My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A taste of something different - Annie Moses Band's Fine Arts Summer Academy

As a long-time blogger I frequently receive emails from people in the music industry who are wanting to know if I'd be willing to feature them on my blog.  I always check everyone out that contacts me but rarely do I agree to do a post because I consider this platform a place for my own ideas.  But last December I received a query from the Director of Development for the Annie Moses Band, a musical organization I hadn't yet heard of.  After doing some initial research I found myself unable to write my typical, "Sorry, but no thank you" response.  One of the first things I discovered was that the band and summer music academy they host are located in Nashville, Tennessee.  They're not exactly our neighbors, but now that I've lived in southwest Virginia for almost a decade, I feel somewhat of a connection to their crossover style that is a fusion of classical, bluegrass, folk, and jazz.  The second thing I discovered was this video they had on their website that gave a taste of what the Annie Moses Band does during the summer to inspire young musicians.

I was amazed by the unbridled enthusiasm that was palpable both on and off the stage.  Upon reading more about the summer academy I decided I wanted to find out more.

In January I spent an hour or so speaking with Ben and Alex Wolaver, the cellist and violist of the Annie Moses Band.  It was clear to me that we all share many of the same beliefs about music-making and how it can transform young people as musicians, offering them a voice for who they are as individuals.  I was impressed by their flexibility to work with many different types of musicians and talents regardless of their prior experience, and their desire to create shows that energize not only the performers themselves but also their audiences.  The Fine Arts Summer Academy is a different type of summer experience that seems to speak to so many of the ideas I believe in myself.  It is for that reason that I decided to ask Annie Wolaver Dupre, the group's violinist and lead singer, some questions as a way of introducing them to all of you.  My hope is that this might spark some interest in the hearts of some adventurous young musicians out there!  I'm so intrigued I may have to pretend to be a kid again to experience it for myself.

Beyond the Notes: Tell us a little about the Annie Moses Band - who you are, your background, and how you came to form your band.

Annie Wolaver Dupre: The Annie Moses Band is a classical crossover artist made up of me and my 5 siblings. Instrumentally, we are a string quartet with a rhythm section as well as harp, guitar and mandolin.  Vocally, I take the lead while several of us sing BGVs [background vocals]. The total package is 12 players and about 16 instruments. Yes, it’s a big crew!

We grew up in Nashville, TN where our parents are award-winning songwriters and composers. They wanted us to have the best musical education and started us at about 4 years old on our respective instruments. Initially we intended to pursue classical careers and the family moved to the NYC area while we studied at Juilliard. That was when we started the Annie Moses Band.

We wanted to perform music that was personal in its style, message and creativity. Our love of genres - folk rock, jazz, fiddle fusion, Americana and classical became the springboard for a sound that was naturalistic but innovative.  We love what we create and that we get to share it with audiences. 

BtN: How did the Fine Arts Summer Academy (FASA) come about?

AWD: The Fine Arts Summer Academy started at almost the same time as the Annie Moses Band. As we began touring around the nation, many parents asked us questions about navigating the musical development of their children. Around that time, we served as the artistic directors for a small arts academy in North Carolina. Through that experience, we saw the tremendous need for programs that combine classical training, commercial music development and great performance opportunities. FASA became our outlet to develop that kind of program.

BtN: What is your mission through your summer academy?

AWD: To provide life-changing performance experiences in elite venues, allowing students to develop as both musical technicians and engaging performers. Our students are featured in a series of festival style performances in Nashville, TN on world-class stages like the The Grand Ole Opry House and the Bluegrass Underground.

Music is one of the greatest spheres of influence in our culture. We believe that artists have a responsibility to be people of integrity. So there is also a focus at FASA upon the heart of the student and teaching them that their character is the wellspring from which they communicate through their art.

Ultimately, we want to take young students from the practice room to the concert hall alongside professional musicians so they can taste the thrill of high-level music making. 

BtN: Unlike many traditional music camps, FASA doesn’t have a typical audition process since students are only required to have had one year of music study prior to attending.  I’m curious about how and why you came to the decision to be so inclusive.

AWD: So often summer academies and their classes are divided into “haves” (those with money and support) and “have-nots” (those with no money or support).  We wanted to operate on a different model - an inspirational model - where people at various skill levels perform together.   

The music performed at FASA is orchestrated and arranged by our musical director, Bill Wolaver, in three tiers of skill. Intermediate and beginning players can perform alongside very advanced players with each student being challenged at their own level.

In addition to the orchestra, every student is placed in small ensembles or bands that perform in commercial music settings i.e. fiddle, rock, Celtic, etc. These groups perform music that is specifically designed to showcase the skills of the students involved. The level of customization we provide is unmatched.

Much of this vision comes from our Artistic Director, Robin Donica Wolaver. She grew up with very few musical opportunities but went far with music as both a performer and educator. She knew that there is a great injustice when often the hardest workers don’t have access to the best education.

We grant access to high-level education and performance to everyone, provided you can meet our high standards with courage and hard work.

BtN: You teach students about much more than just how to play their instrument.  Can you please share with us what else the students learn?

AWD: This is the best part of FASA! Because our classes are focused on preparation for elite and challenging performances, there is a strong focus on what it means to perform! How to command the stage, emote the feeling of the song or piece, capture the heart of the audience! For many students their entire musical education has been a technical focus. We are really good at practicing, but we want to be performers. So coaches work on stage deportment, the musical arc of a piece, choreography and movement, in addition to technical execution. 

BtN: In watching the video clip of the final performance it seems that there is an amazing amount of energy on the stage and in the audience.  What do you think is the formula for that type of enthusiasm?

AWD: That enthusiasm comes from the top down. The Annie Moses Band, the artistic and musical directors, Maestro Pak and the 80 faculty and mentors who instruct and perform create an environment that is highly demanding, but also supportive, loving, and joyful. We have a lot of fun at FASA! The friendships that spring up during the event are often deep. And when the audience sees the performance, they are witnessing excellent creators giving from the overflow of their heart, both love and joy for the music and each other.

BtN: Can you describe a typical day at FASA?  

AWD: During week 1 students have classes in technique, orchestra or chorus, commercial ensembles and bands, master classes, and private lessons. We also have evening workshops on music business and taking your artistry to market as a professional. 

During week 2 all the tracks of study combine to put on a line up of performances culminating with the Gala at the Grand Ole Opry House!

BtN: Something unique about your festival is that professionals perform side by side with students   What do you and the other professionals involved gain from those experiences?

AWD: The level of faculty at FASA is exceptional.  We pull from many of the brightest graduates and performers coming out of the nation’s best schools: Juilliard, Berklee School of Music, Cincinnati Conservatory and others. These performers are young, enthusiastic, high-skilled, and a great inspiration to the students.  

In numerous conversations, I hear first hand how much our faculty enjoy seeing growth in our students.  Because of the flexibility in our performance material, our teachers and mentors are able to engage students in an unparalleled way - using a different key, simplifying a passage or adding complexity to make a part more challenging.  This is all due to our in-house arranger, Bill Wolaver.  Growth in our students isn’t something we hope works out - we create the environment that makes growth happen.

As an experienced performer and instructor I can say that the final performance hits a level of energy that is exceptional even for me. 150+ performers collaborating in this kind of concert is just exhilarating. I am always astonished by how much students grow in such a short time. 

BtN: What would you say to students that have only received classical training and haven’t had much experience delving into different genres?  Will they feel like they have a place at FASA and what do you think they will get out of such an experience?

AWD: You won’t be alone! Every year we have students who come from a strict classical world and are nervous about jumping into alternative styles, but have no fear! We have incredible mentors who come from many backgrounds- studio musicians, commercial performers, as well as classical educators, and we will place you with players and music that will be super fun.  

BtN: What are 3 things that students attending FASA walk away with? 

AWD:  A knowledge of their own capacity for greatness.
The inspiration to work hard and find the best opportunities back at home. 
That music is about communicating love and joy to the audience and each other.

BtN: Is there anything else you would like to say to anyone who might be interested in the Fine Arts Summer Academy?

AWD: We can’t wait for this year! Come out and perform alongside us! Go to for information and to register.