The Walden School

Nick Catalano By

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Although musicians continue to complain about lack of work, a paucity of venues, and other obstacles to their careers, jazz and other improvisational styles continue to develop because of the plethora of music schools currently dotting the American landscape.

There are many artists who can recall the days when North Texas State was the only university in the nation to offer students a major in jazz and improvisational music. Today there are over 400 universities and specialty institutions offering diverse education in these genres. One of the most intriguing of the latter is the Walden School in Dublin New Hampshire.

Founded in 1972, the school emphasizes "creative application" specifically through improvisation and composition. Pianist Bill Stevens - Piano has developed the jazz musicianship curriculum at the school where a retreat-like atmosphere provides a unique creative environment.

In addition to the Young Musicians program that is offered to gifted students from 9 to 18 during a five week summer residency, Walden often commissions works by cutting edge composers and presents them in concert during the summer sessions.

This summer I attended a concert that featured pieces of computer music which involved acoustic instruments (piano, trumpet, contrabass flute), blending recorders, and voice. Bandleader Ned McGowan, the leader of a group dubbed Hexnut, presented "Tools"—a prize winning composition which contained precise rhythmic acoustic phrases juxtaposed against contrapuntal electronic and vocal lines. The resulting textures were dramatic and innovative.

Awhile back I reviewed a Wallace Roney CD which succeeded in combining electronic infusions (turntable sounds) with acoustic instruments. The Walden computer composers are boldly taking the next steps.

School alumni include Cyrus Chestnut and Hilary Kole (whose newly released CD You Are There has garnered rave reviews). Kole and Stevens will perform in the annual Walden School benefit at Birdland on Sunday Oct. 3rd. Tickets and information are available at info@waldenschool.org.


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