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11-Year-Old Composers Make Musical Debut As The Historic New York Philharmonic Plays Their Originally Composed Pieces

11-Year-Old Composers Make Musical Debut As The Historic New York Philharmonic Plays Their Originally Composed Pieces



Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs/The New York Times

The New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recently debuted two originally composed works, “Harlem Shake” and “Boogie Down Uptown,” composed by two pint-sized musical powerhouses Camryn Cowan and Jordan Millar. The two musically gifted Brooklyn students were a part of the Philharmonic’s “Very Young Composers” initiative designed under the guise that "all children are creative."

"People ask whether I’ve found the next little Mozart, and I say yes, I’ve found dozens of them," shared Philharmonic composer, principal bassist, and founder of the Very Young Composers initiative, Jon Deak. "They’re all over the place. We just need to listen to them." 

Photo credit: Celeste Sloman/The New York Times

Deak went on to share that the youth initiative was inspired by the once televised Young People’s Concerts that were hosted by famed composer Leonard Bernstein. Participants in the youth program are from about 15 local New York schools and they workshop with one another’s original compositions and try them out at various Young People’s Concerts to receive feedback. They learn music theory, rhythmic exercises, and eventually graduate to composing original and complete scores that could potentially be selected to be played by the Philharmonic.  

Prior to joining the program, Cowan trained to play the violin and piano while Millar plays the piano and clarinet. Both of the girl's pieces were initially written for a Harlem Renaissance-themed program earlier this year. Cowan’s “Harlem Shake” specifically showcased a layering technique with numerous saxophone improvisations. Millar’s “Boogie Down Uptown” took inspiration from the artwork in her favorite Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” to mimic some of the complex textures and use of light and shadow in the music’s composition.

Photo credit: Celeste Sloman/The New York Times

The confident young composers had to "defend their pieces" and ensure that the Philharmonic musicians played their pieces how they composed them. “I was a little scared, because I felt like they already knew what they were doing,” Cowan said. “I told them, ‘Can you make this a little faster?’ But overall, I think the piece was played perfectly."

Photo credit: Caitlin Ochs/The New York Times

While outside of the program both little ladies’ musical tastes include Beyoncé, Bob Marley, and TLC, they are also hopeful to continue to explore and compose classical music with some influences from their other beloved genres. Wise beyond their years, the girls are already aware of the challenges they may face as young Black female classical composers. Millar shared, “their opportunity to have their pieces performed by the Philharmonic is a sign of change” — and, she added, “society needs change."

Way to blaze a new trail and show other gifted and talented Black girls that the sky's the limit!