MANCHESTER -- The great jazz pianist Duke Ellington, who knew something about what makes a song go, once shared a secret with the rest of us.
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing," the Duke confided in a song.
Apparently that applies to classical music as well.
Joana Genova, education direction of the Manchester Music Festival, along with pianist Vladimir Valjarevic, will perform a program of classical chamber music pieces Saturday, Feb. 22, that have been influenced by jazz and blues music idioms. The concert will be held at the Southern Vermont Art Center's Yester House -- its main gallery space -- and will begin at 3 p.m.
"It's going to be a swinging program, full of jazz and blues and swing," she said.
The program will include pieces by David Baker, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.
The concert will benefit the work of the music festival's Michael Rudiakov Music Academy, which provides instruction in violin, viola and cello to children between the ages of 4 to 18.
The academy fills something of a void. While many area schools have a band or wind instrument program of some sort, no other string program is readily available for young, would-be musicians, Genova said.
Students are taught individually by one of the academy's six faculty members, and there is also an ensemble for some of the intermediate and advanced students. Currently, about 10 of the roughly 30 students enrolled at the academy perform in their ensemble group, she said.
"The goal is to learn how to play together, how to listen to each other, how to keep a steady beat, and not get confused," she said.
Genova is entering her fourth year as education director of the academy, which was founded in 2001 following the death of Michael Rudiakov, a world-renowned cellist and co-founder of the Manchester Music Festival. She is an accomplished violinist in her own right, and juggles her work at the academy with a demanding performance schedule that includes working with the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Manchester Music Festival. She is a member of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and has been a featured soloist with the Adelphi Chamber Orchestra, and the Metropolitan, Rockaway and Danbury Symphonies. She is also a member of the music faculty at Williams College.
Genova and Valjarevic will also perform a similar, but not identical "Jazz in the Classics" concert at Williams College on Friday, Feb. 21, at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, starting at 8 p.m. They will be joined in that show by cellist Benjamin Capps.
When it comes to laying out the boundaries for what it takes for young musicians to progress in ability, Genova is old-school -- there's no substitute for practice.
Students meet with their teachers once a week for 45 minutes or so, but in-between it's up to them -- and their parents -- to put in the time to refine and develop their skills, she said.
"We guide them in the right direction, and give them assignments," she said. "They have to treat it like homework and make it part of their daily life."
And for a lot of students, that's not easy, when you add in the demands on their time from school, sports and everyday life. But if they want to improve, they have to make the time, she said.
"My rule is: Try not to miss the weekends since they are good times to practice because there's no school," she added.
Lauren Cauley, of Manchester, was one of Genova's early students. The pair started working together in 1998, when Cauley was 8 years old and saw a newspaper ad for Music Discovery Week, a special program the academy has taken under its wing. It introduces beginner musicians to classical chamber music and the instruments, and for some, like Cauley, it provides the entry way to a career.
Cauley began with taking private lessons with Genova, then entered the academy program when that launched in 2001.
"I don't remember what sparked my interest in it, but I remember asking my parents and telling them I really wanted to learn (the violin)," she said. "I just remember the lessons being really fun and learning a lot, but also having a good time."
From there, Cauley took off. She graduated from Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester in 2008 and went on to obtain an undergraduate degree in violin performance from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. She is finishing up her master's degree there this year and plans to continue performing chamber music and teaching, she said.
Without the academy's instruction, she might never have gotten this far, she said.
"It played a huge role in me becoming a violinst," she said of the academy. "I don't know if I would have had the resources to learn the way I did and have the support to apply to music schools or conservatories."
Two other former students, Deanna Baasch and Elizabeth Kilpatrick, are now members of the teaching faculty at the academy.
Learning the violin, or cello or viola, can be frustrating in the beginning, Genova said. Just holding the instrument and the bow correctly take some time, and then the sound that most beginners produce isn't quite what they are expecting -- or hoping -- to hear. But for those who stick with it, and practice regularly, the results can be extremely rewarding, especially later in life, when playing an instrument is a helpful release and safety valve from the stresses of the day. And those skills don't diminish with age -- it just gets better.
"Studying music is very enriching, and it teaches you skills like discipline and focus," she said. "Through music, you become a better person -- it teaches something inside you that nothing else can."
If you go ...
What: ‘Jazz in the Classics'
When: Saturday, Feb. 22 at 3 p.m.
Where: Southern Vermont Art Center's Yester House, West Road, Manchester, Vt. 05254
Cost: Tickets for the concert are $40 and can be purchased online at mmfvt.org or by calling the music festival at (802) 362-1956