School Choir works with well-known jazz composer

Feb 7, 2017

Some Buffalo public high school students will be center stage this Sunday with a renowned jazz pianist and composer who is a Niagara Falls native. The Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts Choir will perform at Second Sundays at the Buffalo History Museum. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley was at a rehearsal Monday with students.  

BAVPA music teacher Karen Saxon guides her choral students through various selections they’ll perform this Sunday with Pete Malinverni.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Performing Arts music teacher Karen Saxon skillfully guides her choral students through various selections they’ll perform this Sunday. Listening through an on-line link, into their classroom, was Pete Malinverni.  He's known world-wide for his jazz piano work and serves as Chair of Jazz Studies at SUNY Purchase College.

Karen Saxon guides her choral students through various selections and then listens to Pete Malinverni who was listening on-line to the group.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

After the Performing Arts students would executed a piece, Malinverni would provide some adjustments for their teacher.

“He did send us a YouTube clip for the feel, but even with that – it was like okay that’s them and my deliberate work with this group has been even when they do what others have done, we do our best not to replicate anything,” said Saxon.

The student choir will perform Malinverini's powerful composition called "The Creation" which is based on the text of James Weldon Johnson. It will be highlighted at the show.

“A great activist, attorney, poet, author. He was a diplomat. He served under Teddy Roosevelt as an American Embassary to Latin America. He was one of the fathers of the Harlem renaissance and was the first field secretary and the first African American president of the NAACP and he wrote the famous song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which has become known as the African American National Anthem,” Malinverni noted.  

Teacher Saxon admits it was never-racking conducting Malinverni's work while he was monitoring.  

Music teacher Karen Saxon guides her choral students through various selections they’ll perform this Sunday with Pete Malinverni.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“You don’t know until the composer hears it if you’ve done it justice. Because when you take on someone else’s work, without specifics about their interpretation of it, you hope that you recreate what they created,” Saxon remarked.

But Malinverini tells WBFO the teacher and her students nailed it.

“Oh I thought they were really brilliant. You could tell how they were doing the work just what a great teacher and musician Karen Saxon is. It was wonderful,” Malinverni replied.

For the Performing Arts students it was a level of experience normally not available on a high school level.

BAVPA Choir work at rehearsal with Pete Malinverni listening on-line.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Maryna Suefert said it was exciting to work with such a great composer and considered it a "gift".

“It was really helpful, like self-esteem wise to hear him say –‘oh that was fantastic, you guys sound great’ – you know because you  always get that second guess did I sing that right, does that sound okay, was my technique there?, but when he said great technique it really helped with the self-esteem,” said Suefert.

Student Matthew Wilson was smiling throughout the rehearsal. He described working with the composer as "fun" and noted his teacher was "on-point”.

“And it felt really good to hear that he liked what my conductor was telling us to do and kind of messing around with each of the techniques we had to do with the song,” Wilson described.

Student Jada Spight was also excited for the opportunity to hear from Malinverini. 

BAVPA students rehearsing.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“It was a phenomenal experience, actually,” Spight stated. 

Spight said Malinverini he helped students tweak their work and sound.

“He said something about our tone and I know that with this piece, placement is very important,” explained Spight. 

“Their reading of the music brought out some things that even I had forgotten were even there,” Malinverini noted.

Teacher Saxon has guided the strength and power and has impressed a national composer

"She’s terrific. By obviously through her guidance, they picked up on some real subtleties in the music that they just totally had it,” Malinverini remarked.

“My biggest takeaway was that we did what he wanted or at least close enough that with a couple of tweaks then he’s got exactly what he wants,” Saxon said.

Sunday's show begins with a pre-concert talk at 2 p.m. followed by the music and choir at 2:30 p.m.