BUTI and the beats: Cutting-edge workshop offers challenges, rewards to young musicians

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LENOX — Three area students enrolled at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute's two-week workshop in electroacoustic composition are flexing their high-tech muscles on the bucolic campus where BUTI trains young musicians ages 10 to 20.

The institute, established in 1966, is in close harmony with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music festival and the Tanglewood Music Center summer academy a mile away.

BUTI offers an array of two-, three-, four- and six-week programs for string, brass, woodwind and percussion players as well as singers, pianists and composers, and enrollment has soared by nearly 40 percent since the arrival of Hilary Field Respass as executive director five years ago.

This summer, students and faculty are presenting more than 100 recitals and community concerts in the area, in addition to frequent performances at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall and at the Koussevitzky Music Shed during Tanglewood on Parade.

During a recent lunchtime break, Nate Burdick, 15, of Pittsfield, a Taconic High School student, Fiora Caligiuri-Randall, 16, a home-schooled Lenox resident who also attends the Berkshire Music School in Pittsfield, and Kayden Lovallo, 15, who goes to Pittsfield High School, emphasized the rewards and the challenges of BUTI's cutting-edge tech workshop, now in its third summer.

For the past three years, Kayden has been composing songs at the Kids 4 Harmony program of Berkshire Children and Families, meeting at Morningside Community School in Pittsfield. She entered the program as a violinist when she was 9.

Kids 4 Harmony, established in 2011, is described by BCF as a model for social change, based on the global El Sistema movement created in 1975 in Caracas, Venezuela, to foster intensive classical music education.

"It's my favorite class, I just love learning about music and theory composition," Kayden said, noting that it inspired her to audition for the two-week BUTI deep-immersion electroacoustic course.

Familiarizing herself with new software programs has been the primary hurdle she has faced. "It's very new for me, but I'm enjoying that `oh!' moment when something clicks."

Like other students in the workshop, Kayden has been composing an electronic piece for this Friday's student recital, using Logic Pro, a digital audio workstation for a surround-sound mix, and Audacity, a free, open-source digital audio editor and recording application software.

After the BUTI program ends, she plans to continue experimenting with digital audio workstations while also composing acoustically.

Fiora explained that she has been playing classical piano since she was 5, but had to take a break for several months last year, after suffering a tendonitis injury.

"I still wanted to be involved in music but couldn't play like I used to," she said. "I still don't have everything back; my hands are still weak. I lost a lot in those few months, so I started getting into songwriting because I also sing. I came here because I really wanted to get into more digital, computer music. Electroacoustic composition, that sounded really interesting."

Intent on recording an album, Fiora acknowledged that she was intrigued by the BUTI workshop "because I'm producing my album and I wanted to add synthesizer and other things."

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Commenting that "classical music is the opposite of digital anything," she prepped through an internship at the small SubStation Studio in Lenox run by producer Robby Baier.

"He's an amazing producer, so I learned a lot during the school year and I also built an itsy-bitsy studio in my house, a keyboard, a MIDI [Musical Instrument Digital Interface], my laptop and a vocal mike," she said. "It's like the most basic, cheapest studio, but it works."

Fiora summed up her experience at BUTI as "digital performance art. We're recording sounds in the world; processing them. It's fascinating, I love it, and the professors are so good, super-chill and you learn a lot. I'm really happy so far."

The recital Friday, when each student presents a five-minute surround-sound piece as the finale to the workshop, is based on "concept maps" with a story, collected sounds and dialogue. "It's a challenge," she acknowledged, because "two weeks is really short to create a piece. It's tricky."

Looking ahead to a potential career as a producer, Fiora plans to continue sharpening her digital skills. "I have found digital music to be really fun."

She'll also continue live performing, incorporating digital techniques, and hopes to complete her album for release on SoundCloud, a YouTube-type service for audio only, and other streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.

Nate, who joined the Kids 4 Harmony program in 2012 as a trumpet player, said his composition instructor encouraged him to pursue the BUTI workshop, "so I applied, not believing I'd get in, but here I am. It was a 50-mile-long application process."

His concept for Friday's recital is in good shape, he said, but familiarization with the Logic Pro X software for Apple computers remains challenging.

Also enrolled in a two-week Junior Strings Intensive workshop at BUTI is Geivens Dextra, 13, of Pittsfield's Herberg Middle School. He also participates in the Kids 4 Harmony program.

"My experience [in the Junior Strings Intensive] has been great," Geivens said in an email message. "Tanglewood is a nice place and everyone has been nice as well. My private teacher is very helpful and teaches me how to play my instrument better than I already do. I enjoy chamber music time because I love making music with my new friends."

As Respass, the BUTI executive director, explained, students come to the electroacoustic composition workshop with many different backgrounds, but "the wonderful thing is that they learn composition skills, with different tools to apply."

Respass has emphasized building partnerships with Kids 4 Harmony and Berkshire Music School, whose leaders recommend candidates for the summer programs, as well as other organizations nationwide. She cited the Feigenbaum Foundation for major student scholarship support.

"The thing about electroacoustic music, some of it's really awesome, and occasionally startling," Fiora said. "The sounds are just nothing you've ever heard; my brain is just like, `No!' but it can also be amazing, wonderful, beautiful and crazy. It's so out there."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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