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Classical kid

Zachariah Milby, a 17-year-old musician from New Castle, conducts Mozart's Symphony No. 1 in E flat major with Symphony in the Valley on Sunday, May 14. (Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly)
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On the topic of providing youngsters with an education in classical music, Zachariah Milby floats an interesting theory: Whatever shortage there is may be more on the demand side than on the supply side. In other words, the problem – one continuously raised by educators and music institutions – may not be so much that schools, especially public schools, are not providing a music education, but that most students are not interested in receiving it.”I don’t think it’s so much giving it as actually wanting it,” said Milby, a 17-year-old junior at Bridges High School, a small, alternative school in Glenwood Springs. “I don’t think a lot of kids my age really want to study violin as I do. They think the violin is neat – but I don’t think they want to play it.”Milby, however, has proved to be one of those who can hardly get enough of classical music. He practices violin every day, and somewhat less frequently on piano. He performs in a string quartet, with two adults and another young musician, and also plays wedding gigs, usually in a duo with his first teacher, Lorraine Curry. At the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, which he attended through eighth grade, Milby teaches violin to a handful of sixth-graders, and is the piano accompanist for the third-and fourth-grade eurythmy classes.This weekend, he stepped into another musical role. Milby is conducting Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in E flat major as part of the Symphony in the Valley’s Mother’s Day Concerts. The first concert was Saturday evening at the Waldorf School; the weekend concludes with a Sunday afternoon concert at Glenwood Springs High School.Also featured are the winners of Symphony in the Valley’s Young Artists’ Concerto and Vocal Competitions. Aspen High School freshman Aaron Poh will perform a movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major. Secia Klocke, a Glenwood High senior, will sing “My Man’s Gone Now” from Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess.” Lindsay Nelson, a fourth-grader at Aspen Country Day School, will sing Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Song of the Sandman.”Rounding out the program are Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by Steve Cole; two pieces from Holst’s “The Planets,” and Mussorgsky’s “Hopak from the Young Ukrainians.”Conductors for the concerts are Wendy Larson and associate conductor John Bokram.

Milby, who earned the conducting opportunity through a written application process, was not won over by classical music on his initial contact. At 3 or 4, he took a Suzuki-method piano lesson. His response was like that of most of his peers. “I wasn’t really old enough yet. Didn’t really have the focus for it,” he said.Milby was, however, from a young age, an enthusiastic listener to classical music. In fact, Milby cannot remember a time when he didn’t adore classical music, nor can he recall ever liking any other style of music. He says his parents – father Doug, an electrical engineer, and mother Leslie Means, who runs a business from home – were musical, but the description he gives indicates they are nowhere near as musical as their oldest child.

“They didn’t pursue music in any way,” said Milby, who speaks with a precision that makes him sound more adult than his years. “My mom can play the piano. My dad, as he’s fond of saying, couldn’t carry a tune if you put it in a bucket for him.”Entering the Waldorf School as a fifth-grader, Milby was reintroduced to playing music. (The school’s curriculum includes education on violin for all students, beginning in third grade.) He found the violin fun, and he had an aptitude for it. When Curry suggested he pursue private lessons, and he found a teacher in Suzanne Nadeau Porter, Milby realized he was one of the select 12-year-olds who craved a formal music education.”It’s something about the music itself,” he said, somewhat at a loss to explain the attraction to playing the music. “I gain a greater understanding of it by actually playing it. That, and it’s just fun.”In 2003, Milby joined Symphony in the Valley; the orchestra, according to Larson, comprises approximately one-third young musicians. Playing in the middle of some 60 other musicians – especially the snare drummers – opened up another realm.”I liked the percussion. That was very new. That was my favorite part,” said Milby, who was born in Ohio and now lives in New Castle. “And I liked that, when you messed up, you couldn’t hear. Unless everyone else messed up at the same time, and then it didn’t matter if you did.”



In his application for the young conductor’s gig, Milby had to explain why he wanted the opportunity, and why he thought he’d be good at it. He could have noted the brief, formal training he had had: At Waldorf, he arranged a suite from one of “The Lord of the Rings” movies and wanted to conduct it. So, over a few lunch periods, Curry gave him basic instruction in how to beat in various time signatures.Instead, he wrote about some more casual sessions he had contrived on his own. Milby won against only one other candidate, but Larson must have been impressed by Milby’s story.”I told her about our late-night conducting sessions,” explained Milby. “Late at night, three or four times, a friend of mine – he’s a very flamboyant conductor, very entertaining – I’d show him how to beat each particular time signature. It felt very dictatorial, very fun.”Among the reasons Milby and Larson chose the Mozart symphony to perform was that Mozart composed it when he was 8, and the piece reflects his youth. “It’s a simple little symphony, and short, 11 or 12 minutes,” said Larson. Another reason is to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. A third is that the other piece being considered, Mendelssohn’s Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – written when the composer was 16 – was deemed too difficult for the orchestra, according to Milby.

Offbeat passions may run in the Milby family. Josh, Zachariah’s guitar-playing 14-year-old brother, is captivated by old-school ska music and fashion.”We’re sort of like night and day,” said Milby. “His music type, right now, is ska. He wears black-and-white checkers on everything.”Classical music is one in a collection of hobbies that sets Milby apart from the average 17-year-old. He is an avid mathematician; last month, he was part of a team that presented a math conference in St. Louis. Hiking is among his more mainstream activities, but he pursues it in a way that distinguishes him; Milby likes to hike every afternoon.By far, his oddest passion is for punting. Even in Britain, where it was created, punting seems like an unusual pastime – riding in a boat, flying British flags, and singing seafaring songs. In a canoe on Blue Lake, by El Jebel, it sounds hilarious. (Milby insisted that I refer to his version of the sport as “pseudo-punting.”)Still, Milby says that classical music is the most significant of his interests; “the activity I get the most joy from,” he said. But the way he sees it, classical music, and an education in it, is not for every young person. (On the other hand, one has to wonder what might have become of that joy had Milby not been handed a violin in Lorraine Curry’s Waldorf School class, an experience he calls “the foundation” for what he has accomplished.)”It might be that people aren’t at the point in their lives where they want to express things,” said Milby, who is scheduled to make his debut as an instrumental soloist, performing a movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, at Symphony in the Valley’s fall concert. “But I have something I want to express. It’s very clarifying for me.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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