The Pokémon Go Theme. Hava Nagila. Viola Concerto in G Major. What do these three wildly different pieces have in common? They are all a part of the incredibly diverse and compelling repertoire of the Community Intergenerational Action Orchestra (CIAO), and its smaller but just as formidable sibling FutureCIAO. The two ensembles performed these pieces and a wealth of others on May 30th in St. John’s Episcopal Church for no cost, and anyone in attendance could attest to their talent, skill, and optimism.
CIAO and FutureCIAO are both directed by James Bergin (affectionately referred to as “Jimmy” by members of the orchestras), a seasoned teacher well known to all student musicians at Greylock, if not all musicians in Berkshire County. Bergin has a degree in Music Theory from the New England Conservatory of Music, plays multiple instruments in multiple orchestras, and has received a prestigious award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for his skills in composing. In addition to the many other responsibilities he already has, Bergin also occasionally plays with the Mount Greylock High School Orchestra during concerts.
CIAO, true to its name, is a small string ensemble comprised of all generations, from Greylock high schoolers to people who have been playing instruments for decades. FutureCIAO was founded to provide some younger children experience playing in an orchestra before they graduate to CIAO, and as such is mostly made up of middle schoolers and younger children. The groups rehearse weekly and perform once a month at Sweetbrook. Concerts at St. John’s are rarer, but worth the wait. While the performances are free, CIAO always accepts donations to benefit a good cause. This past Wednesday, it was the ROOTS Northern Berkshire Teen Center, but past concerts have supported the Berkshire Immigrant Center, the Berkshire Food Pantry, and many others.
Something that sets CIAO apart from other youth orchestras is the diversity of its pieces. Namely, its inclusion of pieces composed by students. In Wednesday’s concert, there were two: “Dancing in the Graveyard” by the ever-inventive and talented Sam Tucker-Smith, and “Half Past Nine” by Krishan Rai. The former is described by Tucker-Smith to be “an attempt to create a juxtaposition of show-biz flair and misery. It’s kind of like putting a ‘happy birthday’ balloon on a tombstone.” The piece most definitely lives up to its austere but strangely cheerful description, and CIAO perfectly illustrates the blend of musical styles that only Tucker-Smith could pull off. The latter work, Rai’s, is equally compelling. The composer states that the work “toys with the idea of a dance, and eventually devolves into orchestral madness.” Yet again, a masterpiece from the student composers of CIAO. The orchestra is enriched and made a thousand times more interesting with its encouragement of creativity, a sentiment that is not often shared by other orchestras, unfortunately.
To get a better perspective of CIAO and what it means to Greylock students involved, the Echo asked a few participants what they enjoy the most about CIAO and what sets it apart from doing music independently or in other orchestras. Freshman violinist Michael Faulkner claims that “there’s so many enjoyable things that it’s hard to point to one thing and say ‘that’s the reason it’s so enjoyable,’ but if I had to I would have to say going up to Sweetbrook every month to get active playing experience. It’s a lot of fun to be able to perform once a month without the pressures of a regular concert. You can get valuable playing experience and at the same time provide entertainment to the elderly. As for the second part, I’d say probably the atmosphere. Generally everyone has a lot of positive energy and we all kind of bounce it off each other, and we’re always looking forward to playing. There’s kind of … a group energy that’s always wanting to play more and enjoy ourselves.”
Sam Tucker-Smith, composer and seventh grader, adds that “[CIAO] is a great way to experience music in a group setting and share my music, and my love of music, and the music everybody creates, with others. And Jimmy Bergin, he is one of the kindest people you will ever meet, one of the most enthusiastic people you will ever meet, one of the most supportive people you will ever meet, one of the most hilarious people you will ever meet, etc. etc. etc. CIAO is a very supportive and enthusiastic group. I know you can find that in other orchestras, but CIAO is different because everybody is so supportive and enthusiastic and fun to be around. Also, with my composition, and Krishan’s composition, and the mini soloist pieces, you get a chance to showcase your talent.”