Contemporary Music Comes To The Northeast Kingdom

07/12/12 9:15AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/Charlotte Albright
Daelan Roosa listens to composer Sara Doncaster make suggestions for an improvisation at the summer institute for the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival based in Irasburg.
Contemporary music-the kind you can't hum after the concert--can be challenging to write and to hear. But don't tell that to the budding composers at the Warebrook Music Festival in Irasburg. It's a showcase for contemporary music that got started on a farm nineteen years ago, and now there's a four-day institute as well.

That's where two trumpeters and two clarinetists-all young-tuned up on a warm morning at the Coventry Elementary School. On their music stands-paper and pencils.   They were composing a piece with Warebrook Festival founder Sara Doncaster.  For twelve-year-old Daelan Roosa, this was a great way to spend a summer day.

"Well, I'm learning how to write music and write in ways that will move people and possibly change how they live their life," he said.

A pretty tall order, but music to the ears of Festival Director Sara Doncaster. With a PhD in Theory and Composition and prestigious awards on her resume, she could be climbing a career ladder in Boston, where she used to live and work. But she was born on a farm in Irasburg. Her devoted, supportive  family is here, and now, so is she.

"I found my way back here for many reasons," she said during a rehearsal break.  "And I found eventually that I could write more music living in the country, I'm healthier, and I enjoy working with the kids in the area."

Doncaster teaches in local schools and a few of her most prodigies find their way into this small but intense summer  institute she added to the Festival a few years ago. In this composing class, the ensemble was trying with adult vocalist Andrea-Bangemann Johnson, of Kirby, to improvise a passage based on a poem about the sun coming out of hiding.  It was rough going at first. But they didn't give up.  Listening at the doorway was professional clarinetist, Mark Margolis. He's been performing in this Festival since its debut in 1990. Even though he lives in San Diego, where he makes most of living playing for the theater, this is his favorite gig of the year.

"The musicians I play with here are some of the best musicians I've ever known and I just love coming up here. Every morning I take a walk around the farms-it's so beautiful!" he said.

And he loves to see thirty or forty people come from that farmland into Irasburg town hall to hear what he jokingly refers to as "weird" music. Preparing for their big debut, the young composers' ensemble finally nailed the bird-like trilling notes they needed to end the piece they created together.

Then they walked across the hall for the chorus rehearsal.


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