Express The Music

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A Contest Designed to Capture the Impact of Music, as Perceived by Trenton Central High School Students

Award Winners

Students at Trenton Central High School perform / 2 / with Stefan Jackiw. Photo by Sonya Isenberg

THE CONTEST About the Contest


Winners & Sponsors


RESPONDING TO PIANIST GABRIELA MONTERO About Pianist Gabriela Montero “Mounsanti” By Gisela Bramonte • 10th grade “What Music Means to Me” By Raymaellene Gomez • 10th grade “Untitled” By McKhia Owen • 10th grade “Let Music Set You Free” By Collin Thompson • 12th grade

8–9 10

11 14–17 18


About Violinist Stefan Jackiw 20–21 “Beautiful Melody” By Perla Diaz • 9th grade 22


Students at Trenton Central High School during performance. Photo by Sonya Isenberg


Students at Trenton Central High School during performance. Photo by Sonya Isenberg


students from Trenton Central High School to channel their experience of hearing and interacting with worldclass musicians on Princeton University Concerts’ series into their own creative expression. As part of Princeton University Concerts’ Neighborhood Project, an initiative in collaboration with Trenton Arts at Princeton that facilitates access to professional musicians for students across Trenton’s public schools, this year the contest asked students who interacted with Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero and American violinist Stefan Jackiw to reflect on their encounter through creative writing or visual arts. The performers visited the students at their school for an informal performance, Q&A, and participation in ensemble rehearsals and then invited them to attend their evening performance at Richardson Auditorium. The submissions presented in this booklet reflect the students’ reactions to the evening performances.

Pianist Gabriela Montero works with a Trenton Central High School student. Photo by Denise Applewhite


This contest was open to Trenton Central High School students who participated in a Neighborhood Project artist visit and attended a PUC performance. As part of the contest, students were encouraged to consider the impact of music and articulate that impact through creative writing or visual arts. Contest winners received a prize in recognition of their work. The judges for this contest were Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts, and Dasha Koltunyuk ’15, Marketing & Outreach Manager for Princeton University Concerts. Contest logistics were organized by Lillian Waddill, Program Associate for Trenton Arts at Princeton.



10th grade “Mounsanti”


TRENTON ARTS AT PRINCETON, led by program manager Lou Chen ’19, coordinates the university’s arts outreach activities in the Greater Trenton area. TAP is a collaboration between the Department of Music, Lewis Center for the Arts, and Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Through the TAP Saturday Morning Arts program, Trenton students and Princeton student volunteers can participate in the Trenton Youth Orchestra, Singers, or Dancers. In addition, TAP coordinates various collaborative projects with campus and community partners, such as Princeton University Concerts’ Neighborhood Project.

Raymaellene Gomez 10th grade “What Music Means to Me”

McKhia Owen 10th grade “Untitled”

Collin Thompson 12th grade “Let the Music Set You Free”

Perla Diaz 9th grade “Beautiful Melody”

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY CONCERTS is a professional chamber music series that has been presenting concerts by the world’s greatest classical musicians on the Princeton University campus for 126 years. In recent years under the directorship of Marna Seltzer, the series has been nationally and internationally recognized for its pioneering approach to the audience experience, offering something for everyone. In addition to traditional concerts, this includes the Performances Up Close series that bring the audience onstage with the musician for hour-long concerts; Special Events featuring unexpected artists and programming; Family Concerts introducing kids ages 3–12 to classical music; Live Music Meditations that combine guided meditation with live performance for focused listening experiences; partnerships with community organizations that provide a different point of access to the music and musicians on the series; and more.




February 11 2020

Gabriela Montero with students from Trenton Central High School. Photo by Denise Applewhite


VENEZUELAN PIANIST GABRIELA MONTERO has improvised since first touching the piano as a child. It is thanks to the encouragement of piano legend Martha Argerich that she has made real-time improvisations on themes suggested by her audience a part of her career. A brilliant pianist whom you might recognize from her performance at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, she performed at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. On February 11, 2020, she both offered concert-goers her inimitable interpretation of Schumann’s Carnaval, one of the greatest cycles in the piano repertory, and let them witness the remarkable art of real-time improvisation to Charlie Chaplin’s film The Immigrant as well as to themes suggested by the audience. This concert was part of Princeton University Concerts’ Performances Up Close series, where the audience joins the musician onstage. The day before that concert, Montero visited the Trenton Central High School orchestra, where she performed for the students, improvised based on their suggestions, and answered questions. The student engagement continued when PUC gave free concert tickets to TCHS students for Montero’s performance. Four of them created their Express the Music reactions in response to that concert: Gisela Bramonte (creative writing), Raymaellene Gomez (poetry), McKhia Owen (creative writing), and Collin Thompson (visual arts).



By Gisela Bramonte 10th grade, Trenton Central High School

As my friends and I entered the dimly lit room, I looked up at the lights and intricate architecture that flooded Alexander Hall. As I scanned the room, I saw a man who seemed to be tuning the piano, while a woman to the side of him was testing lighting cues. As we walked on, we sprawled out like a diverging school of fish finding our way towards our seats. I skimmed through the first row, finally settling for the row behind the piano. Throughout the entirety of the performance, I was lucky to have a view of Ms. Montero’s hands. Up until her rendition of both sonatas, I had never realized the amount of delicacy, skill, flexibility, and emotion that went behind the art of such effortlessly conducted musicality. As the music went on, the fascination and shared connection between the audience and the performer steadily intensified. The passion and vividness ingrained in Ms. Montero’s playing as well as the music itself made for a vulnerable yet confident representation of the impact that the performer’s emotions have on the performance itself. As I felt myself becoming more and more immersed in the music, I felt lightweight, almost nostalgic. I thought and felt nothing but the music. I interpreted the composition almost like a story. I pictured a mental battle between oneself. The slow, gentle parts contrasting the darker, more complex passages created textured layers of harmonies and melodies that I had never heard before. I viewed the music as a / 10 /

subliminal representation of the beauty, uniqueness, and multiplexity that lives amongst our own human nature. One of the most impactful things I experienced during Ms. Montero’s performance was watching the barrier between audience and performer dissolve. As a young musician myself, it was refreshing and inspiring to see a talented and successful woman be real and emotional. Most people view music, more specifically classical music, as being elitist or “Out of touch with the real world.” Musicians like Ms. Montero allow for such notions to be put to rest. Her openness towards the audience created a sense of comfort and human connection, something you don’t see very much in the musical arena. When she spoke of the horrible things occurring in Venezuela, it reminded me of how lucky I am to live where I do. I couldn’t imagine being in her position. Being unable to go back home and visit loved ones must be heart-wrenching. I admired her strength and the way in which she used her platform both online and offline to educate and inform others around the world who may be clueless to situations such as those occurring in her home country. I walked away from this concert with a definite shift in mindset. I walked away a more dedicated musician with a newly found appreciation of music. Most importantly, I learned how crucial it is to be aware of world issues and how music is one of the biggest ways in which we can represent how we feel and what message we want to convey.

“What Music Means to Me”

By Raymaellene Gomez (Ray) 10th grade, Trenton Central High School Music. Music is something that holds my heart. Something that lights me up in the dark. Music makes me feel as if the world made sense. Without it. Where would the world be? Music expresses how we all feel. Now if it didn’t exist. What would we all do? Life without music is quiet. No Sound. No Rhythm. No Noise. No Beat. Just a plain simple world, that I truly see. A world with no color or emotion. Just dark and ruthless. A world that will leave us clueless and useless. Now that music is gone. We will be left with confusion. Thinking of a conclusion. To solve this illusion. But now since music is gone. We will all be gone with it. So will the world be too.

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Gabriela Montero performs with students from Trenton Central High School under the direction of Joseph Pucciatti. Photo by Denise Applewhite

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Students at Trenton Central High School work with Stefan Jackiw. Photo by Sonya Isenberg

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By McKhia Owen 10th grade, Trenton Central High School I felt as if I was waiting for hours upon hours! I was waiting for the pianist to come on stage and play the pieces that I so dearly could not wait to witness. From waiting and waiting I heard loud applause, and therefore I applauded as well but saw that there was no pianist but more of an angel. Her smile outshone the whole room, and it seemed as if she was shining more than the spotlight. I blinked and I saw the pianist. I thought to myself, confused: “Where did the angel go?” The pianist introduced herself and bowed before sitting down at the beautiful grand. She then spoke again: “I will be playing a Chopin nocturne.” My eyes have never been so wide before. I blinked a few times right when she put her hands upon the piano and started to play the familiar tune. I opened my eyes and saw the angel. She was playing so gracefully and so beautifully that I couldn’t help but shed a tear. Silence, the nocturne ended. I looked up and it’s the pianist again. Everyone clapped for her once again, and I clapped as well. Then that’s when she went back to face the piano and played once more. This was where the real magic happened. Starting the piece, Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2, I felt as if the show already started with a bang. My ears go in and out as I blocked out everything, and it’s just me and the piano. The piano was being so well played that I imagine even Rach would play it like that. I looked up, and it was a sight to see. I saw Rachmaninov playing the piano. Not only that, but I saw people that looked like they were not from the area. They were wearing old-timey clothing, as if they were dated back to the

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nineteen hundreds, watching him. Then they disappeared, and I saw war: people fighting and shooting at one another, people collapsing everywhere. It was a shocking sight to see. I blinked a few times. “This can’t be real”, I told myself. I looked up and saw the pianist again. But something didn’t feel right. I felt myself kind of... floating as if I was in water. “What was that?” I heard thunder. I looked around, and I was in the middle of the ocean. I was panicking, and I didn’t know what to do now. I still heard the piano, but it was fading away every time I remembered I was drowning. I closed my eyes and relaxed.

I felt myself kind of... floating as if I was in water. It was back to normal, but the pianist had only finished the second movement. There was one more. What did I have to face next? Everything seemed fine and calm as I watched the pianist start the third movement, but then it happened again. Only, instead of watching a war happening, I was in the war. I freaked out as I heard men shouting, “Get down! Fire! Man down!” I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how I got here. It was crazy to see. Was this what war felt like? As I ran and tried my best to stay safe, the concerto continued to play in my head. Please, end very soon. I closed my eyes. It’s over. I heard a round of applause. I clapped. “Now I will be improvising from the Charlie Chaplin short movie, The Immigrant,” the pianist said as the movie credits came on.

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I took a deep breath and sighed. “That was weird,” I chuckled to myself and closed my eyes. I opened them again to see myself on a boat, and everything was in black and white. It was happening again. I checked my surroundings and saw people in worn-out clothing, then I looked down and saw that I had tattered clothes on as well. “I’m in the short film.” Before I could fully understand what was going on, I saw people running inside the boat. “It must be time to eat.” I ran along with the other people as I tried to find a seat. There were only three tables, and they were all full. “I wasn’t interested in eating that food anyways. What I was interested in was...” Before I could find who I was looking for, the boat began to rock. Then I saw him. I saw Charlie Chaplin falling on top and rolling around on a...woman? It was so funny, but I didn’t laugh because I had to hold onto the table to keep from falling. I felt like I was going to be sick.

I felt like I was going to be sick. Eventually, the boat stopped rocking. I walked outside to lay down at a corner until I had reached my destination. I checked my pockets and saw that I had money. “I guess this won’t be over until I leave the boat,” I thought to myself: “Well, it won’t be too hard. I just have to stay away from pickpockets.” I closed my eyes to rest. A few minutes went by, and I awoke from my sleep. I looked straight and saw a man pickpocketing a woman that was sleeping. “That’s the girl’s mother! I have to tell her!” I said out loud to myself. Before I could get up and find the girl, she was already finding out about the disappearance of the money.

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“Should I go up to her? Well, I imagine that the man took the money to gamble with Chaplin, and Chaplin has a thing for the girl. Maybe he’ll give the money to her when he finds out that she doesn’t have money anymore.” I sat up to watch it happen, and indeed it did. By the time Chaplin found out about the lost money and gave his money to the girl, I saw we were at our destination: The United States of America. I saw the Statue of Liberty! It was a sight to see, especially because I had never seen it in, well... my current life, I guess you could say. A few workers wrapped a rope around us and made us get out one by one. I got out, and now that I was in America, I didn’t know what to do. I still heard the piano faintly in my ear, so that meant that the show was still ongoing. I could explore how America was in the early 1900s, which was very exciting except for the fact that I came as an immigrant. I walked around thinking about how hard it must be to not know where you are or where to start. I put my hand in my pockets and pulled out money. “I can buy anything!” I looked around and saw a store. I looked at my money and at the store and smiled, and I walked inside the store. I looked around and saw amazing things, but what caught my eye was a pocket watch. It was so pretty that I knew I had to have it. I bought it and kept it close to me. I walked out of the store, and it started to rain. All of a sudden, I saw a couple running right past me. But it wasn’t any couple; it was Chaplin and the girl. I looked at them happily then closed my eyes. I was at the show again. I heard a round of applause. What an amazing show it was. I looked down at my hand. The pocket watch was there. The End

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“Let Music Set You Free”

By Collin Thompson 12th grade, Trenton Central High School

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Students at Trenton Central High School during performance. Photo by Sonya Isenberg

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November 7 2019

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violinists, captivating audiences with playing that combines poetry and purity with an impeccable technique. Based in New York City, Jackiw has performed in the world’s greatest concert halls, and has appeared as soloist with the Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco symphony orchestras, among others. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University, as well as an Artist Diploma from the New England Conservatory, and is the recipient of a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. As part of the Neighborhood Project, Jackiw visited the Trenton Central High School orchestra on November 6, 2019, where he performed for the orchestra students and answered their questions. Jackiw played alongside TCHS student, Perla Diaz, whose poem reflects on Jackiw’s performance the following evening. Perla and her orchestra peers received tickets to attend that concert in Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium, where Jackiw was joined by pianist Jeremy Denk for a performance of Charles Ives’ complete sonatas for violin and piano.

Stefan Jackiw performs with students from Trenton Central High School. Photo by Sonya Isenberg

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“Beautiful Melody�

By Perla Diaz 9th grade, Trenton Central High School

Beautiful Melodies can be heard. As they play in sync throughout the theater the tables have been turned. As people listened, time passed in a blink. We clapped our hands to the Beautiful Melody. We listened carefully and enjoyed that music that left us breathlessly. Beautiful Melodies can be heard, enter that world without a frown and let yourself drown.

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Students from Trenton Central High School tune up for their performance. Photo by Sonya Isenberg

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Express the Music • 2019/20

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