I heard eight world premieres the other day at Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta.

All were inspired by the natural sights and sounds of Maine, none lasted longer than a few minutes, and all were in a contemporary style of high quality, though differing substantially in technique and musical content.

They were illustrated by artworks on the same subjects, drawn and painted by the composers, and projected on a screen behind the musicians.

In order of performance, the works were “Red stem, three ragged leaves keep away,” by Kendra Gladu; “Imagination,” by True Leadbetter; “Through the woods to grandmother’s house,” by Clare Colburn; “The sky is a wonderful place to live, sometimes,” by Isobel Petersen; “Bullfrog,” by Simon Brown; “The woods,” by Julia Ruml; “Castle,” by Hermione Blanchard-Fleming; and “Summertime melodies,” by Scotty Petersen.

All eight were performed with love and understanding (and a bit of amazement) by a string quartet composed of musicians from the recent Salt Bay Chamberfest: Steven Copes and Serena Canin on violin, Dov Scheindlin on viola and Edward Aaron on cello. The quartet also played short works by Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The new composers, ages 9 to 12, attended the third annual Music and Nature Camp, sponsored by the Salt Bay Chamberfest and the Damariscotta River Association at its Camp Mummichog.

Combining music instruction and demonstrations with outdoor education that ranged from plant identification to squid dissection, the two-week camp was inspired by the work of Jon Deak, a composer and associate principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic. He admired the freedom and spontaneity of artworks by children and wondered if the same thing could be done in music, if the equipment and personnel were available to transcribe their compositions accurately and without addition, subtraction or interpretation.

The result was the Very Young Composers Program of the New York Philharmonic. Beginning in 1995 it has led to 39 similar programs in 12 countries. New composers become part of a global network of “kids exchanging music,” according to music director James Blachly, who, with help from an intern, transcribed the compositions for string quartet, based on recordings. “The composers even provided their own marginal performance indications,” he said. “Their work is 100 percent original.”

“The process is intended to draw on children’s innate creativity and the belief that every child can learn to compose,” he said.

The results were thoroughly enjoyable, for both adults and children in the audience, including my grandson, Jordan Seavey, who liked them better than the classics on the program. I had been wondering how to transcribe his piano improvisations. Now I know.

It is hard to tell how much compositional technique is innate and how much learned. Some of the works on the program sounded influenced by the music of Modest Mussorgski and Béla Bartók, which could easily have been heard at home. Other techniques – repeated notes, glissandi interrupted by sforzando, ensemble playing, variations, and even fugue – made brief appearances.

All of the works were descriptive in nature, including insect buzzing, frog croaks, thunder and lightening, wind, falling leaves, a horse trotting and even recorded animal sounds, such as wild turkeys and owls. The tonal images often matched those on paper surprisingly well.

It is to be hoped that such programs thrive and increase, making up for a deplorable deficiency in public school teaching of the arts.

There’s only one problem: You can’t put the compositions up on the refrigerator.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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