For nearly 20 years, Franklin Pond Chamber Music has trained instrumentalists from metro Atlanta and beyond in the intricacies of small-group classical music.
Gwinnett County residents Roland Mason and Hermes Mejias-Holguin are among the 37 musicians who will take part in Franklin Pond Chamber Music’s spring concert, set for 6 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at Rich Auditorium in the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.
The concert, which will feature quartet and quintet performances of pieces composed by Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Ravel and Prokofiev, among others, and represents a collaboration between Sandy Springs-based Franklin Pond and the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Chamber Players.
Founded in 2001 by ASO violinist Ronda Respess, Franklin Pond offers year-round training for young string players. The faculty — which Respess prefers to refer to as her “coaching staff” — is comprised of musicians from the ASO and the Atlanta Opera Orchestra.
“We started as a summer program only in 2000 because there was nothing here in the summer for kids that were accomplished,” said Respess, who has performed with the ASO for 50 years. “There were a lot of things — and this is still the case 19 years later — for general-population music education and even beginning chamber music, but the kids that were really talented and more serious about it were having to go to Brevard (NC) and up north someplace and pay thousands of dollars for overnight camps of four to six weeks.
“Franklin Pond ran as a summer program until about 2011 and we added a fall and a spring program, the school-year program. That’s run ever since then.”
Respess said that in addition to musical training, Franklin Pond students learn about presentation and teamwork, two vital skills required for chamber music performances.
“They learn a whole lot as far as maturity goes, and parents know that, too,” said Respess. “It’s one of the only places where you have to work as a group, but a small group — it’s not like a team. All of a sudden you’ve just got four people or five people in a group. You can’t hide. You have to be able to compromise or the group is paralyzed.
“You’re responsible for your own part and if your own part isn’t good, it ruins the quality of the group. And you know that real fast. Then they really start working hard to fit in. It’s really something I love to see because they grow musically quickly, and personally they just blossom.”
Mason and Mejias-Holguin are both private students of Respess and both will perform with quartets at the concert, with Mason — a ninth-grade student at Gwinnett School of Science, Math and Technology — playing the viola and Mejias-Holguin — a ninth-grader at Duluth High — playing the violin.
“Roland has been playing violin since the age of 5 and last summer we needed a violist in his group, so I had him switch the viola for the summer and he’s playing viola this year in a chamber group,” said Respess. “He’s playing the violin for everything else — the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Talent Development Program for the ASO.
“I don’t think he loves the viola yet but he’s doing it well. He’s in a quartet made up of people from the ASO Talent Development Program, for African Americans and Hispanics with the aim of getting more professionals in classical music. It’s a very successful program and just hit the 25-year mark. There are some wonderfully successful kids that come from that program.”
Respess said that Mejias-Holguin comes from a musical family as his father is the middle school strings teacher in Suwanee and his mother offers private cello lessons. Mejias-Holguin also began playing at a young age and Respess said being aligned with Franklin Pond has enabled him to hone not only his musical talent, but his social skills as well.
“Music has really helped to draw him out and I think he realizes that,” said Respess. “He said it improved his social skills and it’s true — it really has. He’s extremely quiet and he’s become a lot more communicative and sociable.”
Another Gwinnett County resident, ninth-grade student Claire Hong, attends Franklin Pond, plays the viola and is in the ASO’s Youth Orchestra Chamber Players.
For more information about Franklin Pond Chamber Music, call 404-352-3479 or visit www.franklinpond.org.