Jeanne Sager | Democrat
BRINA COHEN, ENTERING her senior year at Liberty High School, rests her chin on her saxophone at she listens to the String Trio of New York at Friday's Youth @ Pops program at Bethel Woods.
Trading 'riffs' with pros, at Bethel Woods
By Jeanne Sager
BETHEL There are audiences, and then, well, there are audiences.
“Parents go to school concerts because they have to,” rising Liberty High School senior Brina Cohen explained with a grin.
“They come here because they want to,” she continued.
“Here” is Bethel Woods, where the Liberty High School Jazz Band performed Friday night as a crowd of 4,000 arrived for the Boston Pops’ tribute to composer Leonard Bernstein.
Along with a contingent of young musicians from Goshen, the 21 Liberty teens were invited to the second of two youth education programs planned by Bethel Woods this summer (a third had to be canceled in mid-July).
Youth @ Pops kicked off with a private performance for the kids on the Terrace Stage, home to Bethel Woods’ new “arts under the stars” performance series.
The String Trio of New York, a jazz ensemble featuring guitarist James Emery, bassist John Lindberg, and violinist Rob Thomas, played a mixture of originals and old standbys interspersed with instruction on making jazz your own.
Taking a cue from the evening’s slate, the trio played a Bernstein classic, “Somewhere,” from West Side Story as it was written by the famed composer.
Then they threw out the songbook and played it again, adding their own twist to make the plaintive request (when paired with Stephen Sondheim lyrics in the show) into an upbeat, truly jazzy, number.
“You can do this on the instruments you play,” Lindberg told the teens. “Take a piece of music and do something special with it, do something unique that only you would do.”
One by one, the kids were invited to line up to try their own hand at improvisation, playing along with the trio on Charlie Parker’s “Billy’s Bounce.”
Recent Liberty High grad Matthew Arielly hopped upon the stage with sax in hand eager to have a go. Trading off riffs with fellow Jazz Band member Cohen, Arielly could barely contain the smile that wrapped around his mouthpiece.
“Improvisation is my favorite thing to do,” he admitted after stepping away from the mic to give another young musician a go.
Working at Bethel Woods this summer before he heads off to Northeastern University in Boston, Arielly said it was nice to take on a different role for an evening.
“It’s nice to be on the performing side,” he said with another grin. “It’s an incredibly place to play really, there is none better.”
It was his second summer playing with the high school band at Bethel Woods, Cohen’s third.
“It’s awesome seeing people here,” she said. “They seem to enjoy it more when we play.”
Liberty High Band Director Dan McConnell said his kids get a charge out of playing at Bethel Woods because of what it represents.
“It’s people who don’t normally see them,” McConnell explained. “And, how often do they get to play before a group like the Boston Pops?
“I think it’s a confidence booster, to know they’re good enough to be invited out to play here.”