Sometimes it is good to have connections, particularly when that connection is a Garden City native enrolled at Juilliard.
On Sept. 2, thanks to Garden City High School alumnus and collaborative pianist Kristen Doering, Garden City, along with eight other fellow Juilliard-trained artists, will perform the debut of The American Fusion Project, the brainchild of Doering.
Three of the students who will be performing in the show, Maria Im, Colin Stokes and Jake Alan Nelson, accompanied Doering to Garden City this week and held orchestra and theater tech workshops with GCHS orchestra students Thursday and Friday morning. They also held a workshop with fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Dominic Catholic School Friday.
During a workshop with Summer Miller’s orchestra class at GCHS Thursday morning, Im, a violinist and Stokes, a cellist, performed a piece by Beethoven and then offered some tips to the students.
Im said that playing in a duo requires extremely fast reflexes.
“It’s all about adjusting. Your reflexes are trained to change in a split second,” she said, acknowledging that playing in an orchestra makes that more difficult. “But for us, even for only two of us, we have to be able to change at that very moment, so being able to play together is also a practice of getting those cat-like reflexes, because (in a duo) you can’t hide behind 50 other people.”
During the session, Miller asked Im and Stokes to share their experiences while playing in their own public high school’s orchestras.
“Just so they know there are possibilities — I was talking to the kids about that, how Garden City is not the end of the world. There are possibilities, and you can take what you learn here and go forth and make music,” Miller said.
Stokes, from Gettysburg, Penn., with a population of around 7,000, said that in addition to playing in his high school orchestra, he took private lessons and practiced on his own.
“So it doesn’t really matter where you grow up,” he said.
Following Im’s and Stokes’ performance, Doering accompanied Nelson, a baritone singer, in a performance of “Nocturne,” by Samuel Barber, a piece that Nelson said will be featured in the show.
Doering graduated from GCHS in 2007, and, after obtaining her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kansas in 2012, applied to Juilliard, a school known for being extremely difficult to get into.
“I didn’t even think about it as a possibility when I was solo, because I thought there was no way,” Doering said.
But when she switched her major to collaborative piano, Doering realized that Juilliard was one of only a few schools that offered the program.
After a nail-biting few weeks, she learned she was accepted. She is now in her final year at Juilliard, where she is pursuing a master’s in music degree in collaborative piano.
In 2013, the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation awarded Doering the Eleanor B. Weiler and Mildred B. Frame Piano Scholarship with which she furthered her language and musical studies in Paris, France, where Doering made her European debut at the Schola Cantorum de Paris alongside vocalist, Elizabeth Fildes, a mezzo soprano.
Doering has never lost sight of where she comes from and every chance she gets, she shares her gift and the gift of other highly talented artists with her hometown.
Following their performance in Paris, Doering and Fildes performed in Garden City last August and despite there only being a few weeks notice, the performance drew 350 people.
It is that kind of support from her hometown that inspired her to create the American Fusion Project, the debut of which will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the GCHS auditorium, 2720 Buffalo Way Blvd.
“I just felt like I can bring that back, I can share part of my world with the people who supported me to get there. That’s really how the idea came about,” Doering said.
Her idea was to fuse the piano, violin and cello with dance, poetry and drama into one performance.
According to a press release provided by Doering, The American Fusion Project (AFP) is inspired by the poem, “A True Account of Talking with the Sun on Fire Island,” by American poet Frank O’Hara, and combines music, dance, and drama from eight Juilliard-trained artists.
The poem was given to each artist to internalize, allowing each to connect with the poem through their own chosen music by American composers, new dance choreography, acting, and new composition. Once these interpretations were developed, the group came together to create one, fluid presentation of the eight interpretations.
Following its debut in Garden City, the American Fusion Project will make stops in Lawrence and Kansas City. The entire tour will be documented by photographer Jiyang Chen and videographer Richard Ross.
“The long-term goal is to tour this project all over the country for the next two years,” Stokes said, adding that having a video and photo package of the tour will help them “sell” the concept.
Doering hopes to make more stops in Kansas.
“There are places all across Kansas that would welcome a group,” Doering said. “So the goal is to extend it and why not? We’re a small enough group that we can be mobile enough to do all those things.”
She also has plans beyond the current project.
“We‘re hoping to tour this exact program — like this is the premier tour — and then we tour this concert for maybe a school year or longer, and, as we’re touring it, start to produce a new show that will happen in 2016,” Doering said. “And the beginning of each tour will be coming back to Garden City.”
Advance tickets are $12.50 and $15 at the door. Student/children tickets are $5.
Ten percent of the ticket revenue will go to a local charity in Garden City.
As of Friday afternoon, 443 of the available 701 tickets had already been sold, so Doering is encouraging people to purchase tickets in advance.
Advance tickets are available at www.arts-fi.com and the following locations: Patrick Dugan’s Coffee House; The Clarion Hotel; Commerce Bank on Main St.; and El Conquistador Restaurant.
In addition to Doering, Im, Stokes and Nelson, this year’s Fusion cast features Gabriel Medina, composer; Taylor Hansen, dance; Kyle Weiler, dance; Cleo Person, dance.