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Music Workshop: filling a void

Portland-based music education program, which assists teachers in thousands of schools around the world, is expanding in scope and diversity, and helping schools cope with the pandemic’s challenges

Even though she’s not a professional musician, music made all the difference in Amy Richter’s life. When she was growing up in Beaverton in the late 1970s and ‘80s, her music-loving father, who frequently traveled for work, would bring back new albums —  classical, blues, country, bluegrass, rock — he’d pick up from Tower Records or Music Millennium, and play them for himself and his daughter. 

“That was our time to really connect,” Richter remembers. 

The ardor for music he ignited in her found more fuel in school and private lessons for voice and piano. Later diagnosed as dyslexic, she found that studying music helped her learn and succeed in ways conventional classwork couldn’t. Richter sang in many musical theater productions before graduating from Beaverton High School, then attended Whittier College on a voice scholarship, double majoring in music and psychology.

“Music helped me be successful in school and fueled my creativity,” she says. “It gave me strength and a lot of confidence.”  

That confidence powered a successful career — not in music therapy, as she’d intended when she went to college, but in marketing, after she scored a plum job offer right out of school and rapidly ascended.

Founder Amy Richter teaching Music Workshop at Raleigh Hills K-8 school in 2013. Photo: Amira Dughri.

Then, about a decade ago, a couple of big changes prompted a new course. Around the time Richter’s children were moving into elementary school, her father died. “I’d been doing some soul searching after my father passed,” reminiscing about how important the love of music he and her school studies instilled in her had been in her own success, culminating at Adidas. And she looked forward, envisioning similar inspiration in her own two young children.

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FearNoMusic: Musical Terroirists

New music ensemble’s Locally Sourced Sounds concert provides tasty sampler of locavore sounds

Kenji Bunch is either an oenophile or he’s been reading Jeff VanderMeer. The Fear No Music artistic director introduced the ensemble’s fifth annual Locally Sourced Sounds concert post-concert Q&A with a discussion of the somewhat esoteric term terroir, used to describe the interlinked ways in which wines, cheeses, cannabis, and other such creations are influenced by the myriad regional factors that help condition their development. Bunch defined terroir (actually it seems likely he got the term from Darrell Grant) as “the taste of a place” and asked the gathered composers, “is there a sound to composers living in the Northwest?”

Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi at Locally Sourced Sounds

The January 21 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall gave us a chance to find out, with a tasting menu of six Pacific Northwest composers.

Kids these days

FNM’s artistic and executive leadership team of Bunch and Monica Ohuchi opened the concert with the world premiere of recent Reed College graduate Yiyang Wang’s Converse, a sparse and cloudy mood piece, awash with open strings and rhythmic tappings on Bunch’s viola over tinkly jazz arpeggios and Liszty swirls on Ohuchi’s piano. At one point Bunch carefully set down the viola to sneak around to the piano’s low end, hiding behind Ohuchi’s arched shoulders, where he pounded out a few bass tones. FNM usually likes a slow start, and although Converse didn’t command my rapt attention the way Wang’s piano trio Color Studies did in 2017, her atmospheric little duet opened the show on a pleasantly conversational note.

Next up was another duet, Music for Four Hands by Ryan Francis, a youngish Juilliard-trained composer whom we have seen around the halls at Portland State University, where he’s been teaching theory. Ohuchi and Jeff Payne provided the titular hands, spinning out polyrhythms in wistfully melancholy GlassGuaraldi harmonic language similar to Portland composer Jay Derderian’s The People They Think We Are (performed on this same piano a few months back by Kathleen Supové). And because this was Ohuchi and Payne—one of the finest piano duos in Portland — the polymeters and the wistful melancholy were uncommonly graceful, immersing the audience in elegant waves of auditory bliss the way John Luther Adams is supposed to.

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