Yoni Fogelman

Cultural Artists Spotlight: March 25 – April 7, 2020

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I compose classical music for choirs and instrumental groups. As a kid, I was always singing, and eventually I got to the point where I had to write melodies of my own. I sat down at my bedroom keyboard, improvised until I heard something I liked, and ran with the idea. To this day, that process remains majorly unchanged. What has changed, thanks to the Burbank arts community, is my ability to present my music in front of an audience. My first opportunity to do so was in 2017, during my sophomore year at John Burroughs High School. I was a member of the “Powerhouse” Chamber Choir, and I was determined to write a piece for us to sing. I approached our director, Brendan Jennings, and showed him a few choral pieces I had written. He graciously programmed one of them in the following year’s concert, and my music was suddenly out in the world. The following year, I wrote two more pieces for Powerhouse, and this past fall, I got to combine my love for music with my devotion to my faith. I set music to one of the Hebrew Psalms, and I taught it to Powerhouse, relating the music to the Biblical text.

My growing experience as a choral composer encouraged me to write instrumental music as well. I continued composing on the piano, and learned about the different abilities and functions of the instruments in the orchestra. This experience prepared me for the spring of 2019 when I was presented with my first opportunity to write instrumental music as part of the Sunset ChamberFest music festival. At the festival, I got to work with professional composers to write a violin duet entitled “As Mist Falls Over Calm Water” (linked). I was so thrilled to meet a community of living composers, and I grew more certain that composition was the right path for me. Through Sunset ChamberFest, I was introduced to a community of passionate artists, and I learned about  two composer fellowships that have since heightened my musicianship and quality of life.

The first is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program. Alongside other high-school-aged composers, I attend weekly classes at Walt Disney Concert Hall where we are assigned musicians to write music for. In the fall of 2019, I wrote a piece for violin, viola, and cello. In the winter, I was tasked to write an orchestra piece for the American Youth Symphony. Currently, I am working on a piece for flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet, inspired by another Biblical text, the Tower of Babel. I am so honored to write music for professional musicians, receive mentorships from kind, accomplished composers, and befriend a community of teenagers who love writing music as much as I do. This fellowship has become a highlight of my life, as it has combined my love for composing with my desire to be part of a social network of artists.

I am equally grateful for my composer fellowship with the Pasadena Master Chorale. Since September 2019, I have been working with composer mentors to write two new pieces for the city choir. After singing in vocal groups throughout my life, it is a dream come true to write music for a professional choir. Twice a month, I meet with the mentors and the other young composers to learn about choral music and prepare for the performance of our music. Like the LA Phil fellowship, I am so thankful to write music beside other people who love the craft and want to express their true selves. I am particularly emotional about my partnership with the Master Chorale because it allows me to look back at my own development, beginning as a young kid who loved to sing and maturing into a musician and composer who continues to discover himself through music.

My experiences as a budding composer confirm that I cannot describe what I do simply by tracing my compositional process or listing the pieces I have written. I am just as devoted to telling stories and connecting to an audience with my music, and I desire to employ my music to connect with people for the rest of my life.

How did you first become interested in music?
My earliest memories of music are listening to CDs that my dad burned for me – kind of like mixtapes from father to son. These were full of The Beach Boys, Elton John, The Monkeys, The Everly Brothers – music that’s always seemed hip to me because it was the music I grew up with. My second most vivid musical memory is singing prayers at Hebrew school. I would sing loudly and enthusiastically, and I was so happy doing it. I sang in the glee club in elementary school, and I continued singing and performing in Christine DeMore’s choir program at Jordan Middle School. Meanwhile, I began taking piano lessons, and by the eighth grade, I was writing short piano pieces in my bedroom. Becoming a composer was a faint vision, but I already began to consider it a possible future.

How does art enrich a community, and what are some ways people can engage with art in Burbank?
Art offers an invaluable opportunity to share experiences with other community members. In as populous and commercial a community as Burbank, we are so focused on our own private projects. We need time to take a break from our work, appreciate the world around us, and be entertained with other people from our neighborhoods. I have most directly experienced the power of art in our community through our high school performing arts departments. Our choir, band, dance, and drama shows get hundreds of community members to come together in a shared space and consider what is being presented onstage. Often, art brings to the forefront questions of morality, love, or status quo, and by taking a break from work and facing these topics as a community, we can reflect on how they impact our personal world views and our interpersonal interactions. Ideally, the community will be enriched by observing caricatures of life through art and considering how we can best conduct ourselves as good people through these observations.

In Burbank, it is so easy to engage with art! The schools have professional-caliber shows ALL THE TIME. Students are constantly singing, dancing, acting, and we frequently go around the community to perform. Meanwhile, the Colony Theatre and the Gary Marshall Theatre put on productions year round, and local groups like the Burbank Chamber Music Society put on free classical music concerts for the community. Organizations like Burbank Arts for All and Musicians at Play offer great opportunities for community members to support both performers and visual artists.

If you could share with our community one thing about art, what would it be?
Art is not meant to be enjoyed only by other artists. I think many people perceive artists to be a separate group of people, but the arts are meant to bring everyone in the community together. I want everyone in our community to realize that we can all appreciate and learn from art, despite whether or not we feel like we are artistic people. By observing and thinking about art, we can reflect on our relationships with ourselves and with our surroundings, and in the spirit of always trying to improve ourselves and our community, it is in our best interest to celebrate the arts in Burbank.

To find out more about Yoni’s work, visit his website, follow him on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/yonifogelman, or follow him on Instagram @yoni.fogelman