Teens share their creative gifts
Seventeen-year-old Samir Gangwani has dedicated his summer to giving back to area youth who share his love of music.
Gangwani, a french horn player and 2013 graduate of the high school program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, led a free program last week to help brass musicians of all stripes hone and perfect their musical skills. The first ever Summer Brash Bash, held July 22-26 at Paisley IB Magnet School, was led by Gangwani, a rising freshman at Carnegie Mellon University, and the other members of The Elemental Brass Ensemble – Josh Becton, Josh Ford, Mary Franklin Foster and Dean Oaks.
“I was going to wait until I was a professional before I started doing this and then I started thinking, ‘Why not do it now?’” said Gangwani, the older of two children. “…I enjoy helping out young musicians and musicians in general. I enjoy seeing other musicians have fun, and it’s really important, I think, as a young musician (to do so).”
The Bash attracted roughly 20 middle and high school students from around the region on July 22. Among them was french horn player Danielle Wood.
“I’ve been playing since I was in seventh grade. It’s honestly my passion,” said the 16-year-old. “…It’s just so fun to be able to put my feelings through the music that I’m playing. It is written on the page, but it’s basically interpreted by the musician. That gives me excitement to be able to play different pieces.”
Wood, a rising junior at Davie County High School, was recently accepted into the Winston-Salem Youth Orchestra, becoming one of only a handful of french horn players in the area to do so this year. The Advance resident said the Bash offered her an opportunity to explore her passion for the craft in new ways.
“I was interested just to come and play with other brass players,” Wood said of her motivation to participate. “It’s kind of like a taste of what you’ll be doing in college if you focus on music.”
Gangwani said he conceived the idea for the Bash in high school. Upon arriving at UNCSA as a sophomore, he learned that he lacked some of the basic skills and techniques that have helped to distinguish him as a musician. Since that time, Gangwani says he has wanted to impart that knowledge to other players.
“I started thinking, ‘Why can’t middle school kids who start as beginners get some of the same training that I get in high school?’” he related. “I wanted to have a program where children of all ages – and anybody who’s willing to start a new instrument or play a brass instrument – learn the fundamentals because they’re very important. That’s pretty much how it started.”
The Elemental Brass Ensemble members led master classes in everything from articulation and chamber/large ensemble playing to the Alexander Technique, which helps instrumentalists perform the demanding movements necessary to produce their music with a lesser likelihood of injury. Becton, a trombonist and rising junior in UNCSA’s undergraduate program, said he was happy to lend his support to the program.
“I thought it was a pretty huge undertaking for a recent high school graduate to try to put this together,” said the 24 year-old, who returned to college after taking a nearly two year hiatus to perform onboard ships for the Princess Cruises. “I was just thoroughly impressed, so I definitely wanted to be a part of it, especially since it was the first ever Summer Brass Bash. I just thought that was exciting.”
In addition to the master classes, the Bash included performances by guest artists Anita Cirba, Mark Coodfelter, Biran French and Dr. Abigail Pack. Gangwani said he is interested in starting similar camps in other states and would like to offer the Bash locally on an annual basis. The teen added that he is hopeful students in the camp will discover or explore the joy of music and playing, and learn some important pointers along the way.
“I’m really big on trying to promote the arts – music, dance, visual arts, everything,” he said. “I guess the biggest thing I want to show them is that it’s fun, because that’s what will most likely keep them in it.”
Paisley Band Director Colin Choat praised the camp, which he said offered a rare opportunity for students to have access to skilled performers at no cost.
“I think it’s great,” said Choat, who is in his second year at the school. “Any exposure to professional playing or conservatory level playing is extremely beneficial to students, because we don’t get that opportunity very often.”
By teaching the students, Gangwani said he and the other musicians are gaining new skills themselves.
“If you’re teaching then it helps to teach you,” he noted. “When you have somebody that asks you questions, it really gets you thinking. It opens up your mind to think of other solutions.”
Becton, who plays with several groups, including the Andrew Thielen Big Band, which has played for actress Betty White, said the students were receptive to the lessons he was trying to teach them.
“I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well it went,” admitted the Pittsburgh, Penn. native. “They all seemed to really enjoy it. They listened to everything I told them, and they all got better. They all seemed pretty engaged.”
Though he has often been called upon to counsel his musical peers, being the one out in front was a bit of a new experience for Gangwani.
“When I went to School of the Arts, you’re with college students and you’re playing with them,” he remarked. “It’s different because I looked up to them, and they taught me a lot. It’s kind of weird and cool to be the one somebody looks up to now.”
For more information about the Summer Brass Bash or to inquire about summer music lessons with Gangwani, email firstname.lastname@example.org.