The original compositions of POP Creates were premiered on January 18 at the Perelman Theater. In a side-by-side performance with Orchestra 2001, the aspiring composers of Play On, Philly! performed Symphony in the Key of Unity, a piece comprised of individual student works arranged by Joseph Hart.
A modern sounding work with complex rhythms, the symphony showcased different sections of the ensemble, including passages for brass, pizzicato in the strings, and a clarinet solo played by student Jessica Camara.
Twelve year old French horn player, Sebleh Alfa, says her composition was not influenced by other composers.
‘We’re supposed to make up something original, not off anyone else,’ she said.
However, violinist Matthew Tarekegn, 10, says he is influenced by classical music: ‘I like Mozart.’
POP Creates, part of the music initiative, Play On, Philly!, was started in September of 2013 at St. Francis de Sales School to teach students the art of composition. It aims to balance instrumental study with a creative approach that includes world dance classes and improvisation.
The student symphony was one of several works premiered at the Kimmel Center concert celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The POP Wind Ensemble performed Sheridan Seyfried’s Fanfare for Winds, conducted by Joshua Popejoy. The POP Youth Orchestra concluded its performance with Spiritual Medley, an arrangement by Joseph Hart with clarinet soloist Anthony McGill of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The “Amazing Grace” interlude particularly showcased the POP strings, woven through with McGill’s soulful, bluesy solo.
McGill and Orchestra 2001 also premiered Richard Danielpour’s “From the Mountaintop” clarinet concerto, a beautiful piece reminiscent of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, wrapped around with McGill’s gorgeous, velvety sound.
The concert opened with Jennifer Higdon’s Celebration Fanfare, a string arrangement from an earlier organ work. The finale was an inspirational performance of A Voice Cries Out: Dare to Love, composed by Jay Fluellen and sung by the Gospel Choir of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.
Play On, Philly! (POP) is an education initiative that provides students with musical instruction in communities that may not otherwise have access to music education. Sites include both St. Francis de Sales School and Freire Charter Middle School. One aim of the program is to use music for social change and help students develop life skills.
‘Playing music makes you work harder at other stuff,’ Sebleh says. ‘Music has taught me the value of hard work.’