YAA Good Neighbor Grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

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Young Artists of America at Strathmore Among 12 DC Area Nonprofits Awarded $250,000 Good Neighbor Grants from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Targeted funding will help 7,500 local students pursue high-quality academic programs, college access initiatives, and arts education

Lansdowne, VA — Today the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced that Young Artists of America at Strathmore is among the 12 nonprofit organizations from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC that will receive a total of $250,000 from its annual Good Neighbor Grant program. Since 2012, the Foundation has provided 74 Good Neighbor Grants totaling over $1.7 million to 57 local youth-serving organizations. The 2019 Good Neighbor Grant recipients will collectively serve over 7,500 students in a broad variety of programs focused on providing high-quality academic programs, college access initiatives, and arts education.

Young Artists of America at Strathmore — is awarded $25,000 to support the Reach for the Stars program, which awards scholarships for participation in the Summer Performing Arts Intensives (SPAI) to enable promising young performing artists from low- and moderate-income families to study with top teaching artists. Young Artists of America at Strathmore offers world-class training in a professional and nurturing environment, providing a gateway for students to reach the highest levels of professional success in their chosen field of study.

“Though we have a national focus, the Foundation remains committed to supporting high-ability students in our own backyard,” said Seppy Basili, executive director of the Foundation. “Students who have the potential to achieve at a higher level need opportunities to reach that next level of academic excellence. The Foundation is proud to support high-quality programs in our region through the Good Neighbor Grant program.”

A detailed listing of 2019 Good Neighbor Grant recipients is below. Programs marked with an asterisk(*) represent continued Foundation investment in a program or organization.

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The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded $190 million in scholarships to nearly 2,500 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The Foundation has also provided over $100 million in grants to organizations that serve such students. www.jkcf.org  

YAACompany Performed with Kristin Chenoweth!

YAACompany Performed with Kristin Chenoweth!

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On Monday night, dreams came true. In case you missed it, students from our YAACompany performed alongside the Broadway legend, Kristin Chenoweth, at her Strathmore concert. The students rehearsed with Ms. Chenoweth for nearly two hours before the evening show. They posed for photos and got to speak with her about her incredible career. In addition to performing two songs with her on stage, she spent a significant portion of the show discussing how inspired she was by all of them and the YAA program. We couldn’t be more honored and excited about this incredible moment!

Read the glowing Broadway World review of the show here and browse through photos of the rehearsal and show below.

Photos by Carmelita Watkinson

Vote for Us for Washington City Paper's Best of DC 2019

It’s been a goal of ours to win a Best Of DC award for a long time. We’re hoping you all can help us achieve it! Please take a second to:

1.) Vote for us for BEST SUMMER CAMP in the People & Places Category.

2.) Share this request widely!

Just imagine…if we win you can actually say you go to the “best summer camp” in DC! :)

Thanks!!!!

Young Artists of America Named: "Best Performing Arts Education for Young Artists"

Young Artists of America Named: "Best Performing Arts Education for Young Artists"

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We are thrilled to announce that we have been named “Best Performing Arts Education for Young Artists” by Maryland Theatre Guide’s Readers’ Choice Awards. An enormous thank you to everyone who voted for us! We won by miles thanks to you! Now, when you’re talking about YAA, you can officially say, “we’re the best!”. ;)

Want to help us win again? Voting for Washington City Paper’s Best Of DC Reader’s Poll ends March 3rd. Vote for us for “Best Summer Camp” in the People & Places Category here.

Thank you!!!!!

Les Mis Inspires Activism Off the Stage

Les Mis Inspires Activism Off the Stage

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We’re Launching Our “Hear the People Sing” Civic Engagement Project in Tandem with Our Spring Production of Les Miserables

We are proud to announce that the Greater Washington Foundation’s (GWF) Donors InVesting in the Arts (DIVAS) Fund has awarded them a grant for a civic engagement social media project titled "Hear the People Sing!" The project will take place in conjunction with YAA's spring production of Les Miserables at the Music Center at Strathmore on March 16, 2019 at 3pm.

Titled after one of the most rousing songs in the score, YAA’s “Hear the People Sing!” project will examine the themes in Les Miserables to inspire students to make connections between the social challenges in Victor Hugo’s time and those in today’s world. Whereas young people during the French Revolution saw injustice between populations and classes and decided to take action through insurgencies, this project will empower YAA students to use non-violent means to identify the injustices seen both in Les Miserables’ and in modern time — including immigration, class inequity, gender-based oppression, and imperfect justice. Peaceful methods of engagement and dialogue will be modeled by teachers and encouraged throughout the musical theatre rehearsal process, as well as throughout the social media component of the project.

Specifically, YAA artistic staff will lead student group reflection and social media journaling, primarily via Instagram posts. YAA staff will also create and post a “students voices” video of final lessons learned that will be made available on their YouTube channel, and an edited version displayed on screen before the performance for audience members to participate with as well. Community members can follow along with the project by searching #HearthePeopleSingYAA and #WhoAmIYAA on social media platforms.

"It is YAA’s hope that this project will deepen students’ understanding of the material we are performing, as well as spark additional dialogue among their peers about contemporary issues," says YAA's Artistic Director, Rolando Sanz. "We are incredibly grateful to GWF's DIVAS."

The final production on March 16th will feature 300 young performers (middle to high school age) and an audience of 1600+. What will make this performance artistically unique will be the scope of this student collaboration, including a full 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra, Seneca Valley High School Chorus of 150, and 80 singers/dancers/actors from YAACompany and YAAjunior. Tickets (on sale next week) and more information can be found at www.yaa.org/spring-production.


GET TO KNOW: Our Student Assistant Director for Les Mis, Vinny Douglass!

GET TO KNOW: Our Student Assistant Director for Les Mis, Vinny Douglass!

For the first time, YAA has invited one of our “young artists” to work on the other side of the table and work along side our Stage Director as an Assistant Director. We’re proud to introduce Vinny Douglass, who will assistant direct our spring production of Les Miserables, featuring over 250 young performers, including a combined chorus from Seneca Valley High School. We had a chance to chat with Vinny. Check out the interview below!

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When did you first start getting interested in directing?
I first developed an interest in directing my junior year when my theatre class put on a performance of As You Like It, and I helped my teacher block a few scenes and helped some of my friends with the delivery of their lines.

What does the opportunity to be an assistant director for YAA's Les Miserables mean to you?

I am so grateful to Rolando and Kristina for trusting me with this opportunity! Les Miserables is such an amazing show to get to explore a lot of different creative ideas, and the Strathmore stage is an incredible venue to do so on. 

What are you most looking forward to in the process?

I’m really forward to working with Stage Director, Kristina Friedgen, and putting our heads together to stage numbers like Master of the House and large scale scenes like Building the Barricade where everyone in the Company is involved.

Who are your favorite stage directors and why?

My favorite stage director has to be James Lapine who directed Falsettos, Sunday In The Park with George, and Into the Woods among other productions. I love the way he can work an ensemble together in any space and his uses of color and light to pull focus in scenes. 

What are you most nervous about in the role of assistant director?

I’m most nervous about getting my ideas across to the actors clearly, as I’ve been told I can be a bit unorthodox when giving directions. I get very excited when ideas come to me, and I don’t want to come across as unprofessional.

What do you view as the most important responsibility you have as an assistant director?
I think the most important responsibility is being reliable and organized when it comes to the work I am given and tasks I am expected to complete. It is my responsibility to be someone both Rolando and Kristina can lean and depend on when it comes to staging and blocking.

What would you like to tell the performers you will be directing?

I want to tell the performers that they can trust me to put my best efforts forward for this production and that my goal is for this to be YAA’s best performance yet. I believe it will be because of the amazing cast we have! 

PACO's POV: The Synopsis of Our Musical

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


The convict Jean Valjean is released from a French prison after serving nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread and for subsequent attempts to escape from prison. When Valjean arrives at the town of Digne, no one is willing to give him a job or shelter because he is an ex-convict. Desperate, Valjean knocks on the door of M. Myriel, the kindly bishop of Digne. Myriel treats Valjean with kindness, and Valjean repays the bishop by stealing his silverware. When the police arrest Valjean, Myriel covers for him, claiming that the silverware was a gift. The authorities release Valjean and Myriel makes him promise to become an honest man. Eager to fulfill his promise, Valjean masks his identity and enters the town of Montreuil-sur-mer. Under the assumed name of Madeleine, Valjean invents an ingenious manufacturing process that brings the town prosperity. He eventually becomes the town’s mayor.

Fantine, a young woman from Montreuil, lives in Paris. She falls in love with Tholomyès, a wealthy student who gets her pregnant and then abandons her. Fantine returns to her home village with her daughter, Cosette. On the way to Montreuil, however, Fantine realizes that she will never be able to find work if the townspeople know that she has an illegitimate child. In the town of Montfermeil, she meets the Thénardiers, a family that runs the local inn. The Thénardiers agree to look after Cosette as long as Fantine sends them a monthly allowance.

In Montreuil, Fantine finds work in Valjean/Madeleine’s factory. Fantine’s coworkers find out about Cosette, however, and Fantine is fired. The Thénardiers demand more money to support Cosette, and Fantine resorts to prostitution to make ends meet. One night, Javert, Montreuil’s police chief, arrests Fantine. She is to be sent to prison, but Madeleine intervenes. Fantine has fallen ill, and when she longs to see Cosette, Madeleine promises to send for her. First, however, he must contend with Javert, who has discovered Madeleine’s criminal past. Javert tells Madeleine that a man has been accused of being Jean Valjean, and Madeleine confesses his true identity. Javert shows up to arrest Valjean while Valjean is at Fantine’s bedside, and Fantine dies from the shock.

After a few years, Valjean escapes from prison and heads to Montfermeil, where he is able to buy Cosette from the Thénardiers. The Thénardiers turn out to be a family of scoundrels who abuse Cosette while spoiling their own daughter, Eponine. Valjean and Cosette move to a run-down part of Paris. Javert discovers their hideout, however, and they are forced to flee. They find refuge in a convent, where Cosette attends school and Valjean works as a gardener.

Marius Pontmercy is a young man who lives with his wealthy grandfather, M. Gillenormand. Because of political differences within the family, Marius has never met his father, Georges Pontmercy. After his father dies, however, Marius learns more about him and comes to admire his father’s democratic politics. Angry with his grandfather, Marius moves out of Gillenormand’s house and lives as a poor young law student. While in law school, Marius associates with a group of radical students, the Friends of the ABC, who are led by the charismatic Enjolras. One day, Marius sees Cosette at a public park. It is love at first sight, but the protective Valjean does his utmost to prevent Cosette and Marius from ever meeting. Their paths cross once again, however, when Valjean makes a charitable visit to Marius’s poor neighbors, the Jondrettes. The Jondrettes are in fact the Thénardiers, who have lost their inn and moved to Paris under an assumed name. After Valjean leaves, Thénardier announces a plan to rob Valjean when he returns. Alarmed, Marius alerts the local police inspector, who turns out to be Javert. The ambush is foiled and the Thénardiers are arrested, but Valjean escapes before Javert can identify him.

Thénardier’s daughter Eponine, who is in love with Marius, helps Marius discover Cosette’s whereabouts. Marius is finally able to make contact with Cosette, and the two declare their love for each other. Valjean, however, soon shatters their happiness. Worried that he will lose Cosette and unnerved by political unrest in the city, Valjean announces that he and Cosette are moving to England. In desperation, Marius runs to his grandfather, M. Gillenormand, to ask for M. Gillenormand’s permission to marry Cosette. Their meeting ends in a bitter argument. When Marius returns to Cosette, she and Valjean have disappeared. Heartbroken, Marius decides to join his radical student friends, who have started a political uprising. Armed with two pistols, Marius heads for the barricades.

The uprising seems doomed, but Marius and his fellow students nonetheless stand their ground and vow to fight for freedom and democracy. The students discover Javert among their ranks, and, realizing that he is a spy, Enjolras ties him up. As the army launches its first attack against the students, Eponine throws herself in front of a rifle to save Marius’s life. As Eponine dies in Marius’s arms, she hands him a letter from Cosette. Marius quickly scribbles a reply and orders a boy, Gavroche, to deliver it to Cosette.

Valjean manages to intercept the note and sets out to save the life of the man his adopted daughter loves. Valjean arrives at the barricade and volunteers to execute Javert. When alone with Javert, however, Valjean instead secretly lets him go free. As the army storms the barricade, Valjean grabs the wounded Marius and flees through the sewers. When Valjean emerges hours later, Javert immediately arrests him. Valjean pleads with Javert to let him take the dying Marius to Marius’s grandfather. Javert agrees. Javert feels tormented, torn between his duty to his profession and the debt he owes Valjean for saving his life. Ultimately, Javert lets Valjean go and throws himself into the river, where he drowns.

Marius makes a full recovery and is reconciled with Gillenormand, who consents to Marius and Cosette’s marriage. Their wedding is a happy one, marred only when Valjean confesses his criminal past to Marius. Alarmed by this revelation and unaware that it was Valjean who saved his life at the barricades, Marius tries to prevent Cosette from having contact with Valjean. Lonely and depressed, Valjean takes to his bed and awaits his death. Marius eventually finds out from Thénardier that Valjean saved Marius’s life. Ashamed that he mistrusted Valjean, Marius tells Cosette everything that has happened. Marius and Cosette rush to Valjean’s side just in time for a final reconciliation. Happy to be reunited with his adopted daughter, Valjean dies in peace.

The synopsis of our musical is from Spark Notes - https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lesmis/summary/

Apply to Be a YAA Counselor-in-Training for Summer 2019!

Apply to Be a YAA Counselor-in-Training for Summer 2019!

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The Summer Performing Arts Intensives Counselor-in-Training (CIT) is the primary caregiver for students throughout YAA’s popular summer program. The CIT assists Lead Counselors and staff in a wide range of support duties.

Housing, meals, and a modest stipend is provided.

  • CIT candidates must have completed their freshman year in college and be over 18 years of age.

  • Applicants must be available 24/7 during the dates of June 27-July 26, 2019, and willing to spend the night in the dorms with SPAI students.

  • Previous experience as an SPAI student is preferred, but not required.

The successful CIT candidate will be responsible, energetic, have outstanding interpersonal skills, have a track record of demonstrating good judgment, be willing to take on any task requested, and be passionate about musical theatre.

Applications are due NO LATER THAN March 1, with decisions sent out April 1.

We will only accept applications online at: https://campscui.active.com/orgs/YoungArtistsofAmerica?orglink=camps-registration

More information on SPAI can be found at:http://www.youngartistsamerica.org/summer/
Questions can be directed to info@yaa.org

#YAADreams with Ian Coursey

From now until the end of the year, we’re highlighting our fundraising campaign, I DREAMED A DREAM, by spotlighting some of our students who say their dreams are coming true thanks to YAA. If you want to help our students realize their dreams, consider a donation today. Every dollar will be matched thanks to our angel donors.

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Meet Ian Coursey. He’s a junior at Lady of Good Counsel High School and has been participating in YAA programs for the past two years. He’s performed in The Sound of Music, played Tateh in Ragtime last spring, and Leo Frank in Parade over the summer. He will play Jean Valjean in YAACompany’s spring production of Les Misérables.

Tell us more about playing Jean Valjean.

I am thrilled! This is a dream role for me and I can’t wait to bring my performance to Strathmore’s stage! 

How did you prepare for the part?

I recently preformed Les Mis with a different company earlier this year so the material is not new to me, but I am working with YAA’s awesome faculty, including amazing stage director Kristina Friedgen to polish my performance! 

Do you have a scene you're most looking forward to performing? What and why?

I am extremely excited to preform “Bring Him Home” because it is such an incredible song and the orchestra is going to sound beautiful. It is also a very emotional song and every time I sing it I can’t help but get choked up. 

Do you think that YAA is helping you accomplish your dreams?

YAA is absolutely helping me accomplish my dreams! The staff is incredible and they put all of their energy and time into their productions. I feel I have grown as an artist and that’s all thanks to the staff and company of YAA. I owe a special thanks to voice teacher and artistic director Rolando Sanz for truly changing my life! 

Anything else you want to add about the production, YAA programming, etc.?

This production is going to be amazing! Every single person in the company and the orchestra are insanely talented and I’m waiting for the moment when we all come together and create something magical. There is no program like YAA and every performer should have the chance to be a part of such an amazing group of people and artists! 


Want to help other YAA students realize their dreams? Donate today!

#YAADreams with Ava Benson

From now until the end of the year, we’re highlighting our fundraising campaign, I DREAMED A DREAM, by spotlighting some of our students who say their dreams are coming true thanks to YAA. If you want to help our students realize their dreams, consider a donation today. Every dollar will be matched thanks to our angel donors.

Meet Ava Benson. She’s an 8th grader at Tilden Middle School and has been participating in YAA programs since 2016. She’s performed in The Circle of Life: The Songs of Tim Rice, The Sound of Music (Marta), Ragtime, and Annie Get Your Gun. She also was Rafiki in The Lion King JR and the The Cat in the Hat in Seussical JR. This spring, she will play Bert in Mary Poppins JR as part of YAAjunior.

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Do you have a scene you're most looking forward to performing? What and why?

I’m equally excited about Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Step in Time because I know they will have big dance numbers in the show. Big dance numbers are what I love most about musical theater. They bring so much energy to the cast and the audience. I cannot wait to see what we will do with these scenes!

Do you have any thoughts on what it's like to play a male character? How you'll prepare for this?

I’m actually very excited to play Bert in this production. Oftentimes, acting is pretending to be something or someone that you are not, so I honestly think it will be like playing and preparing for any other role. I do welcome the challenge of changing the way I walk and talk. The biggest change will probably be the way that I sing. My preparation will likely include watching hours of Broadway production clips and YouTube videos. I will also practice in front of the mirror, a lot; this helps me see what I look like while I act. I plan on watching the movie multiple times to pick up on Bert’s tendencies, his reactions to other characters and most importantly, to work on his accent. I’m especially eager to see Mary Poppins Returns this winter where Lin-Manuel Miranda plays Bert’s apprentice, Jack. I’ll be taking plenty of notes!

How did you prepare to get the part/audition?

I originally auditioned for Ms. Andrews and I was quite surprised to be called back for Bert. To prepare for callbacks, I cast my sister as Mary Poppins and spent a lot of time singing and acting with her at home.

Do you think that YAA is helping you accomplish your dreams?

YAA is absolutely helping me accomplish my dreams! It has helped me fully decide that I want a professional career in acting and musical theater. I am so glad YAA came into my life. I am grateful for the years of support and encouragement from Mr. Paul Heinemann, Ms. Randee Hahn and Ms. Kristina Friedgen. I truly appreciate the confidence of Ms. Emma in casting me as Bert. Overall, the program gives me a taste of what it would be like to work as a professional because they treat us like professionals. I will never forget one valuable lesson I learned from working with Mr. Hugh Wooldridge during The Circle of Life in Concert: “If you are early, you are on time; if you are on time, you are late; and if you are late, you are fired.”

Anything else you want to add?

The I Dreamed a Dream campaign is so important. It connects so many students from diverse backgrounds and we come together to share our talents with the community. I love that the fundraising campaign opens doors to talented students who have a passion for the arts but may have financial difficulties that make it hard for them to participate in the programs that YAA has to offer. YAA is extremely important to our community and I am proud to be a part of it all.


Want to donate to the I DREAMED A DREAM campaign? Click here.

Support Isaiah!

Support Isaiah!

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Isaiah is our Assistant Conductor and YAA Alumni. Let’s show our support for this beloved member of our YAA family, and show up for him at his conducting degree recital!

Location:

Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall @ Peabody Institute (1 E Mt Vernon Pl, Baltimore, MD 21202)

Date:

Saturday, 19 January 2019 @ 8pm

Performers:

Musicians of the Peabody Conservatory

Isaiah Shim, conductor

Programme:

Debussy // Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune

Tchaikovsky // Symphony No. 5

Free & open to public -- bring friends and families!

Parking: Available at Peabody Parking Garage (606 Saint Paul St, Baltimore, MD) or street parking


What It's Like To Be a Working Actor (from a YAA Alum)

Chani Wereley graduated from YAA programs in 2013. Since then, she’s graduated college (Catholic University of America), and is now a working actress. We sat down with her to talk about what life is like now and how YAA helped her accomplish her dreams. #YAADreams

Chani Wereley (YAA Class of 2013)

Chani Wereley (YAA Class of 2013)

I am just grateful that I get to do what I love everyday, it’s kind of wild.
— Chani Wereley

What was your first professional gig?

I had my first professional gig during my sophomore year at CUA! I auditioned for Dogfight at Keegan Theatre in the spring, and I ended up getting it and doing it for the summer and fall of that year. Keegan is one of the greatest places I’ve worked, honestly. I didn’t really know what to expect since I was so green, but the Artistic Directors are so supportive and welcoming, and so was the cast and creative team. I ended up doing my second professional contract (American Idiot) there as well.

How have you found being a working actor in the DC area?

It has been, for the most part, really wonderful. I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences and opportunities, and it really has been such a joy. We have a crazy supportive community here, and I have felt it so much in the past few months especially. Sometimes I think about the experiences I’ve had and the things I have coming up next year and I’m just like – how did I get this lucky? It can be hard sometimes, but that’s life. I am just grateful that I get to do what I love everyday, it’s kind of wild.

What is your favorite professional gig and why?

I’d say it’s probably Bridges of Madison County at Red Branch Theatre. I did it a little over a year ago. I was Marian/Chiara/The State Fair Singer/Every Other Female Ensemble part in the show, which was so insane but so much fun. My friend Harrison saw the show and dubbed me “The Chansemble,” and that’s been following me around and haunting me ever since.

How often do you go to auditions?

It depends. Last year, when I was in the middle of audition season, I had an audition or a callback every couple of days. Sometimes I had two in one day. I remember one day I had to be at Olney Theatre in the morning, and then I had a tight turnaround to go to Signature Theatre in the afternoon. I still don’t know how I made that one work. A lot of the non-equity theatres have their auditions on a rolling basis, so there’ll be this random audition I have in the middle of nothing, and then all of a sudden, there will be a whole bunch at once. It’s fun, but it’s stressful.

What did you learn from YAA that you use in your professional life? 

There are so many things. I don’t even know what to focus on. It was a really formative part of my life when I was a teenager. One thing I’ll never forget is the support that I received from YAA at one of the lowest times in my life.

My big dream was to go to The University of Michigan, and study musical theatre. I was at the Corner Bakery near Montgomery Mall before rehearsal one day and I got an email from admissions that said I didn’t get in. I had a huge panic attack, drove to Strathmore, and broke down.

Rolando Sanz and Alan Paul were there. I remember them saying “It’s going to be okay. Everything will work itself out. You’ll work. It doesn’t matter where you go to school; it’s what you do with what you have, and how hard you work.” It was honestly less what they said to me in that moment, and more how much they blindly believed in me that sticks with me. I got up, dusted myself off, and did Miss Saigon. They helped me tap into my inner strength and resilience, and that is something I carry with me every day. 

What advice do you want to give YAA students that dream about being professional performers? 

Do not let anyone get you down. As Lady Gaga has stated at literally every single press event for A Star Is Born: “There can be 100 people in the room, and 99 don't believe in you, but all it takes is one who does.” I just think that that one person has to be you. There are so many supportive people in this world, and so many kind friends, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to be your biggest fan if you’re going to keep going.  

And honestly, there will be people who try their best to tear you down and dim your light. But there are a whole lot more who will love you. Focus on them. Focus on yourself. Be unapologetically you. Embrace your failures with as much love and light as you would your successes. Bottom line: spread love and accept love. And work your butt off!


 Want to help other young performing artists’ dreams come true like Chani’s did? Make a tax-deductible donation to YAA toward our I DREAMED A DREAM Campaign. Donate today.

Strathmore Chats: Meadows and Nasar

Strathmore Chats: Meadows and Nasar

Welcome our new column, “Strathmore Chats”! Throughout the year YAA students and alumni will get the chance to interview professional artists performing at Strathmore and we’ll publish it here for you to read.

Our first entry is by Sam Nasar, a recent alumnus of our YAACompany. He interviewed jazz musician, composer and vocalist, Mark G. Meadows, a recent Strathmore Artist-in-Residence. Sam and Mark performed on stage together this past fall for Strathmore Founder, Eliot Pfanstiehl’s Farewell Celebration.

Mark G. Meadows

Mark G. Meadows

Sam Nasar (in YAA’s  Ragtime in Concert )

Sam Nasar (in YAA’s Ragtime in Concert)

Read their chat:

Sam: Who is your favorite jazz artist of all time and why?

Mark: Herbie Hancock and/or Quincy Jones - they always stay current, even to this day, all the while upholding their jazz foundation. 

Sam: Why should young people have a love for jazz?

Mark: Because it always goes hand in hand with the social climate. If the world is protesting, jazz is protesting. If the world is cool, jazz is cool... jazz reflects the times.

Sam: What’s your favorite gig that you’ve played?

Mark: Wow! That's tough. Probably a gig I did with Rochelle Rice at All Soul's Church the day after Eric Garner was murdered by a police officer. We played "Wholly Earth" by Abbey Lincoln during a church service, and the energy in the performance was reflective of our sentiments. It was unearthly.

Sam: When did you start writing your own music?

Mark: When I was 13, my first song was "In the Groove". ;) Haven't played it in a long time! :(

Sam: What makes you also enjoy teaching so much?

Mark: It's my way of giving back. I didn't have an "easy road" learning this music, so I love shedding light on others to help them with their process. I think I'm a good teacher not because I am great, but because I have learned from my mistakes, and have a good way of explaining what I did and didn't do that will ultimately help my students.


Want to catch Mark on stage? Check out his website at for shows and/or follow him on all social media platforms at @markgmeadows.
Want your chance to interview a professional artists for this column? Email us!




Paco's POV: 24601 and Jean Valjean

YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!

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Les Misérables is fiction.  That having been said, Victor Hugo took history seriously into account in creating the background and the characters in his work.  It will be incumbent on us to know and understand the historical backdrop of the time his novel covers (roughly 1815 thru 1835,) if we are going to make sense of this story.  To that end, I beg your forbearance if I now and then wander into the historical weeds to set the context.

To help us get invested in our story, let me introduce the first character:

Jean Valjean (prisoner 24601 though it should be noted that, in the novel, Hugo never refers to Valjean by a number. This only appears in the musical.) is the protagonist of our story. Hugo depicts Valjean's long struggle to lead a normal life after serving a prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his sister's children during a time of economic depression and various attempts to escape from prison with three successful escapes.  In the musical, Jean only escapes from prison once (but this is the literary license taken by the French librettist and composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg and original French-language lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. An English-language libretto and English lyrics were written by Herbert Kretzmer.  We will meet these folks in a future posting.)

The base line of this story is that ex-convict Jean Valjean becomes a force for good in the world but cannot escape his criminal past.  His story, in short, is - convicted for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's seven starving children and sent to prison for five years, he is paroled from prison nineteen years later (after four unsuccessful escape attempts added twelve years and fighting back during the second escape attempt added two extra years). Rejected by society for being a former convict, he encounters Bishop Myriel, who turns his life around by showing him mercy and encouraging him to become a new man.  He assumes a new identity and alias in order to pursue an honest life. He introduces new manufacturing techniques and eventually builds two factories and becomes one of the richest men in the area. By popular acclaim, he is made mayor. He confronts Javert, the police chief that originally sent him to prison, over Fantine's punishment, turns himself in to the police to save another man from prison for life, and rescues Cosette from the Thénardiers. Discovered by Javert in Paris because of his generosity to the poor, he evades capture for the next several years. He saves Marius from imprisonment and probable death at the barricade, reveals his true identity to Marius and Cosette after their wedding, and is reunited with them just before his death, having kept his promise to the bishop and to Fantine, the image of whom is the last thing he sees before dying. 

The inspiration for Jean Valjean began with an incident Hugo witnessed on the streets in Paris in 1829 involving three strangers and a police officer. One of the strangers was a man who had stolen a loaf of bread similar to Jean Valjean.  There are several actual events that Hugo observed that gave him the outline and some of the scenes in his books.  Valjean's character is loosely based on the life of the ex-convict Eugène François Vidocq.  Vidocq was a French criminal and criminalist whose life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo, Edgar Allan Poe, and Honoré de Balzac.  Vidocq became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency. Vidocq is considered to be the father of modern criminology and of the French police department.  He was also a businessman and was widely noted for his social (charitable) engagement and philanthropy.  In 1828, Vidocq, having been pardoned from his previous life of crime, saved one of the workers in his paper factory by lifting a heavy cart on his shoulders as Valjean does. Hugo's description of Valjean rescuing a sailor on the Orion drew almost word for word on a Baron La Roncière's letter describing such an incident. 

Continuing to draw from history, Hugo used Bienvenu de Miollis (1753–1843), the Bishop of Digne during the time in which Valjean encounters Myriel, as the model for Bishop Myriel.  

In our next post, we will meet the bishop along with Javert, the fanatic police inspector who implacably pursues Valjean throughout our musical.

Please take some time over this holiday and the next two weeks to get the story and music in your fingers, on your lips, through your minds, hearts and souls.  

Paco

Paco's POV: An Intro to Les Mis

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


As we prepare to attack this colossal show based on an immense classic novel, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions to begin to understand the theme(s.)  The two most obvious subjects we need to probe are: 

1.       Who are these miserable ones?  Why are they and their lives depressingly wretched and distressing. To introduce ourselves to our cast, we will need to look at where and when they lived and how their lives came to be so melancholically hopeless.  This bleak introductory query raises the second subject we will visit:

2.       The author of Les Misérables and his epic work, Victor Hugo. Who was he? Where and when did he live?  What did he intend to represent in this five book - 1,500 page historical fiction.  It is said that histories are written by the winners and too often reflect a very one-sided view of the events. This is clearly a work about the losers, a novel not too loosely based on history.

To address the latter concisely first:

Victor Marie Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. His most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831. Besides these two novels, Hugo is known primarily for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages.)  Though a committed royalist (think conservative) when he was young, Hugo's views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of  republicanism (which was a liberal tendency in the 19th century;) his work touches upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. He is buried in the Panthéon in Paris, an honor accorded to those who impact French culture and history for the ages.

Hugo, himself, explaining his ambitions for the novel to his Italian publisher tells us who the miserable ones are: “I don't know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbor slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind's wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: open up, I am here for you. “

So, in his five books, he wrote about his fellow citizens, the suffering people around him in France whom he observed were representative of the suffering people around the world.  He extrapolated life lessons from these vignettes and, by telling their stories, hoped to give these wretched miserables the recognition and place in history that he felt all humans deserved.  Set in the period beginning in 1815 (with the final collapse of Napoleon’s dreams of empire at Waterloo) and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption.  Jean Valjean is a French peasant who, after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child, decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade in  the center  of Paris 17 years after we met our protagonist.

That is as concisely as one can open the first pages of our adventure.  Please begin listening to the music: 

Get it in your ears, minds, hearts and souls. Imagine life in Paris in the early 19th century with the collapse of the economy and political structures after the ignominious defeat at Waterloo and the subsequent days and weeks of hardships and privations as your world has been turned upside down.  That is where our musical and we begin.  Enjoy the weekend and what, I promise, will be a life changing enterprise.

There's No Place Like Home!

There's No Place Like Home!

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Yesterday, a group of lucky Young Artists of America performed at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to celebrate the opening of their third floor renovation and Ruby Slipper Display return! They sang from The Wizard of Oz in Concert. Thank you so much to The Smithsonian for having us!

You can watch the performance here:

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Paco's POV: Why Do Shows Get Rewritten?

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


Why do shows get rewritten?  Times and contexts change, customs and social mores evolve and the conscience and sensibilities of the audience are affected by these progressions and developments.

Let’s start with two of the simplest examples to lay out and track, women and the indigenous Americans.  The first is the evolving situation or status of women in society and the American culture.  Today, in the news, we can easily see the struggles towards gender equality that are challenging our society.  Gender imparity has been a historical fact of life throughout civilizations around the world and the clashes that have occurred between the sexes are sometimes epic as the ebb and flow of time and history marches on.  

One of the earliest plays dedicated to this subject was Aristophanes’ comedy,Lysistrata, where the 5th century b.c.e. women of Greece contrive to end the Peloponnesian Wars by denying the men sex to get their attention and address their stupidity.  This play was actually written during those wars which shows what an effect on society theater and art can have and how plays and music can preserve history while delving into fiction.

Our play is situated in the late 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century.  During her youth, Phoebe Ann Mosey aka Annie Oakley lived in a society that held very strict views of a woman’s place in the community.  ‘Women of the theater’ were generically seen as having loose morals and few virtues.  For the young 15 year old Ohio farm girl to have the courage to step on a stage and compete with men was extraordinary and probably seen by some as outside the bounds of propriety.  To Annie’s credit, not only did she recognize this but dealt with it by adjusting her costumes – her dress was much more prim and proper than any on the stage, adjusting her behavior – she was calm, quietly in control and self-possessed, and by being better at her task and vocation than virtually any other marksman or woman in the country.  That having been said, it was still an up-hill climb to gain acceptance for who she was.

In the 40s, when the script and score for our musical were written, the viewpoints towards women had begun to change.  After all, the country and the world had just been through a second World War and the women of America had risen to the challenge of replacing the men in the factories, the shipyards, and most other preserves that had been generally male-populated till 1940.  Nevertheless, the score and lyrics of Annie still captures the tensions between men and women competing on an unequal plane and ‘theater women’ in the forties were still primarily seen as vamps with loose morals and questionable intentions.

By the 1990s, there had been significant motion in this area with the rise of the feminist movement and ‘female liberation,’ the subject needed to be cast in a contextually more understandable light for the new theater-goers and so the rewrite for the Kennedy Center revival that went to Broadway with Bernadette Peters and Co. was launched with new scores and a revision of the story by Peter Stone.  This adaptation addressed feminism and the other example of evolving viewpoints that provoked negative reactions from current day audiences.

American ‘history’ has been very unkind and untruthful (remember that histories are written by the winners and often need to be revisited to get a more accurate view of the facts and times) regarding the many tribes and nations of Amerindians on this continent.  Without trying to set this history aright in these few paragraphs, suffice it to say that the revised story and score for the Bernadette Peters and Co. revival wrote out much of the more difficult treatments of American Indians as the story shifted focus.

It behooves all of us to learn more about the Sioux, Chippewa, Cherokee, Seminole, Navaho, Apache and countless other tribes and nations that existed on this continent before western Europeans escaping their own history and injustices used the concept and cry of Manifest Destiny to inflict gross injustices on the indigenous of the Americas and destroy their history.  An in-depth investigation of these subjects is for another time, for now try to learn, understand and immerse yourselves in this musical so that we can, as Leonard Bernstein said – ‘sound like the composer.’

"I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer."

Paco

Paco's POV: Annie - An American Phenomenon

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


Mr. Berlin’s Annie…. became an international phenomenon shortly after its opening.

Annie Get Your Gun premiered on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances with Ethel Merman starring as Annie and Ray Middleton as Frank Butler.  Enjoying its popularity, the musical toured the U.S. from October 3, 1947, starting in Dallas, Texas with Mary Martin as Annie. This tour also played Chicago and Los Angeles. Martin stayed with the tour until mid-1948.  It also had international appeal and success starting with its West End premiere on June 7, 1947 at the London Coliseum where it ran for 1,304 performances and an Australian production that opened at His Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne on July 19, 1947.

The popular music translated well conveying the American culture and a French version, Annie du Far-West began production at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 19 February 1950 and ran for over a year. Its first Broadway revival was in 1966 at the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. This production opened on May 31, 1966 and ran until July 9, followed by a short 10-week U.S. Tour. It returned to Broadway at the Broadway Theatre on September 21 for 78 performances. Ethel Merman reprised her original role as Annie with Bruce Yarnell as Frank. The libretto and score were revised: The secondary romance between Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate was completely eliminated, including their songs "I'll Share it All With You" and "Who Do You Love, I Hope?", and the song "An Old-Fashioned Wedding" was specially written for the revival and added to the second act. This version of the show is the one we are performing and was the production version telecast in an abbreviated ninety-minute version by NBC on March 19, 1967.

In 1976, there was a Spanish-language version produced in Mexico City with the name of Annie es un tiro.  In 1977, Gower Champion directed a revival for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera starring Debbie Reynolds as Annie.  And in 1986 it returned to London via a David Gilmore production, with American rock star Suzi Quatro as Annie and Eric Flynn as Frank, opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England.

In 1999, a new production had its pre-Broadway engagement at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. This revival starred Bernadette Peters as Annie and Tom Wopat as Frank. This production had a revised book by Peter Stone and new orchestrations, and was structured as a "show-within-a-show", set as a Big Top travelling circus. "Frank Butler" is alone on stage and Buffalo Bill introduces the main characters, singing "There's No Business Like Show Business", which is reprised when "Annie" agrees to join the traveling Wild West show. The production dropped several songs (including "Colonel Buffalo Bill", "I'm A Bad, Bad Man", and "I'm an Indian Too"), but included "An Old-Fashioned Wedding". There were several major dance numbers added, including a ballroom scene.  In this version, the final shooting match between Annie and Frank ends in a tie.

Why was the show rewritten?  Shows reflect a snippet of the history, the culture and the mores of ‘its’ age.  By the late 90s, the mores and conscience of America had moved on several of the subjects depicted in the original including the roles of women, the place of American indigenous in history, and New World history as a whole.  Next time we will try to understand the times in the 40s, the 90s and now to get a better view of our musical.

 Paco



Paco's POV: Meet Mr. Berlin

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


So today meet our composer: Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989)

Irving Berlin (born Israel Beilin) was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. His music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook. Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He was one of eight children of Moses and Lena Lipkin Beilin. His father, a cantor in a synagogue, uprooted the family to America, as did many other Jewish families in the late 19th century. In 1893 they settled in New York City. Upon their arrival at Ellis Island, the name "Beilin" was changed to "Baline". According to biographer Laurence Bergreen, as an adult Berlin admitted to no memories of his first five years in Russia except for one: "he was lying on a blanket by the side of a road, watching his house burn to the ground. By daylight the house was in ashes." As an adult, Berlin said he was unaware of being raised in abject poverty since he knew no other life.

Tsar Alexander III of Russia and then Tsar Nicholas II, his son, had revived with utmost brutality the anti-Jewish pogroms, which created the spontaneous mass exodus to America. The pogroms were to continue until 1906, with thousands of other Jewish families also needing to escape, including those of George and Ira Gershwin, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, L. Wolfe Gilbert, Jack Yellen, Louis B. Mayer (of MGM), and the Warner brothers. When they reached Ellis Island, Israel was put in a pen with his brother and five sisters until immigration officials declared them fit to be allowed into the city.

He published his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy", in 1907, receiving 33 cents for the publishing rights, and had his first major international hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1911. He also was an owner of the Music Box Theatre on Broadway. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" sparked an international dance craze in places as far away as Berlin's native Russia, which also "flung itself into the ragtime beat with an abandon bordering on mania." Over the years he was known for writing music and lyrics in the American vernacular: uncomplicated, simple and direct, with his stated aim being to "reach the heart of the average American," whom he saw as the "real soul of the country." In doing so, said Walter Cronkite, at Berlin's 100th birthday tribute, he "helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives."

He wrote hundreds of songs, many becoming major hits, which made him a legend before he turned thirty. During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Many songs became popular themes and anthems, including "Easter Parade", "White Christmas", "Happy Holiday", "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)", and "There's No Business Like Show Business". His Broadway musical and 1943 film This is the Army, with Ronald Reagan, had Kate Smith singing Berlin's "God Bless America" which was first performed in 1938.  

Note that Mr. Berlin lived a full century and his contributions to the American music book and to American culture span many subjects and eras.  We will investigate the time when he wrote our musical and the time the musical was set in in our next email.

Paco

-- 

Francisco José Cosió Marron

YAA Orchestra ManagerYoung Artists of America at Strathmore

Paco's POV: Historical Background on Annie Get Your Gun

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YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!


Today we are going to delve into our musical trying to get some background and history on the work. Annie Get Your Gun is a musical with lyrics and music by Irving Berlin and a book by Dorothy Fields and her brother Herbert Fields. The story is a fictionalized version of the life of Annie Oakley (1860–1926), a sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and her romance with sharpshooter Frank E. Butler (1847–1926).

Dorothy Fields had the idea for a musical about Annie Oakley, to star her friend, Ethel Merman. Producer Mike Todd turned the project down, so Fields approached a new producing team, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Remember, YAA did an R&H show last season.  After the success of their first musical collaboration, Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein had decided to become producers of both their own theatrical ventures and those by other authors. They agreed to produce the musical and asked Jerome Kern to compose the music; Fields would write the lyrics, and she and her brother Herbert would write the book. Kern, who had been composing for movie musicals in Hollywood, returned to New York on November 2, 1945 to begin work on the score to Annie Get Your Gun, but three days later, he collapsed on the street due to a cerebral hemorrhage. Kern was hospitalized, and he died on November 11, 1945. The producers and Fields then asked Irving Berlin to write the musical's score; Fields agreed to step down as lyricist, knowing that Berlin preferred to write both music and lyrics to his songs. Berlin initially declined to write the score, worrying that he would be unable to write songs to fit specific scenes in "a situation show."  Hammerstein persuaded him to study the script and try writing some songs based on it, and within days, Berlin returned with the songs "Doin' What Comes Naturally", "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun", and "There's No Business Like Show Business". Berlin's songs suited the story and Ethel Merman's abilities, and he readily composed the rest of the score to Annie Get Your Gun. The show's eventual hit song, "There's No Business Like Show Business," was almost left out of the show because Berlin mistakenly got the impression that Richard Rodgers did not like it. In imitation of the structure of Oklahoma! a secondary romance between two of the members of the Wild West Show was added to the musical during its development.

Written towards the end of the second World War, the American public was hungry for diversions from the hardships of the war effort and to be transported beyond the harsh realities of the immense loss of life and treasure. The idealizing of the “Wild West” was further abetted by the undercurrents of manifest destiny that had existed in the American psyche since the founding of the country. Because of that, some of the songs and thoughts behind them were more easily accepted or ignored then than they would be now. We will discuss this further in a different email covering history, reality, political correctness and the evolution of “American” thought. Though this musical is highly fictionalized, many of the characters were historical and it helps to understand the story line if we can get a sense of who was whom. First we take a short look at progenitor of the “Wild West Show” Buffalo Bill Cody.

William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846 – 1917) was an American scout, bison hunter, and showman. He was born in Le Claire, Iowa Territory (now the U.S. state of Iowa), but he lived for several years in his father's hometown in Toronto Township, Ontario, Canada, before the family returned to the Midwest and settled in the Kansas Territory. Buffalo Bill started working at the age of eleven, after his father's death, and became a rider for the Pony Express at age 14. During the American Civil War, he served the Union from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. Later he served as a civilian scout for the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1872. The title “Colonel” was an honorific that was at times ascribed to veterans of the Civil War.

One of the most colorful figures of the American Old West, Buffalo Bill's legend began to spread when he was only twenty-three. Shortly thereafter he started performing in shows that displayed cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and Indian Wars. He founded Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1883, taking his large company on tours in the United States and, beginning in 1887, in Great Britain and continental Europe.

Cody received the nickname "Buffalo Bill" after the American Civil War, when he had a contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo (American bison) meat. Cody is purported to have killed 4,282 buffalo in eighteen months in 1867 and 1868. Cody and another hunter, Bill Comstock, competed in an eight-hour buffalo-shooting match over the exclusive right to use the name, which Cody won by killing 68 animals to Comstock's 48. Comstock, part Cheyenne and a noted hunter, scout, and interpreter, used a fast-shooting Henry repeating rifle, while Cody competed with a larger-caliber Springfield Model 1866, which he called Lucretia Borgia, after the notorious beautiful, ruthless Italian noblewoman, the subject of a popular contemporary Victor Hugo opera Lucrezia Borgia. Cody explained that while his formidable opponent, Comstock, chased after his buffalo, engaging from the rear of the herd and leaving a trail of killed buffalo "scattered over a distance of three miles", Cody—likening his strategy to a billiards player "nursing" his billiard balls during "a big run"—first rode his horse to the front of the herd to target the leaders, forcing the followers to one side, eventually causing them to circle and create an easy target, and dropping them close together.

Paco

Francisco José Cosió Marron

YAA Orchestra Manager
Young Artists of America at Strathmore