UH Composers Making Music with Kashmere Gardens Students

Students’ Poetry Inspiring Songs, Music Written by UH students, alums

When University of Houston composers team up with fourth and fifth grade poets from Kashmere Gardens Elementary School, the musical possibilities are limitless.

Led by Writers in the Schools (WITS) teacher Deborah Mouton, 18 Kashmere Gardens students composed poems that are being developed into songs by UH music students and alums. Poems focused on emotions, colors, Houston and other topics. Houstonians can experience the results of this collaboration during a special concert at 4 p.m., June 3 at Kashmere Community Center (4802 Lockwood Dr.). This performance is free and open to the public.

This creative union was made possible through the efforts of UH’s Moores School of Music (MSM), WITS and Houston Grand Opera’s community collaborative initiative, HGOco.

“It’s been an interesting experience,” said UH composer and alumnus George Heathco. “I had to spend time with the text – getting into it, reading it. Since it’s not my own text, I had to put myself into it and perhaps insert some of my own experiences into the words.”

Other composers for this project include alums Desmond Ikegwuonu and Phillip Elder, masters students Daniel Webbon and Samuel Hunter and doctoral candidate Mark Buller. Music will be performed by the composers and other MSM students with vocals from HGO baritone Lee Gregory and HGOco teaching artists Alisa White and Kiana Day.

The process has been a learning experience for both the UH composers and the Kashmere Gardens students. Just as the fourth- and fifth-graders learned about poetry, the composers are receiving lessons in maintaining the lyrical integrity of a musical work.

“I want to stay true to what they wrote,” said Ikegwuonu, who graduated with his master’s degree earlier this month. “I’ll definitely take liberties with my own text. When I’m given text written by someone else, I try to delve deeply into their words.”

The June 3 concert also will feature the premiere of an original opera created by Kashmere Gardens students under the leadership of Alisa White, Kiana Day and Kashmere teacher Stephen Ferrell based on the picture book “The Quiltmaker’s Gift.”

UH’s partnership with HGOco, WITS and Kashmere Gardens complements other musical initiatives. Earlier this year, UH and HGOco teamed up with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to deliver western-themed music that was performed at UH and around the city.

“We have not met the students who wrote these poems,” Heathco said. “But, we look forward to seeing their reactions when the work is set to music. As someone who writes music, it’s always interesting to hear my work performed by someone else. I’m sure it will be fun for them to listen to their words performed on stage.”