The Mancini Institute: A Beacon of Light
Amid the gloom and darkness that enshroud the future of fine arts and good music in this country, there is an occasional beacon of hope and light. One that has shone brightly in Southern California for the past eight years is the Henry Mancini Institute, founded in 1997 by composer / conductor Jack Elliott to honor his friend, Henry Mancini, one of the most accomplished and admired composers in the history of television and film. The HMI is "a non-profit organization whose mission is to nurture the future of music by providing comprehensive professional training and multi-level outreach programs that make a direct impact in people's lives."
The Institute began making that impact almost immediately, through its Summer Education Program and Community Outreach Initiative, and is fast becoming a touchstone for music education, not only on the West Coast but around the world. Each summer, more than 80 musicians (college and post-college age) are chosen through a worldwide audition process to receive full scholarships (including tuition and room and board) to study and perform with some of today's finest professional musicians during the four-week HMI program, built on "the desire to educate the next generation of musicians through guidance and hands-on training with knowledgeable professionals," and "the conviction that musicians, regardless of their backgrounds, experience Jazz, improvisation, contemporary and film music in large and small ensembles to maximize professional opportunity." To date, the Summer Education Program boasts more than 500 alumni from 41 states and 27 countries.
Meanwhile, the Community Outreach Initiative helps provide year-round music education and gives performances for underserved youth and communities in the Los Angeles area through its After School Program (grades K-5), School Partnerships (6-12) and Community Combos, showcasing HMI alumni in free concerts that encompass a variety of musical genres and instrumentation. The Initiative, says program manager Kerry Farrell, "involves going to places where there is no opportunity for people to experience or take part in live musical performances, and giving them those opportunities. With younger kids, where a music program is either overwhelmed by the number of students or lacks enough teachers, we try to create excitement by introducing the basic elements of music. With older kids, we support the teachers by sending in specialists to do extra work."
During July and August, the HMI holds a Free Summer Music Festival during which the HMI orchestra, big band, chamber orchestra, Jazz string band and small ensembles perform more than seventy works with various conductors and guest artists spanning all musical genres and featuring newly commissioned music by established composers and HMI students. Last summer, the Institute increased public exposure to its concerts by going beyond UCLA's Royce and Schoenberg Halls to present big-band concerts in Beverly Hills and in downtown Los Angeles, and a full orchestra concert at a waterside park in Marina del Rey. The climax of the summer concert season is the Mancini Musicale, the HMI's annual fund-raising gala, which bestows the Hank Award on individuals who have made distinguished contributions to American music. Past recipients have included Clint Eastwood, Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach.
Also last summer, the HMI introduced two large strings-only ensembles, one with rhythm section, the other without. "They're like big bands, only with strings," says resident conductor J. Karla Lemon. "Players are featured as soloists, and Christian McBride and Jeremy Cohen have been commissioned to write new music for them. Another innovation," she says, "is a leadership program for principal string players. Four to six violinists share the first and principal chairs in rotation, and top principals from the Los Angeles area work one-on-one with the participants."
Prospective students at the HMI undergo a rigorous three-month audition designed to evaluate their musical presence, technical prowess and range of abilities, with an eye toward finding the most versatile artists who are dedicated to their professional development. From the hundreds who apply, seventy-seven instrumentalists and seven composers are chosen each year to take part in the program. Once at the HMI, attendees receive mentoring and performance experience supporting their professional advancement. HMI provides resident and guest artists to oversee workshops, master classes, private lessons, panel discussions and seminars, while the program repertoire ranges from Twentieth Century American orchestral works and Jazz standards to film and television music all hallmarks of Henry Mancini's career.