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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Whalen concert teaches children the fundamentals of jazz

At most concerts, parents worry about keeping their young children quiet. At the Ithaca College Jazz Ensemble’s “What is Jazz?” children’s concert, any noise children made complemented the robust sounds of horns, accented the swinging jazz rhythms and was considered “joyful noise.

The annual concert took place at 10 a.m. Sept. 16, filling the James J. Whalen Center for Music’s Ford Hall with dozens of young families looking to expose their children to jazz. The goal of the concert was to teach children about the fundamentals of jazz and blues in a way that would allow them to participate and understand, Mike Titlebaum, associate professor in the Department of Performance Studies and director of Jazz Studies said.

Titlebaum said he has been directing this event for about nine years.

“Ever since I started here, I knew it was something that was important to do,” Titlebaum said. “To try to connect with the local community and teach the next generation to love jazz as much as I do.”

Titlebaum is also a saxophonist, composer and arranger. He directs the Ithaca College Jazz Ensemble, a group made up of student musicians. All musicians at the college, regardless of major, are able to take part in blind auditions to be part of the group. “What is Jazz?” is just one of the many campus and community concerts the ensemble puts on.

The concert lasted about an hour, seeming to capture the young audience’s attention the entire time. The selections the band played featured work from jazz greats such as Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington and Bill Holman. Titlebaum also included one of his own compositions in the program.

Ithaca local Catherine Isaacs said she chose to bring her family to the event after she heard about it via an email list. She said she wanted her daughter to have exposure to jazz music.

Additionally, Issacs’ father, Adrian Feather, was visiting his daughter in Ithaca for the weekend. Isaacs said part of the reason she decided to bring her family was for her father, who loves jazz. Extending his hand, Feather named some of jazz’s most influential artists.

“This hand has shaken hands with Louis Armstrong, with Duke Ellington and with Count Basey,” Feather said.

The second to last piece, which shared the name of the concert, was a small lesson Titlebaum adapted from a Leonard Bernstein lecture explaining the basics of jazz: blues sounds, swing rhythms and rough tone qualities. Titlebaum had the ensemble play examples of each of these characteristics so the children could hear what differentiated jazz and the blues from classical music.

Titlebaum said he finds educating children about jazz crucial in keeping the art and culture of it alive.  

“I think it’s important to teach kids about the music because if they don’t learn to love it when they’re young like I did, I don’t know that the music will be a vibrant part of our life in 50 years,” Titlebaum said. “I want to make sure we have an audience for my students in 10, 15, 20 years when they’re out trying to have a career.”

Titlebaum said the concert always elicits positive reactions from the audience.

“There are parents who come back every year and tell me they love it,” he said. “It’s almost more entertaining to watch the kids than it is the ensemble.”

Junior Scott Byers, an alto saxophonist, said he hopes families take away a newfound desire to get involved in jazz music, dispelling the myth that it is too complex for children to learn.

“Jazz is accessible for everyone, and everyone should play it,” Byers said. “It’s not too hard or too out there.”

Senior alto saxophonist Lauren Thaete said in addition to getting children interested, she also hopes families enjoyed themselves.

“Of course we want an army of jazz musicians to come up every generation,” Thaete said. “The point of today is that music, no matter what style, is relevant to our lives.”

Thaete said to her, jazz is a passion.

“I heard jazz and I was like, ‘This is awesome. This is music I connect with,’” Thaete said.

Titlebaum said his connection to jazz from a young age is what makes him want to instill a love of it in the next generation.

“For me, music has always been jazz,” Titlebaum said. “Ever since I could remember, the first time I heard jazz as a little kid, I thought, ‘this is music.’ It’s always spoken to me very directly.”

The Jazz Ensemble’s next concert will be at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 13 in Ford Hall. The IC Jazz Club performs Thursdays at 9 p.m. and their location can be found on their Facebook page.