Newsletter | September 2017


Broadway Comes to the Mountains

“Dreams only come true if you pursue them”

This is not only the north star guiding Jacque Carnahan’s career path, it is the central message of her one-woman-show, From Main Street to 42nd Street, which she will bring to Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Bowman Theatre on Saturday, October 21, at 4:30 pm, to highlight the school’s Family Weekend.

As Artistic Director of Believe NYC, Jacque educates and motivates young aspiring actors, dancers, and musicians from around the country as they travel to New York.  Offering workshops, performances, and Q-and-A’s with New York City professionals, Believe NYC helps eager artistic students learn about career opportunities in the performing arts.  As Artistic Director of her own company, Jacque knows that even the most impossible dreams can come true.

Indeed, “impossible” is not a word that exits in Jacque Carnahan’s vocabulary.  From a young age, Jacque learned that with hard work, impossible dreams are attainable.  She first learned this lesson at Idyllwild Arts Summer Program.  Once Jacque had a taste of Idyllwild’s training she knew, “I have to be at the Academy!”  She officially had the theatre bug, and Idyllwild Academy was the only answer.  Even with the financial aid offered, however, her parents could not make ends meet.  They did not know what to do.  Her Idyllwild dream seemed impossible.

“So I decided to write to all of the people who supported the arts in my community and ask for money.”  12-year-old Jacque mailed hundreds of letters to anyone whom she could imagine might help.  “I was crazy!”  Yet, somehow, her “crazy” idea worked.  Over a hundred people, inspired by her perseverance and ambition, donated a total of around 40 thousand dollars towards her education. From that moment on, Jacque learned that impossible dreams come true, just in unexpected ways.

Jacque adored her time at Idyllwild.  “Being around the excellence at Idyllwild when you’re young stays with you. You feel you can do more.”  She continued on to train at Boston Conservatory, and then moved to New York.  Favorite acting credits include The National Tour of Cinderella, originating the role of Lydia in the Off-Broadway production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at NYMF, and The Baker’s Wife at The York Theatre.  She continues to send her supporters updates, ever grateful for helping her career get on its feet. Some of those supporters continued to donate to Idyllwild Arts even after Jacque’s graduation. And, Jacque awarded the second annual Believe NYC scholarship to Idyllwild Arts alum, Mauricio Fernandez. “Once I experienced the generosity of others it became important to me to give back.”

Jacque has continued her passion to make the impossible possible.  In Junes 2016 and 2017, she co-produced the first annual Arts for Autism benefit concerts at the historic Gershwin Theatre. Hosted by Broadway superstar Kelli O’Hara, each benefit raised $36,000 and $45,000 for Autism Speaks, respectively.  Over 30 Broadway performers, hundreds of prospective artists from around the country, and students on the Autism spectrum came together to use theatre as a tool to motivate change and understanding.  Jacque also got her Broadway debut!

The next impossible dream she is pursuing?  “Writing two new musicals.”  Jacque continues to challenge herself with new artistic pursuits.  She is forever grateful to Idyllwild for opening the doors of what an arts education can do.

The Gift of Youth

“In the master class at Idyllwild,” according to Sara Davis Buechner, “the main thing will be improving the connection between performer and listener.”

The master pianist who will teach Idyllwild Arts Academy’s piano majors on September 25th, knows all about connecting with listeners. That knowledge will be displayed on campus the following day in a concert that, like all performances at the Academy, will be free and open to the public.

“I’ll play works of Mozart, Chopin, and Gershwin–they all died too young, so there’s something of the gift of youth to convey in their works.”

Buechner, who “knew from her earliest memories she would be a musician,” began studying piano at the age of three, in her home in Baltimore. Her personal experience of the gift of youth includes being awarded the American Pianists Association’s first Beethoven Fellowship when in her early twenties and then, five years later, winning the bronze medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Having already released almost twenty CD’s, she says “I couldn’t be more pleased to have youth on my mind” while looking forward to teaching Idyllwild Arts Academy’s teenagers and preparing for “my biggest project to date.” That’s her next recording, a year from now. It will be of a live broadcast from Kyoto, Japan, of the complete sonatas of the composer whose name represents precocious brilliance like no other: Mozart.

Immediately preceded by visits to Montreal and Vienna and ahead of travels to Edmonton, New York, Oakland, and Tokyo, Buechner’s Idyllwild performance can be expected to showcase what one reviewer of a New York concert this past June called her “thundering fortissimos and chiseled passagework, as well as lyrical moments colored by a poetic sensitivity that was tempered by wit and judicious restraint.”

Family Affair

Several members of Thailand’s musical Yontararak family will perform on Tuesday, October 10, at 7:30 pm, in the William M. Lowman Concert Hall on the Idyllwild Arts campus.

The family boasts a pair of award-winning pianists: Nat Yontararak and his son, Pana. The elder Yontararak is also a composer, one of whose works was presented at the United Nations in 1995 to commemorate the General Assembly’s fiftieth session. But Nat has been known primarily as a performer ever since he won first prize in the Siam Music Festival in 1971, when he was only sixteen. He has toured Europe as well as the United States, often performing in order to raise money for his favorite causes, including elephant conservation and bone-marrow transplants.

Nat promotes classical music in his native country by running his own music school, staffed in part by his family. Thailand’s classical music scene is also enriched by the Sala Sudasiri Sobha concert hall, which he designed and built—Nat holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture—and which hosts performances by the country’s finest young musicians.

As for Nat Yontararak’s son, Pana, his prizes include a second in the Concours de Piano de Chatou, in France, and a third in the Riviera della Versilia Piano Competition, in Italy. He achieved a significant breakthrough by becoming the first pianist from his country to be accepted by and to graduate from the prestigious Francesco Morlacchi Conservatory, in Perugia. Having inherited his father’s philanthropic impulses, Pana has toured the United States annually for many years to raise funds to combat blood diseases.

Music from the Underbelly

The William M. Lowman Concert Hall’s world-class acoustics—designed by the acoustics engineers for the Sydney Opera House—will enhance the sounds of an unusual concert on the Idyllwild Arts campus next month.

California-born composer Braden Diotte’s electroacoustic work, General Manifest, will be presented on Saturday, October 14, at 7:30 pm.

Diotte teaches Electronics for Artists at Idyllwild Arts Academy. With the cutting-edge General Manifest, whose recording is planned for release next year, he aimed to “create a piece to pay tribute to the fleeting music that I’ve witnessed emanating from the underbelly of thousands of tons of rolling stock over a twenty-year span in which I was riding freight trains about the American west.”

He recalls the train rides beginning “with an infatuation with the mystery of howling train horns in the night, wondering where they’d come from and where they were headed.” They took Diotte “further and further from home,” exposing him to “lethal dangers” that were “a few steps away in any direction.” But eventually “an unusual feeling of calm settled in,” evoked by General Manifest.

He is a multi-instrumentalist who holds an M.F.A. in Experimental Sound Practices from the California Institute of the Arts. More of Diotte’s experimental work will be on display in downtown Los Angeles on November 17 and in the UK from November 23 to December 1, on tour as a guest collaborator with the pioneering German krautrock band Faust.

Next year, in addition to the release of his recording of General Manifest, Diotte looks forward to premiering Extraordinary Angels. Written for synthesizers, voice, and percussion, this composition is inspired by the stories of alien abduction from the Southern California desert that became epidemic after the end of the Second World War.

FACULTY FOCUS: Derrick Ortega

Don’t expect Derrick Ortega’s book of poetry, which University of Arizona Press will publish next year, to test your coffee table’s muscles.

“Poetry books might top out at around eighty pages,” Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Poet in Residence explains. “The language is so compressed in its imagistic appeal to the senses that you exhaust your readers by going on for much longer.”

His forthcoming chapbook, from Three Count Pour Press, will be even shorter.

But poetic language in its brevity can work miraculous feats of strength. Derrick’s plan is for one such feat, that of reconciliation, to be the subject of his doctoral thesis, for which he’ll begin his studies at USC or one of the Southern California UC’s in the fall of 2018.

“A doctoral thesis in Poetry requires a manuscript of poetry along with a critical forward of sixty or so pages. I want my poems for the thesis to respond to how Juan Felipe Herrera [1948-] and Li-Young Lee [1957-] use poetry as a means of reconciliation, as well as to how the work of Fred Moten [1962-] rejects that possibility.”

Reconciliation presupposes anger and division, and Derrick concedes that anger can be justified.

“I try to make my poetry as democratic as possible. One of its motives is to expose some of the traumas that are present in contemporary America, but that aren’t always visible.”

He calls the specifically Latino concerns of his work “present, though not central,” since trauma is not limited to that often marginalized community.

“For example, the working class obviously is not all Latino.”

Poet in Residence is a two-year appointment at the Academy. This year Derrick is teaching the Creative Writing Department’s Introductory and Advanced Poetry Workshops, plus its Multi-Genre Workshop for non-majors, as he did in 2016-2017.

“I’m essentially a poet, but I love every kind of writing.”


Ashley Leung was still eating when she spoke via Skype this past June. It was seven in the morning in Hong Kong, but the temperature was almost eighty degrees and the humidity was in the low nineties, with thunderstorms predicted every day for the foreseeable future.

“Excuse me,” she said as she stood up from the breakfast table. “I have to turn on the AC.”

Her face looked unhappy when it reappeared on the screen.

“I’m not sure it’s working. If you come to Hong Kong, you won’t complain if it’s cold and raining when you go back to Idyllwild.”

Idyllwild Arts Academy’s rising eleventh-grader had recently returned home from Hubei Province, in eastern China, more than five hundred miles north of Hong Kong. There, in a town called Songzi, an Arts Enterprise Laboratory grant had enabled Ashley and five classmates to teach music and visual arts in a primary school that “less than twenty years ago didn’t even have money for books.”

She knows this because a friend of her father had studied there and later donated two dozen computers.

“We were at the school for the whole day, every day for a week.”

Ashley, a violinist, was joined by classical pianist Wanying Cao, Voice majors Chris Luan and Abby Xiao, and Visual Arts majors Martin Guo and Lynn Ling.

“We were exhausted at the end of every day,” Ashley admits, “but it was worth it to work with the kids on how to be creative—to draw outside the lines or play outside the musical line without feeling they would be punished.”

Early in the interview she had said that she likes the beach. Weather permitting, would she go today?

She laughs.

“Summer here isn’t really summer. It’s for advancing yourself, so I’m doing pre-calculus, AP Economics, and SAT Biology.”

EYE ON ALUMNI: Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee’s We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter, published on September 19 by HarperCollins, is a response to the demand created by her hugely successful TED talk, “10 ways to have a better conversation.”

For her daily National Public Radio show, On Second Thought, the Music Theatre major from Idyllwild Arts Academy’s first graduating class, in 1987, must coax conversation out of guests who, like many of us, have fallen into the habit of communicating from behind electronic screens. Hiding your phone—not simply putting it down, since a cell phone’s mere presence can be distracting—is one of her many proven, practical suggestions for strengthening our connections to one another.

Celeste’s interest in genuine conversation may have been provoked by the difficulty she experienced, in public school before coming to Idyllwild, in talking about things she “didn’t give a damn about.”

“I’d managed to fit in: I was a cheerleader! But pretending to be someone other than who I was—the kid who had memorized the entire score of Evita—was a tremendous strain. Idyllwild Arts was full of kids who’d experienced the same strain, and suddenly we could be ourselves.”

The brand-new school’s tiny Music Theatre program allowed her to take oboe lessons while also cultivating her love of Broadway. As her voice matured, she discovered that it was as well suited for opera as for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“I’m a lyric coloratura soprano and I still perform.”

Besides hosting her show, singing professionally, and traveling the world for speaking engagements, Celeste has raised a son, now in college. She emphasized the necessity of a strong work ethic when speaking at this spring’s special luncheon for graduating Academy seniors.

“Talented people are everywhere. You can only separate yourself through hard work.”