Finding the right notes

Music IndustryUC IrvineYo-Yo Ma

NEWPORT COAST — The two instruments, which were passed around for students to check out, looked like a pair of bamboo sticks with a column of holes down the front.

These Japanese bamboo flutes, or shakuhachi — originally used by monks as a meditation tool to practice breathing — were brought in Tuesday by Kojiro Umezaki, a master of the instrument, for students taking part in a young composers workshop at Sage Hill School.

Sage Hill junior Natalie Kobsa-Mark, who plays the Western flute, was trying to line her fingers up on the bamboo instrument's holes when Umezaki challenged her to make a sound.

Trying to figure out how to blow into the reed-less flute, Natalie made several attempts before the faint sound of air being blown through the bamboo could be heard.

"That's pretty good," Umezaki said.

Nearly 20 music students, all but one from Sage Hill, gathered at the workshop to hear Umezaki and Colin Jacobsen talk about intercultural composition.

Jacobsen, a violinist, is a member of the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, the resident quartet of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road project, an ensemble of internationally renowned musicians.

"We have one person who writes music, but we would hope that by the end you would all experiment with composition," Jacobsen said.

Umezaki, also a member of the project, is a professor of music and composition at UC Irvine.

The two musicians were brought to the private preparatory high school in Newport Coast through a partnership with the Laguna Beach Music Festival, said Chris Marshall, Sage Hill's artistic director.

Festival officials offered Sage Hill the opportunity to host one of the music workshops, and Marshall said he chose one on composition.

The students were still honing their skills, but starting to get interested in composition. Marshall said he hoped the workshop would spark their interest.

For 16-year-old Yoonseo Cha, a sophomore at Sage Hill, composing his own piece of music has always been a dream — but it never seems to happen yet.

"It's like my yearly goal every January, my New Year's resolution," he said.

The two musicians talked to the students about how they got into composition, about problems that Umezaki faced when composing a piece himself, and Brooklyn Rider and their process.

Composition is about making decisions, not necessarily a bolt of inspiration that comes out of thin air, Jacobsen said.

He urged students to pick a theme, or just start playing in front of a recorder to see if anything comes out of it.

"Just about anything I've written has come from fooling around with my violin," he said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Music IndustryUC IrvineYo-Yo Ma
  • Kojiro Umezaki, center, and Colin Jacobsen, right, members of Brooklyn Rider speak with music students.

  • Kojiro Umezaki, left, and Colin Jacobsen, members of Brooklyn Rider speak with music students.

  • Natalie Kobsa-Mark, 16, attempts to play the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute, provided by Kojiro Umezaki, a member of Brooklyn Rider, during a young composer's workshop for music students Tuesday.

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