Kevin Lee and the Citizen Musicians

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Something like this, but not quite.

A cool new band name? Nope, something even bigger! Taking democracy into the concert hall, Kevin Lee, CC ’14, has set out to redefine the very notion of the “student orchestra” by tapping the depths of Columbia (and New York) musical talent to start one of his own. Bwog’s literal harmony hunter Alexandra Svokos sat down with Kevin to learn about his “Society of Emerging Artists.”

Bwog: Why start a new student orchestra?
Lee: First, I’d like to contest your label of “student orchestra.” “Student orchestra” often carries with it images of a top-down hierarchy, a sub-par standard of musicality limited by the technical limitations of young musicians, and an organization heavily entrenched in monarchic traditions of the 19th century.

Instead, I am creating an orchestral society (the Society of Emerging Artists)—an organization that redefines the idea of an orchestra and revitalizes it as an important structure in the 21st century. Through this orchestra, I hope to do what no other orchestra in NYC has yet attempted to do—to inspire its musicians to take part in an aware and active definition of citizenship and leadership through music both within the orchestra itself and in the larger community and world.

B: How will the Society of Emerging Artists be different from preexisting music groups at Columbia?
L: This will be different from already existing Columbia music groups in a few ways which can be summed up in the following phrase: “the musician as citizen.”
More specifically, this includes:
A. Its mission to revitalize orchestra playing, as outlined above
B. [Leadership] by young musicians, for young musicians (very important)
C. Raising awareness and funds for important social causes through the concerts it holds
D. Being an accessible means by which young musicians can access solo opportunities, etc.
E. Just being a place where your voice can be HEARD!

B: How many students do you have/are you looking for?
L: We have about 20-25 musicians currently involved, but we are always looking for more help, both musically and administratively (you don’t have to be a musician to get involved!). Musically, we are looking particularly for brass players, violinists, and violists. Administratively, we are looking for creative, enthusiastic, and dedicated people to help in a variety of opportunities.

B: Did you hold/are you holding auditions?
L: We do not officially have auditions; anyone interested can email me at [email protected] and we can see how you fit in the context of the larger ensemble.

B: What role are you playing in this? Is it a group effort or did you come up with it yourself?
L: This all started when I was 16 and living in Seattle—I came up with this idea as a manifestation of a dream to become a conductor. In this group, I am acting as Artistic Director (a more flexible title which more reliably means “do everything that needs to be done”) and Conductor.

B: Is it affiliated with Columbia (i.e. administration funded/approved)?
L: This organization is not yet affiliated with Columbia, though most of its members are Columbia students. However, we also have students from Juilliard, MSM (Manhattan School of Music), NYU, etc.

B: Where are you looking to play? (What venues?)
L: We are looking to play in venues perhaps more accessible to a larger populace (rather than more “stuffy” concert halls).

B: What type of music do you want to play and who gets to decide?
L: We will be playing music from the classical repertory. While I have decided thus far, I have been very open to suggestions for music to perform, particularly from the concerto repertoire.

B: When’s the first performance?
L: We are working with the New York Coalition Against Hunger to set a concert date and place—they will be our first cause! More info about them can be found at http://www.nyccah.org/

Traditional orchestra courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Anonymous  

    Kevin Lee is CC '14! And he's awesome.

  2. Admirer  

    Kevin Lee ... more like Heaven-ly.

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