By Elizabeth Winchester
It is one thing to think about an orchestra playing with a rock band. It is another to experience it.
“It’s like being in the ocean with the waves lifting you up and setting you down,” said Nini Camps, lead singer of the all-female band Antigone Rising. “The sheer number of stringed instruments played by living, breathing, feeling humans creates an energy unlike any other stage experience. Sometimes you just want to sit in the middle and let the music wash over and through you.”
The full house of Tilles Center’s Hillwood Recital Hall on Aug. 3 felt that musical tide during Matthew Schneider’s fourth annual SummerStrings! Music Festival concert. Schneider directed two student orchestras—Sea Cliff Stringers, which included kids in first through fourth grades, and the Rockestra, made up mainly of kids in fifth grade and up.
Sea Cliff’s Jenn Gerrity sang and played guitar on one song with the Stringers and students Caralina Volz and Caroline Winchester closed the set singing a rousing rendition of “Funkytown.” Camps and bandmate Cathy Henderson sang two of their songs with the Rockestra. Professional musicians Frank Ferrara, Dan Zellan and James Guarnieri accompanied both orchestras, including the Rockestra on Schneider’s arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.”
“It sounded so good,” said Camps. “I was moved by how these kids were creating such lush orchestrations at such a young age, and wondered how my own musical journey might have been impacted if there were a SummerStrings! for me when I was in third grade.”
Collaborating with other artists was an early festival goal for Schneider, who is also a professional musician and teaches private music lessons year-round through his business, Sea Cliff Music. This is the first year that the festival included vocal performances.
“For most kids, orchestral music is completely separate from the music that they and their parents listen to,” Schneider explained. “By performing alongside professionals, the kids become equal partners in putting on a real show that is both musically sophisticated and more closely related to their own musical vernacular. The singers convey the story of the song, the rock band provides the rhythmic foundation and the orchestra brings the lush color of strings.”
The combination sounded incredibly powerful and modern, but Schneider said his greatest reward was hearing from parents “about how the kids came away from this experience lit up and inspired.”
At this year’s concert, Schneider and the seven festival teachers performed two classical pieces, by Beethoven and Bach.
“The kids love to see us rock out on stringed instruments and that opens their minds to new possibilities beyond the tradition,” said Schneider. “However, it’s also important for the kids to see us play the classics to understand that our love for and rigorous study of great historical works provides the musical foundation. I want the kids to experience and be open to all music.”
Schneider is donating proceeds from concert DVD sales to Antigone Rising’s educational foundation, Girls Rising. The foundation creates programs that inspire kids, including LGBT youth, through live performances, presentations and workshops.
Information about the festival and last year’s concert videos are available at www.seacliffmusic.com. But the best way to appreciate the energy and excitement of Schneider’s orchestral experience is to see it live. Select members of the Rockestra will join Antigone Rising at the band’s third annual BeachFest at Sea Cliff Beach on Sept. 17.
“The partnership between SummerStrings! and Antigone Rising has enabled our kids to perform with a truly great rock and roll band while also helping to fund educational opportunities through Girls Rising,” said Schneider. “This is all about doing great things in the world while making great music. It doesn’t get better than that.”