piece is flexible instrumentation. There are four parts, plus an optional percussion part, so the piece can be performed by as few as four or five students, or a full ensemble.
Caravan and Snell, through additional funding from a University of Rochester IT Innovation Grant, connected all phases of this project to their Instrumental Methods courses in Spring 2022. Professor Rob Deemer (SUNY Fredonia), director of the Institute for Composer Diversity, joined students via Zoom to discuss strategies for programming more diverse repertoire. Later in the semester, Green virtually met with Eastman students to describe her process for composing intermediate level repertoire as well as writing for flexible instrumentation. This fall, in preparation for the December performances, Brittany joined each ensemble via Zoom to describe her inspiration for writing the piece, listen to students perform the piece, and offer feedback and encouragement.
A further component of this project is development of a web application that helps students learn about the four artistic processes embedded in National Standards for music learning: creating, performing, responding, and connecting to music. In addition to sharing musical content for perform, create, and respond activities, Green agreed to record a short video describing her vision of Freedom in 2040. Students were then invited to connect their personal thoughts and experiences to learning Green’s piece; the following is an excerpt from an introductory speech made by a student at the December 15 premiere:
Many of us fear what the future holds for us all, what it holds for the next group of workers, entrepreneurs, artists, and other peoples that will uphold what this new society will look like. … “Freedom 2040,” a piece written by Brittany J. Green, is a complete depiction of this very thought and idea. … any child born [this year] will be 18 by 2040. Many parents and even us as people may start to worry, is this the future we want these new adults to see? One of inequality, one of injustice, one of social divide comparable to that of the ‘60s, is this really what you want for them? We hope that this piece can help inspire you to try to think and help out this new generation live a better life.
Caravan and Snell were inspired by the RCSD students who premiered Green’s work and encouraged by the connections this project drew from pre-service methods courses at Eastman to alumni currently teaching in the Rochester area. While highlighting important issues of equity and inclusion, they hope this is the first of many new works for school ensembles that provide students with access to culturally relevant and rich repertoire.