FAMILY

Raúl Gómez: Living in a world of optimism

The Metropolitan Youth Symphony director talks full STEAM ahead about the vital positive links among science, education, and the arts

[Editor’s note: Gómez, music director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, delivered a version of this essay as a speech to Intel employees in November 2019. It has been updated, and edited for length. See also Vision 2020: Raúl Gómez, Brett Campbell’s interview with Gómez in ArtsWatch’s Vision 2020 series.]

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By RAÚL GÓMEZ

I live in a world filled with optimism. The reason is that I work with young people in the arts. Every Saturday, more than 500 students come to Metropolitan Youth Symphony rehearsals in Portland and Hillsboro. I get to conduct two out of fifteen ensembles at MYS. One of these ensembles is our most advanced full orchestra: MYS Symphony Orchestra. These are highly gifted young musicians, playing near or at professional levels, many of whom have made their ways up the ranks at MYS,  from our youngest entry-level orchestra to our top group, which recently came back from touring Italy and Austria.

These young musicians fill me with optimism every Saturday, because they walk in the door, they say “hi” to their friends from different schools, chat a little bit, then they sit down, we tune, and then, for three hours, they’re laser-focused on slaying some of the most challenging and rewarding orchestral repertoire there is. This include masterworks like Beethoven Symphony No. 7 or Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and brand-new music by their peers: local, young composers from Oregon. 



THE ART OF LEARNING: an occasional series



My world is filled with optimism because after rehearsal, these kids go back home, hopefully rest and get some sleep, and then proceed to make it through their weeks at home, school, and their communities with the same focus, leadership, team spirit, and excellence that they exhibit in the orchestra. I go back home –exhausted and depleted of physical energy after rehearsing two ensembles for six hours – but on such a high. Five hundred-plus kids in Portland and Hillsboro just spent hours, under the leadership of an amazing team of conductors and coaches, doing what neuroscientists are calling “the brain equivalent of a full-body workout.” 

MUSIC & BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

As somebody who is a professional musician and as somebody who works in music education, I am very aware of the many benefits that music brings to anybody who engages in some kind of music-making on a regular basis. Music performance, music education, and the arts in general are good for the brain, and they are a booster for creativity and discipline. 

There are many studies, articles, scientific and scholarly publications about the correlation between music education and academic achievement. Students who participate in music score substantially higher on many standardized tests of math, reading, and writing, and in other measures of academic achievement and skill development.  

In the last few decades, neuroscientists have made great breakthroughs in understanding what music does to the human brain. A video publication by Dr. Anita Collins, a music educator in Australia, addresses this beautifully.

She explains that neuroscientists are able to monitor how our brains work with instruments like Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography scanners. They monitor the brains of people who are doing activities like reading or solving math problems, and different areas of the brain are activated. However, when they monitor people listening to music (not even playing, just listening) multiple areas of the brain light up at once. The scientists compare it to fireworks.

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Vision 2020: Raúl Gómez

Engaging the big issues: In a troubled world, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony leader says, schools need to teach the empathy of the arts

“One of my priorities has always been to promote and empower young musicians, to give voice to living composers,” Raúl Gómez-Rojas told ArtsWatch in 2018. Now in his fourth season as music director of Portland’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Gómez has firmly placed MYS in the forefront of classical music’s development by connecting tomorrow’s classical musicians with today’s music — including music composed by MYS members themselves. Last year, MYS partnered with Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project in a commissioning program, The Authentic Voice, which gives local, student composers an opportunity to write for and hear their work publicly performed by full symphony orchestra, while giving ensemble musicians a chance to play never performed music by their peers. This year, the program includes three symphonic commissions, each receiving a world premiere at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, eight YCP student arrangements of film scores for full orchestra, and other opportunities for readings and performances of works by younger composers with other MYS ensembles.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


At MYS, the Costa Rican native  works with conductors, coaches, staff, families and more than 500 students in 15 orchestra, band and jazz ensembles. Last year, the League of American Orchestra’s 2018 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview chose Gomez as one of six conductors honored for their “experience, talent, leadership, and commitment to a career in service to American orchestras.”

Raúl Gómez conducting the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Photo: R. Kobell

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McMinnville gallery showcases young at art

A student show at The Gallery at Ten Oaks provides an encouraging snapshot of arts education in Yamhill County

Conventional wisdom — to the extent that there still is such a thing in our highly mediated, hyper-compartmentalized, and socially fractured world — is that arts in the public schools have taken a beating over the years. New football stadiums and practice facilities seem to get built with no problem or objection, but teachers and parents often are forced to scrape together resources on the fundraising circuit just to bring in a professional artist for a week.

“The Look” by Gemma Bell, age 17, Delphian School (acrylic, 16 by 16 inches)

In actuality, the picture obviously varies — from district to district, from school to school — but the show that opened last week in The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville provides a snapshot of the state of arts education in Yamhill County, and it’s encouraging.

For the second year, owners Dan and Nancy Morrow have opened the premium first-floor display space in their gallery to students. Last March, they invited McMinnville High School students to submit work, and they felt the show was successful enough to merit bringing in all Yamhill County high schools this year. “The students who came to the reception last year were so jazzed,” Dan said. “Nancy had name badges for every student. It’s those little things. It’s like, ‘Look, you’re here at a reception and people are coming to see your work on the wall.’”

Paintings, drawings, and ceramics by artists who attend high schools in Yamhill-Carlton, Amity, and Sheridan (as well as the private Delphian School) will greet visitors to the gallery through Feb. 2, and a reception will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15. Art by McMinnville and Newberg students will be showcased starting Feb. 4, with the reception set for 6 p.m. Feb. 12.

“Girl Falling” by Abby Renee Hornsby, Sheridan Middle School Grade 8 (digital art, 11 by 14 inches)

I recall being impressed with the overall quality at last year’s show, and the same holds true this time. Several portraits of young women by Delphian students stand out. My eye kept drifting back to a couple of delightful acrylics by 15-year-old Chloe Latch. Another acrylic, by 17-year-old Delphian Gemma Bell titled The Look, seems to challenge the viewer to come up with a word that describes just what that look (the girl’s expression) actually means, what sort of emotional and cognitive state is going on there. It’s nuanced, complex, and contradictory. This piece, along with several others, could easily be relocated upstairs with the pros.

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Vision 2020: Sean Andries and Carissa Burkett

Leaders of Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center look forward to more performing arts, celebrating diversity, and exploring culture through a new culinary center

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg would be a remarkable resource even in the culturally rich neighborhoods of Portland. That it happens to be in rural Yamhill County serves as an inspiration to any community that seeks to create space for the arts.

Sean Andries, the center’s director, has been at the cultural center for two years following previous roles with Portland Center Stage and the Circus Project. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon in theater and arts administration and a PTP Certificate from the Dell’Arte School. Carissa Burkett, curator and director of arts programs, also has worked at the Chehalem center for a little more than two years. She received her BA in studio art from Azusa Pacific University and her MFA in visual arts from Vermont College of Fine Art.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


The center is housed in a sprawling, two-story brick building just north of Newberg’s city library. Originally a school built in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project, the building is owned by the Chehalem Park & Recreation District. The nonprofit cultural center is responsible for everything inside, including several visual art galleries and exhibition halls that have featured some stunning exhibitions over the past couple of years. There also are studios and classrooms for arts classes, clay work, and music recording; a 5,200-square-foot ballroom; and a kitchen/culinary arts studio. More is in the works, including a 250-seat theater. 

Carissa Burkett and Sean Andries are excited about the Chehalem Cultural Center’s new Cox Family Culinary Enrichment Center as an avenue to explore art and culture. “So much of our culture is wrapped up in the food we eat and the people we share it with,” Andries says.
Carissa Burkett and Sean Andries are excited about the Chehalem Cultural Center’s new Cox Family Culinary Enrichment Center as an avenue to explore art and culture. “So much of our culture is wrapped up in the food we eat and the people we share it with,” Andries says.

How would you characterize the general state of artistic and cultural life in Newberg and Yamhill County?

Burkett: Throughout the two years that I have been working at the CCC, I’ve seen exponential growth in the ways that the community engages with and is impacted by the center. 2020 will be the 10th year that the center has been running, and as with any organization, we spent a substantial amount of time establishing ourselves in the community, defining who we are and what it is that we do, and then trying to get the word out. In the past two years, our youth and adult art classes have almost doubled both in what we offer and in students signing up. The quantity and caliber of visual art exhibitions has grown and the engagement with these exhibits has taken off. Folks are excited about what is happening and there seems to be a significant impact, more than ever before.

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Vision 2020: Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles

Leaders of Art Center East in La Grande say funding cuts could have been dire in their rural area, but the community stepped up to keep arts thriving

Since 1977, Art Center East in La Grande has coordinated arts programs in a 10-county area that includes Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler counties. The nonprofit community art center houses two exhibit galleries, a gift gallery, and three educational studios in a former Carnegie Library owned by the city. At the center alone, classes, concerts, exhibits, and workshops are offered year-round. Organizers recently estimated that roughly 25,000 people visited the center every year.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Given the far-flung reach of the center’s programs, we ran our questions by not one, but three women who play key roles. Darcy Dolge is executive director at Art Center East (ACE) and an entrepreneur and owner of Blackberry Moon SoundNancy Knowles, a poet and professor of English at Eastern Oregon University, serves as the nonprofit board’s president. Sarah West, also a local entrepreneur and owner of Teahouse La Grande, is the center’s community outreach coordinator. She also sits on the board for the La Grande Farmers’ Market. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Leaders at Art Center East (from left) Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles oversee arts and culture programs serving 10 counties in Eastern Oregon.

Who comes to the Arts Center? What do they use it for? Basically, what goes on there, year-round? Can you give us a general sense of it?

Dolge: Ours is the only art gallery in Union County open to the public six days a week, and we see a wide range of visitors, both locals and out-of-towners. We’re often surprised at how many visitors wander through our doors to have a look at our exhibit or inquire about the local art scene.

We offer a lot of programming, including an average of 150 classes each quarter, nine-plus exhibits each year, a monthly author reading series, a community music program, monthly dance nights hosted by a partnering organization, along with several free community events and cultural performances all year long. We also serve local artists in the form of retail sales in our gift gallery and an annual maker’s market around the holidays, exposure and notoriety via gallery exhibits, as well as giving those who are interested a place to earn income by teaching their craft.

We have several local partnerships to bring art instruction to underserved populations, including the Union County Juvenile Department, Union County District Attorney Parole Restitution Program, Shelter From the Storm Victim Rehabilitation Program for victims of domestic abuse, and the Center for Human Development. Lastly, our Artists in Rural Schools program places professional art educators in rural schools in 10 counties of Eastern Oregon.

How would you characterize the general state of artistic and cultural life in your area?

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Vision 2020: Rachel Barreras-Kleemann

The Newport dance teacher says her goals are small: “To keep kids motivated to dance and to help kids that are lower income have a place they can go”

Editor’s note: This story begins a series of twenty interviews in twenty days with arts and cultural figures around Oregon, creating a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. It looks at where we’ve been, where we are, and what might or should happen culturally in the 2020s.

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Rachel Barreras-Kleemann grew up in Newport and began studying dance at the age of 11. After moving to  Portland for college, she grew interested in African-American and Afro-Brazilian dance, and signed on with the marching samba ensemble Lions of Batucada. She later moved to Brazil, where she pursued a technical degree in dance.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


Barreras-Kleemann, who is of Mexican and Native American descent, left the South American country after being mugged numerous times and realizing she had become frightened of the children who roved in gangs. “I thought, I want to be able to go home and help the kids I see, not fear them,” Barreras-Kleemann said. The mother of a baby girl, Barreras-Kleemann teaches dance to children and adults, many of whom are minorities and of low income.

Rachel Barreras-Kleemann says she wants to bring joy and encouragement to people who are fearful of doing arts. “People are tentative about celebrating themselves and about feeling good… I want to remind people it is good to feel joy and it’s still OK to be happy, even in these times that we’re living in.”
Rachel Barreras-Kleemann says she wants to bring joy and encouragement to people who are fearful of doing arts. “People are tentative about celebrating themselves and about feeling good… I want to remind people it is good to feel joy and it’s still OK to be happy, even in these times that we’re living in.”

What, good or bad, has had the biggest impact on arts and culture in your area in the past few years?

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Coast calendar: Holiday shows, music — and whale-watching

It seems dark and stormy at the end of December, but upcoming events promise a lot of merry and bright

Things can get awfully quiet on the coast in late December. Black Friday has come and gone, the holiday visitors haven’t yet arrived, and dark and stormy nights are not the exception but something of a rule. Despite all that, there’s quite a bit going on. 

In Newport, Saturday is “The most wonderful night of the year…” as Red Octopus Theatre Company presents, one night only, The Christmas Show in the Performing Arts Center’s Alice Silverman Theatre.

This year’s performance features The Lutz Radio Theater Christmas Show (of 1947). The story line:  “It’s Christmas Eve 1947 and the final radio broadcast for station KMAS in Hollywood, California. After this, they’ll be converted to a television studio… and not everyone’s happy about it. When the writer throws a fit and the professional actors and musicians don’t arrive, the station workers must scramble to save the broadcast (after all, the show must go on!)” 

Hosted by the music-comedy duo The Tequila Mockingbirds, the Dec. 21 show is also a food drive for Food Share of Lincoln County. Attendees who donate two or more items of food receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win two tickets to Red Octopus Theatre Company’s four 2020 shows. The winner will be announced during the show and must be present to win. 

Get your tickets to the performance here.

DOWN THE STREET, THE NEWPORT VISUAL ARTS CENTER is hosting several shows, including Gourd Play, an exhibition by Newport-based artist Louise Hemphill, through Jan. 25 in the Coastal Oregon Visual Artists Showcase.

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