UMS

Student Spotlight: Casey Voss with the New York Philharmonic and the NYU Music Experience Design Lab

By UMS Lobby

Editor’s note: As part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internships program, four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2017-2018 season. Casey Voss is one of these students. This summer, he was embedded with the New York Philharmonic.

Below, Casey shares his travel stories with the orchestra in advance of the New York Philharmonic’s return Ann Arbor for three concerts and many residency activities November 17-19, 2017. 

Over the course of my internship I worked alongside two arts organizations: the NYU Music Experience Design Lab (MusEDLab) and the New York Philharmonic Archives Department. I was thrilled to be involved with two groups that make a tremendous impact on a global scale. MusEDLab is involved in a wide spectrum of projects, including creating interactive digital content to facilitate music education for children. In addition to being a world-renowned orchestra, the New York Philharmonic is responsible for extensive outreach projects for early education and community engagement.

I spent the first week of my internship exploring some of the projects that the MusEDLab had been developing. Groove Pizza is a fun space for children effortlessly write their first beat using colors and shapes. Projects in collaboration with the Philharmonic included the various Variation Playgrounds where the user recomposes such classics as Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. MusEDLab also creates more research-driven content, such as “Mahler Grooves,” an interactive platform that allows users to explore Mahler’s Sixth symphony with multiple scores and recordings synced in real time.

Photos: On Left, group photo of Guitar Mash NYC’s first-ever youth event, hosted by MusEdLab at NYU Steinhardt. This program is an incredible opportunity for young songwriters and beginners to come together and share their music. On Right, MusEdLab explores their latest analytics data at their weekly “sync meeting”.

Meanwhile, I made my first visit to the New York Philharmonic Archives. I was introduced to director Barbara Haws who gave me the 30-second tour of of an incredibly dense office space. Being surrounded by Grammy awards, Gustav Mahler’s baton, and countless volumes of historic documents sent me straight to music-nerd heaven. After introductions were out of the way, she set me behind a computer screen with the complete volume of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) and said, “go!”

I was immediately overwhelmed at the scope of this content. There were so many episodes––53 to be exact! As alluring as it may have seemed, I wasn’t prepared to sit in a fancy chair and watch T.V. for the next 53 hours. I quickly realized that there was a need for a better way to navigate these programs, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would entail.

The technology that I had witnessed at the MusEDLab continued to settle in my brain. That evening on the 2 train I had my “Eureka!” moment, relating  directly to the “Mahler Grooves” platform that I had encountered days before. What if the technology that allowed users to toggle between different scores and recordings could be applied to the various scripts and musical cues concerning the YPC episodes? This tool would streamline the research process, allowing users to spend more time making connections with the data and less time sifting through the content.

Photos: On left, Alex Ruthmann (right) and I pose for a photo during the final week of my internship. On Right, a sunny day in front of Alice Tulley Hall at Lincoln Center.

That evening I excitedly drafted a one-page proposal of what this project entailed. I sent it to Alex Ruthmann, my mentor and primary contact at MusEDLab. He took me under his wing and guided my creative process from scratch. Much of what he suggested required that I learn to code in HTML, CSS, and Javascript—three languages for which I was unfamiliar. I spent several days crash-coursing them and trying to decipher how they were meant to work together to build a web page. Though this process was tedious I managed to craft a webpage that consisted of properly aligned-text and a picture of Leonard Bernstein (which is much trickier than what you might think!).

Equally as as gratifying was the fantastic time I was having exploring New York City. There was plenty of time to visit museums, eat pizza slices the size of my face (or larger), and attend as many shows as possible. Observing the New York Philharmonic’s rehearsal of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in David Geffen Hall was one of the highlights of my visit. Seeing a world class ensemble perform some of the most gut-wrenching repertoire at 9 am on a Thursday really put things into perspective.

Photos: On left, enjoying a Super Slice at the Pizza Barn in Yonkers, NY. On right, a view from an empty lobby in David Geffen Hall as the New York Philharmonic prepares for a rehearsal of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony.

I made many new friends both inside and outside of the internship as well. Some of these friendships began at the Music and Mentoring House (MMH), a brownstone walk-up in Harlem where I lived for six weeks. Hosted by American Operatic Soprano Lauren Flanigan, MMH provided all of the basic needs for artists interning in the city. Lauren cooked, cleaned, and told us incredible stories from her illustrious career. Her generosity eased our anxieties and allowed us to remain focused on finishing our projects. I’m grateful for the opportunities that Lauren created for us to escape the chaos of city life.

Photos: On the left, Sandbox Percussion Quartet takes the stage at the hip Brooklyn rooftop bar simply known as “The Roof” on the final evening of my internship. On the right, taking it easy after a hard-day’s work on the Hybar Pavilion, a twisting grass canopy located on the rooftop of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Since leaving New York, I’ve kept in touch Alex and Barbara, continuing to refine the project for a collaborative course between Harvard College and the University of Michigan. Students in this class are investigating the impact that Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts have had on his audience. One of the most rewarding aspects of this internship was creating something designed to make other’s lives easier. This project was my first opportunity to present and execute an idea for which I had total creative control. Alex guided my work, but our dynamic was unlike that of a typical teacher-student relationship. All of these factors coming together granted me a real-world experience—a tangible achievement that impacts the lives of other people. As I transition from school to the professional world, this 21st Century Artist Internship has given competitive edge in an ever-evolving artistic landscape.

The New York Philharmonic performs in Ann Arbor November 17-19, 2017.

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