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Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras Jazzes Up The Meaning Of 'Citizen'

Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras members.
Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras members. Photo Credit: Submitted

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- When President Barack Obama was queried by reporters about how he would spend his time once he left office he replied that he would “be a citizen.”

Those words inspired Dr. Rex Cadwallader, a world-renowned jazz musician and Emmy-award winning composer who teaches at Greens Farms Academy in Westport. He said it inspired him to explore the topic with his students through music.

Dr. Cadwallader brought his idea to Christopher Hisey, Music Director of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras (GBYO).

The result is The Citizen Project, a collaborative event that will take place over the course of six months and includes an original commissioned music score with a spoken word component, as well as video and filmed interviews with GBYO performers. The project will culminate in a performance of the work at GBYO’s Winter Concert next year and, ideally, a documentary film about the experience.

The goal of the project is to have the young musicians who comprise the elite ranks of GBYO consider the idea of citizenship and then express it through musical performance.

“Our goal is to create a powerful piece of music that is edgy and provocative but doesn’t take sides politically," said Hisey.

"We hope it will inspire thoughtful discussion and perhaps deeper insight into our democratic process."

Musicians in other ensembles have been invited to participate in the project by contributing photographs and videos that can be used in the documentary and a planned multimedia portion of the performance. Perhaps most importantly, the photos will be used to inspire conversation and ideas during the writing of the musical piece.

Dr. Cadwallader, who serves as the conductor of the GBYO Jazz Ensemble, has also brought in multimedia artist Jeffrey Rollins to provide spoken-word accompaniment to the piece. The text will be based on research Rollins is doing on the works of Aristotle and that philosopher’s idea of the citizen. Cadwallader’s jazz trio often performs improvisational music to Rollins’ interactive, multimedia pieces.

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