Oregon Music Teachers Association

Passing the Torch

Cascadia Composers' In Good Hands program expands students' musical horizons and brings Oregon music to the next generations

The typical piano recital goes something like this: assigned standard works by teachers, students dutifully perform some bite-sized Bach, a morsel of Mozart, a sampling of Schumann, maybe a token 20th century work created a century or more before they were born. Parents proudly applaud. Then the students go home and listen to the music they really like, the music of their time, until it’s time to practice Ye Olde Masters again. After a few years, many student recitalists find other outlets for their musical interests.

What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if students could play music from their own time and place? And instead of merely “reciting” standard rep that’s been played zillions of times by as many students — what if they could also engage creatively with the music they’re playing?


THE ART OF LEARNING: An Occasional Series


That was the vision Cascadia Composers founder David Bernstein suggested to Portland Piano International founder Harold Gray in 2009. Before moving to Oregon, Bernstein had been involved in a program in Cleveland, where he was a music professor, that connected area composers to piano students. A concert of music by Northwest composers, performed by Portland-area piano students, would make a splendid addition to a summer festival almost entirely dominated by music from centuries ago and oceans away, Gray and Bernstein thought.

The 2018 In Good Hands performers

This Saturday afternoon, July 11, Cascadia presents its 10th annual In Good Hands recital, featuring student performers from both the Portland and Eugene metro areas will play new music written by eleven Cascadia Composers members. Anyone interested in the future of Oregon music can tune in via Zoom or at the archived video on the Cascadia website. It’s a milestone for a program that not only provides unique educational benefits for its student participants, but also bolsters contemporary Oregon classical music’s future.

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Summer Music Survey part 2: In Good Hands

Cascadia Composers' summer concerts make Oregon classical music's future look so bright we have to wear shades.

Even when it’s written in the 21st century, classical music is often stereotyped as music by dead people for old people. That’s hardly a recipe for growth or even survival, but Oregon’s major classical institutions contribute to this self defeating notion by relentlessly devoting the vast majority of their programs to music by long-dead people, attended by mostly people who won’t be around too much longer. While some of the old line institutions are tentatively, timidly starting to freshen up their programming, it’s unclear how many will be able to remake themselves into sources of vitality rather than mummification before inexorable demographics catch up.

Young hands played Oregon music at Portland Piano Company. Photo: Benji [Bao] Vuong.

Young hands played Oregon music at Portland Piano Company. Photo: Benji [Bao] Vuong.

Fortunately, in recent years, Oregon has spawned new sources of classical music devoted to making it new and strong. and we saw plenty this summer, as noted in the first installment of this little series. One of the most successful is Cascadia Composers, whose two summer concerts showcased its future-focused orientation. In July, Cascadia’s In Good Hands show at Portland Piano Company, which returned after a hiatus, demonstrated to young students and their teachers that music by 21st century Oregon composers can be just as educational — and a lot more fun and relevant to tomorrow’s young musicians — than most music by 19th century Europeans.

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