Ever felt stymied by a challenge in a project only to listen to some music or take a walk outside and come back with the answer? You are not alone. Composers for centuries found that ‘ambulatory’ thinking processes stimulated creative juices. Ludwig van Beethoven took long country walks after lunch making note of words as well as music impressions of the natural world around him as he was writing his beautiful Pastoral Symphony with its flowing stream and thunderstorm with lightning.
But can music spark creativity? It certainly did for one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century. Albert Einstein had played piano and violin since his childhood. He was a particular fan of Mozart’s violin sonatas and in his later years carried his violin case with him everywhere he went. In 1929, Einstein told the Saturday Evening Post, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.” He claimed that music was his scientific muse and piano playing had the same effect for him that walking has for many people.
According to his wife Elsa, one day totally lost in thought Einstein went to the piano and played for a half an hour while jotting down notes – only to disappear into a room for two weeks (except for intermittent returns to the piano). When he emerged, he had the working draft of his theory of relativity.
Playing music stimulated and fed Einstein’s visionary approach to science – for which we can be grateful a hundred years later. But going outside one’s routine and norm can fuel new insights and discoveries for everyone.
Like a fish jumping out of water, taking its discovery of another world with it as it returns to the pond, experiences of the arts and especially music open new dimensions of personal reality and innovative thinking. Also, studies have shown that early music instruction literally ‘builds the brain’ with synaptic connections that dramatically benefit cognitive abilities and testing scores, opening avenues for exceptional achievement for even the most economically disadvantaged. And that doesn’t touch the values learned, such as patience, perseverance, teamwork, risk-taking, and self-confidence.
The richness of this musical fodder was the catalyst for the design of the brilliantly conceived educational video of acclaimed teaching artist and professional violinist Monique Mead. SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY was commissioned by Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts (ARCA) for its Educational ArtReach Program in the Allegheny-Clarion Valley Schools in Foxburg, PA.
The entertaining and stimulating video features the “Trio con Brio” as Monique Mead and her children, harpist Isabel Cardenes (17) and Tino Cardenes (16), pianist and video executive producer, explore the larger process of creativity – in any endeavor – with music performance as the metaphor. The video is now available to the public on YouTube:
Monique Mead said, “We are grateful to ARCA for giving us the opportunity to create this video. It brought our family closer together and provided a beautiful capstone to our year of COVID isolation. We plan to visit the beautiful Foxburg region this summer and hope to have the chance to meet the students someday.”
In the thirty-five minute video, SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY, this ‘teen family’ brings you into their home to share stories, performances, and practices that can help light a spark for your own creative pursuits. They present the three-step process that underpins any creative work – Finding Inspiration, Doing the Work and Putting it Out There – all while performing solos and duos by composers Vittorio Monti, Jules Massenet, William Grant Still, J. S. Bach, Antonín Dvořák and Erroll Garner.
From family photos of their travels and performances together…
To the crying violin of a Hungarian folk melody that inspired the Italian composer Vittorio Monti,
Plus the inspiration of John Williams’ Star Wars music and illustrations of the development of the double-action pedal harp…
Young video producer, Tino Cardenes, has employed quick frame-changing animated images to make it delightfully engaging.
The musical equivalent of “Beware if there are no callouses!” is the reality that in any project, no matter the inspiration, you have to put in the time to practice, practice, practice – which is the musical punch line to that old joke of someone asking how you get to Carnegie Hall.
Tino shares his musical and technical process of learning both parts to a four-hand piano arrangement of Dvořák’s ’Dumky’ Trio – both parts of which he plays and video records and intertwines into a seamless performance. I dare you NOT to be inspired to take on a BIG project for yourself!
Then there’s baring your soul and sharing your project – with all its nerves, fear of failure and frustrations along the way – not to mention patience. Most charming are the outtakes as high school senior Isabel is making her video audition tape for college.
Isabel’s exasperated and self-deprecating groans as she tries and tries again – until she gets it perfect – all culminate in the elegance of her final Bach performance that won her the Presidential Award Merit Scholarship at Manhattan School of Music where she will matriculate in the Fall of 2021.
By its end, you will hope there is a sequel and want to share the YouTube link with every budding musician you know – of all ages. Monique Mead has offered to return with her family to perform in person for students as soon as outside live performances are permitted again at A-C Valley – and ARCA will definitely make that happen. You can view the video at this link: https://youtu.be/4cxEusfqscY
ARCA Educational ArtReach Program
For twelve years, Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts has provided an Educational ArtReach Program in partnership with the Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District – bringing music, dance and visual art resources and opportunities to students from Grades K to 12: Annual arts exhibits in the Red Brick Gallery and music education residencies via small workshops, assembly concerts and after-school coaching to students in Grades K to 12. Groups have included Cello Fury, Attack Theatre, C Street Brass, Akropolis Reeds, Beo String Quartet, Aria412 and the Renaissance City Winds.
ARCA Board member and Education ArtReach director, Katherine Soroka said, “Over the years, it’s been a joy to observe students responding to the sequential arts resources ARCA has brought into the A-C Valley Schools – especially for those who otherwise would never see a dance company or hear an opera singer or string quartet ‘live’. COVID-19 restrictions have been most challenging to music education. With this video, we salute our local teachers who kept their students making music together all year. We’re delighted that this brilliant and heart-warming educational video created by Monique Mead and her family was a joyous conclusion to their year of resilience and persistence. It’s gratifying to know it will continue to inspire students of ALL ages in the larger digital world.”
In this year of COVID when “live” educational resource musical performances were not allowed, SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY was shown in late May to general music students in Grades K to 6 and to Jr. and Sr. High choristers in their classrooms by A-C Valley School music teachers, Karen Hetrick and Jennifer Powell-Lowrey.
It was a year of persistence in the face of adversity! Elementary band students played together remotely in Google meets (though muted), and choristers sang behind plastic shields in Jr./Sr. High chorus and in a public Spring concert. And yet, they kept making music through it all. ARCA’s video was a kind of semester-end celebration for students who had persevered despite the encumbrances of singing behind masks and using instrument bell-coverings while performing socially distanced to prevent the spread of aerosols. https://alleghenyriverstone.org/event/spark-your-creativity-explore-your-musical-instincts/
A-C Valley general music and chorus teacher Jennifer Powell Lowrey said, “ARCA’s Spark Your Creativity program was a wonderful treat for the students of A-C Valley. They got to enjoy the fantastic family trio of musicians as well as explore how the creative process works. It inspired many students to tap into their own creativity! I had them watch all the way to the end where it mentioned A-C Valley Schools and pointed out that it was made especially for them. They were very impressed. Thank you to Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts for all it does for our students!”
Karen Hetrick, A-C Valley elementary band and general music teacher said, “The students at A-C Valley look forward to the special programs that Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts bring to our schools each year. They have been able to experience incredible live performances by musicians, dancers and actors over the last several years.
This year ARCA developed a wonderful virtual assembly so that our students were still able to have an enriching experience during this unique year with COVID and when it wasn’t possible to bring live performers into the school. Our students have enjoyed watching the video and especially have liked seeing young people perform and share their perspectives on what it takes to be successful when working towards a goal. Thanks so much to ARCA for caring about the creative lives of our students!”
About the Artists
A passionate ambassador of classical music, violinist Monique Mead enjoys a rich career as a performer, educator, and innovator. Inspired and mentored by Leonard Bernstein, Mead has devoted her performing career to nurturing new audiences and deepening the musical experience for seasoned concertgoers. Her programs with major orchestras and festivals in the United States and Europe have drawn international acclaim for their popular appeal and innovative approach.
Interweaving live music with education and audience engagement at the highest level, her programs have reached millions through television appearances, a six-year radio series with the Munich Radio Orchestra, and nearly 20 years of concerts with major symphony orchestras. Currently Mead is Director of Music Entrepreneurship Studies at Carnegie Mellon University, founder of the Center for Arts Innovation at CMU, Violin Instructor at the CMU Preparatory School and teacher of a lecture series for CMU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
A Pittsburgh native, Isabel Cardenes, age 17, has been immersed in music her entire life, taking in the sounds of the Pittsburgh Symphony and traveling with her parents to concerts and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe. Having made her piano debut performing a Mozart concerto in Germany at age nine, she discovered her love for the harp a year later and has been thriving in the studio of PSO Principal Harp, Gretchen Van Hoesen. Isabel has been a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony since 2017.
In May, 2019 Isabel won first prize in Pittsburgh’s Lois Streator/Smith Competition and in June traveled to North Carolina to compete in the finals of the American Harp Society national competition, winning third prize. She has received scholarships to attend Interlochen Arts Camp in 2018 and 2019, and is a recipient of the Arts Recognition Scholarship from Oakland Catholic High School. With a strong interest in music for healing, Isabel performs frequently for patients at the Hillman Cancer Center. She and her mother, Monique Mead, have also developed “Music in the Moment,” an integrated program of music, movement, and mindfulness. She was recently chosen as a finalist to be featured on the NPR Show From the Top. Isabel aspires to be a professional solo harpist and in September, 2021 will matriculate at Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where she is the recipient of the Presidential Award Merit Scholarship.
Tino Cardenes is a 16 year-old pianist, producer, and composer based in Pittsburgh, PA who has travelled to many places around the world performing music. In the year prior to COVID, he performed on a 50-concert tour accompanying the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Monique Mead and played jazz for people who are facing adversity. In the midst of the pandemic, he also worked to bring musical experiences online through the art of videography.
With a background in classical and jazz piano, he has played music by some of the greats, from Chopin to Coltrane. His favorite moments have been performing as a soloist with orchestras in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Germanyand performing for people that rarely experience live music. When he’s not at the piano or editing videos he is learning languages, coding, building his website or watching Netflix.