‘Changing the World’
Jeff Jolly is about to change the world.
At the end of the month, two of the composer’s works will be highlighted in a performance by the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra, titled, appropriately, “Changing the World.”
Music for the performance is based on orchestral suites the School of Dreams Academy music teacher scored for two PBS documentaries, “The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth” and “Looking In: Kids Who Are Homeless.”
The five movements of “The First Millimeter” are concerned with restoring grasslands, while “Looking In” focuses on four New Mexico teenagers.
Another New Mexico composer, Daniel Davis, will also be featured during the 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30, performance at the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque.
During a recent band class, the classical guitarist teaches to seventh- to 12th-graders at School of Dreams Academy, Jolly told the students that “Looking In,” is “very sad in some ways, but very promising in others.”
“See how these artists have come together and helped change perceptions and ideas,” reads a promotional flier. “Be inspired, meet the artists, learn the issues and find out how you can help change the world.”
Both of Jolly’s scores were written for documentaries directed by Chris Schueler. Opening and closing segments of the two films will be included in the multi-media presentation, with the orchestra playing live accompaniment. Schueler will narrate between movements. A choir of young people from the Public Academy of Performing Arts will accompany “The First Millimeter” and the gospel choir of Albuquerque’s New Hope Baptist Church will perform as part of “Looking In.”
Jolly says he is excited, but at the same time, concerned.
“So many elements have to come together,” Jolly notes, “and the only full rehearsal is the morning of the performance.”
He would have liked more rehearsals, but budgetary constraints intervened.
Jolly and Schueler are old friends, having worked together on projects for some 30 years. Both were graduate students at the University of New Mexico at the same time, but they first met at Albuquerque’s Covenant Presbyterian Church.
“Changing the World” grew out of what began as a rather casual conversation with an old friend and another member of the New Mexico Philharmonic, Jolly says. His friend told him the orchestra wanted to feature New Mexico composers in recognition of the state’s centennial year.
After that the conversation took off. It was like spontaneous combustion.
“All of a sudden — holy cow! — I had this giant project in front of me that took up most of the summer,” Jolly recalls.
Technically a part-time instructor at School of Dreams for nearly three years, Jolly teaches five classes four days a week.
Getting ready for “Changing the World” had literally taken over his entire summer, he told his band-class students.
“I’ve just been writing nonstop for two months,” he said.
But now it was time to get down to the business at hand, teaching, and Jolly was clearly in his element.
“Let’s get going here,” he urges the 17 boys and girls. “B-flat scale . . . one, two, three, four.”
He stops them after a moment.
“Think about what you’re doing,” he says. “It needs ‘oomph.’ Don’t let any old sound come out.”
A few minutes later, anyone who has ever heard an orchestra warming up for a performance could imagine the classroom din as the students got ready to tackle “The Mohawk Trail” by Anne McGinty.
“Now here we go,” Jolly says, snapping his fingers for the desired tempo.
Jolly seems remarkably comfortable around teenagers. During the class, for example, he asks, “What’s a ‘natural’ sign do to another note?”
A boy responds: “It makes it natural!”
Jolly just rolls his eyes and smiles as he explains that a “natural” sign cancels a sharp or flat for a particular note.
Another student, a girl, asks him what a vise is. He explains, in good-natured detail. The same girl asks if “Labor Day is about having babies.” Another smile and another explanation.
Jolly says he definitely inherited his love of music and his talents from his parents. His father, now 86, is a jazz clarinetist with his own combo. Jolly plays in the band which plays lots of old standards. The musicians enjoy themselves immensely, he says.
Growing up, his mother played a lot of records, but it was his father who “put a ukulele in my hand when I was 4 years old.”
He was a natural, and soon he was playing to his kindergarten class. When he was 9, Jolly began playing the clarinet in his father’s band. He picked up the guitar at age 11.
In 1978, Jolly earned a bachelor’s degree in Classical Guitar Performance at the University of Southern California. Among others, he studied with the great Pepe Romero with whom he had private lessons.
“Besides being one of the best musicians in the world, he’s one of the best teachers,” Jolly says of Romero, adding that as a teacher, he is “gentle” and “insightful.”
He received a Master of Music Education degree from the University of New Mexico in 1988, then taught band, guitar, chorus and general music in the Belen Consolidated Schools for 27 years, grades 5 to 12. While teaching in Belen, he was named Teacher of the Year for 1991-92, and was given a New Mexico Quality in Education award by the UNM Research and Study Council in 2001. He was named to the New Mexico Music Educators Association Hall of Fame in 2009.
Jolly has been director of music at Covenant Presbyterian since 1981. He has written two stage musicals, recorded classical and jazz CDs and has written and recorded theme music for several television shows, including “News 101″ and “Adventure Rio.”
In addition to the two documentaries highlighted in “Changing the World,” he has scored several other documentaries.
Jolly has been married to his wife, Diane, for 38 years. The couple live in Tomé and have two adult children and three grandchildren. His daughter, Rebecca Simons, teaches orchestra at two Albuquerque high schools. Her husband, Chad Simons, is an associate band director at UNM.
Tickets for “Changing the World” are $20 and $30 for adults and $10 for students. They are available through the KiMo at www.kimotickets.com or the New Mexico Philharmonic at www.nmphil.org.
Ticket seekers can also call 768-3522 or 323-4343. The KiMo, at 423 Central Ave. NW, is located on the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Central.