GROTON — Brad Balliett, a bassoon player with the Princeton Symphony and founding member of the artist collective DeCoda, looks out into the nearly empty auditorium of Fitch High School. The musicians have just finished practicing a piece they plan to perform on Friday night, and he tells the piece’s composer that he wants her to stand up and be recognized at the concert.
In the front row, 17-year-old Maya Hollenbeck stands.
Hollenbeck, a senior at Fitch, composed the piece, “Ocean Waves,” in her AP Music Theory class last year.
A quartet of DeCoda musicians will play five compositions written by students in the class at a public performance tonight.
The quartet, which is composed of a tuba player, a double bassist, a violinist and a bassoon player, is affiliated with Carnegie Hall, and has worked together on a variety projects — with inmates at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, running a songwriting project with members of the NYPD and local teenagers, and with communities in South Africa.
Claire Bryant, a cellist with DeCoda, said the group tried to inspire the students with the music they love, to show them the teamwork necessary to perform music.
Thanks to a $19,400 grant from CT Humanities DeCoda was able to spend the last week working with the students at Fitch.
Andrea Shabazian, the music director at Fitch, said the quartet met with the school’s four music ensembles — orchestra, jazz, percussion and concert band. Shabazian said she wanted the musicians to talk about their own backgrounds and experiences.
From there, Shabazian selected 26 students to work directly with the quartet.
The students chose songs they would be interested in performing — a combination of popular tunes and classic holiday carols — at the concert on Friday.
Shabazian said working with the musicians has made a strong impact on her students.
“Evan [Premo], the bass player, played a piece for our jazz and concert band, after which multiple kids came up to me and said they were moved to tears with a piece and they want to learn Double bass. They want to go listen and explore more music for double bass, which is a very unique instrument,” she said.
And for the students who had the opportunity to work one on one with the musicians, she said, the effect was obvious.
“They’ve soared,” she said. “Just in the week, the improvement that they’ve made is absolutely insane.”
Between the student performances, the DeCoda quartet will take the stage to play the compositions written by students like Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck said her piece was simple, with a “push and pull” of crescendos and decrescendos. She said she believed music should be relaxing.
“Music is all about expressing your emotions, and it’s, like, the universal language,” said Hollenbeck, “I want people to feel peace of mind when they hear this.”
She said she had been playing cello for 10 years, an instrument she chose in sixth grade because she was impressed by its size.
Another student composer to be featured at the Friday concert is Logan Meeman, a junior at Fitch. Meeman said his composition, “Minor Yippee” was inspired by the musician Hans Zimmer. He said the piece was meant to be “adventurous.” He characterized the composition as “heroic and uneasy at the same time.”
“I want to make it kind of ambiguous, and the listener can really imagine a story in their head,” he said.
Meeman said he had been playing percussion instruments, including xylophone and timpani, since 6th grade, and also he taught himself piano. He said his dream would be to compose music for movies, but that he would be open to anything in the field.
Shabazian said DeCoda has introduced students to the idea that there are career opportunities in music that go beyond how most people see the field.
“It’s just been an eye-opening experience for our students, to be able to see professional musicians and see that there is a career in music afterwards that’s not music [education] or strictly orchestral performance,” she said.
Hollenbeck said she is already thinking about the future – she’s applied to the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, where she wants to do a double major in music education and cello performance.
She said she’s a bit nervous about being recognized for her composition at the evening’s concert, but that she’s happy about the way the piece turned out.
“It’s just a little nerve-wracking, like I’m on the spot,” she said. “But I think it’s, like, honestly a huge honor and I’m really happy that they’re willing to play something I wrote.”
For Meeman, the prospect of having his song played is exciting.
“It really just brought a smile to my face to see it come to life,” he said. “during it live for the first time with real people playing it — that was just incredible.”
The 5:30 p.m. concert tonight at Fitch House School is open to the public, and will feature “Minor Yippee” by Logan Meeman, “Ocean Waves” by Maya Hollenbeck, “That One Scene from the Lion King” by Sophie Ash, “The Grandeur” by Cavan Grundy and “Sciamachy” by Sierra Bryte.