Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Rockport Music's Educational Initiatives, featuring Tesla Quartet

Tesla Quartet. Dario Acosta photograph

Tesla Quartet. Dario Acosta photograph

If you’ve ever wondered where classical music’s future audiences will come from, you’re not alone. Presenters look at the current audience, and see an ocean of white hair. That doesn’t bode well for performances ten or twenty years from now. 

Every orchestra, chamber music group and opera company worries that without any substantive public school music education, soon nobody will care to listen to serious music. Just a generation ago, no orchestra or music presenter had an education department. Now all of them do. They know the job of protecting the future rests in their own hands.

Rockport Music’s education department has made a profound difference in the local school systems. The summer jazz camp, the short residencies during the school year, and other outreach activities have helped Rockport grow into a small-town music hub. When Rockport Elementary School lets out in the afternoon, most of the students are carrying an instrument case. 

Rockport Music doesn’t get credit for all of that. But having a world-class performance center in town, and bringing education-minded groups to perform there and to visit the schools as well—like the Tesla Quartet will do in early February—provides a huge boost.

Rockport Music’s new director of education and partnerships, Josue Gonzalez, who assumed the post in October, inherits a vigorous program, but feels like he has much to do. 

“In general, there has been a complete dismantling of public school music programs in the country,” he says. “It’s had a huge effect on the performing landscape, and shifted the onus onto music organizations themselves. We have good programs now, but I want to re-examine what we could do differently, more in-depth—a higher yield of sorts.”

Part of the re-examination comes by looking at the groups that come to Rockport Music for educational residencies—“in the past, we’ve had some groups that didn’t really have experience in education or community events,” Gonzalez says—but also investing in new partnerships, learning the educational lay of the land. 

“Specifically, we need to forge a better partnership with Gloucester High School. But in general, I want to reverse the paradigm. When these professional groups come to a school, it’s like, ‘We’ll bring in this artist, and you’ll live in their world for a bit.’ I want the opposite—where the students don’t have to climb up to where these people are, but where we come to the students, and meet them where they are.”

Connecting with a string program, or a general music program, or an after-school band or a jazz ensemble—that’s what Gonzalez would like to see from his resident ensembles in the future. At this point, many of the programs he’s implementing were in place when he took the job. Come this summer though, when the Rockport Chamber Music Festival starts, new initiatives may start to show up.

“Last summer (RCMF artistic director) Barry Shiffman created a fellowship quartet,” Gonzalez says. “They became public ambassadors for the festival, not only playing onstage but bringing music out into the community. Of course they helped promote the festival, but I’d like to see them engaging in the community in more ways.

“That’s just one thing. Even when I was just a fan of the festival, before I started working here, I thought that Rockport could become something like Kneisel Hall or Tanglewood.” 

Those festivals—a mix of professionals and pre-professionals, teaching and performing together, offer a lofty target for Rockport Music. But one that could be reached.

Tesla Quartet’s residency in early February “was designed by the Rockport Music people, with some input from us,” says violinist Ross Snyder of the quartet. It culminates in a free family concert on Feb. 7. For Tesla—formed more than a decade ago at Juilliard—it’s one of many such residencies in a busy schedule of touring and educating. The quartet has done community level, college level and elementary school programs.

“Every community has particular needs,” Snyder says. “We have a two-week residency in Hickory, North Carolina, where we play as principals in the Western Piedmont Symphony in the two weeks leading up to a quartet performance. Sometimes second grade seems to be the target for our work—because of grants, for one thing. But sometimes it has as much to do with reading the room, as it does with coming up with a plan. We take it from universal concepts and go from there.”

Tesla Quartet’s residency at Rockport Music includes a free community concert in the Shalin Liu Performance Center on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7:00 p.m. For more information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.

Who Is Jane Martin? Rogers Theatre staging of "Talking With. . ."

Cape Ann Symphony begins chamber series at Movement Arts in Gloucester.