The Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy came together on a cross-country trip during the summer of 2016 as a dishearteningly divisive presidential campaign played across the US. With fishing equipment and their two dogs loaded up in the car, Gabriela and her husband Jeremy drove from California to a gig in New Mexico, passing through economically-depressed towns with little access to the arts and little diversity among its citizens. Against the uneasy backdrop of an increasingly bitter election, Gabriela and Jeremy decided to embark on a grand experiment – To open their new home in the tiny rural town of Boonville, CA to a talented and diverse crew of emerging music-makers, creating an experience that would give them a strong professional/artistic boost; and to encourage composers to think of the arts as indispensible to communities beyond the concert hall. As a small, personal, and potent academy, more nimble than large conservatories and presenting societies, Gabriela and Jeremy wondered if they could highlight the power of creativity and arts citizenship at a time when it seemed the country was going off the rails, driven by fear and resentment.
Gabriela got on the phone and began cold-calling rising composers and established performer colleagues that she knew from her own rich life as a composer and pianist, nearly thirty years long. With personal funds from a symphony commission or two, and support from friends and family, the first year of GLFCAM blossomed under the talents of nineteen composers and twelve faculty performers over six residencies in the Californian cities of Boonville and Sacramento, as well as Portland, OR. Despite initially going in with a fair amount of trepidation, Gabriela was instantly hooked — The simple combination of a creative laboratory open to a diverse range of artists where failure is encouraged in the pursuit of artistic excellence proved irresistible.
Currently in the second half of its third season, GLFCAM has now hosted nearly seventy emerging composers of all ages from aesthetics ranging from classical to hip hop to punk to jazz to those from non-western cultures. In addition to readings, master classes, and mentorship, Composer Fellows participate in the Bueno Yabbelow Music Series as well as GLFCAM’s arts citizenship program at Anderson Valley High School, a low-income public school predominantly attended by the sons and daughters of local Latino farm/vineyard workers. Composer Fellows stay in gorgeous lodgings constructed on principles of permaculture, prep eco-conscious meals under the tutelage of a Michelin-starred chef/forager, and form lifelong friendships between people of a breathtaking range of demographic backgrounds.
In 2018, to continue supporting its composers, GLFCAM launched its Alumni Support Initiative that includes funding/brokering professional commissions for its alumni, now up to nearly twenty commissions with esteemed artists and organizations, most recently with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City and the storied Philadelphia Orchestra. In 2019, the CREA (Composers for Racial Equality in the Arts) Fellowship was launched, connecting alumni of color to renowned and established composers of color for mentorship. Also in 2019, a partnership began with the Helios Chamber Orchestra (Portland, OR) whereby two alumni each year would receive a commission for a chamber orchestra piece complete with a reading session of the work in progress; and a teaching fellowship for a talented alum was established with the brand new Chamber Music Accord Festival in Hartford, CT. Later in 2019, a second chamber orchestra partnership will be announced that invites yet two more alumni each year to create new works of art complete with mentorship and readings of their works in progress before their premieres.
Bios of GLFCAM performer-mentors who advise GLFCAM Fellows will reveal them to be among the most active and impressive in the industry. During the 2018-2019 season, GLFCAM also began hosting guest mentor musicologists and conductors who believe in cultivating the talents of a diverse pool of artists. Yet, most important is the model of 21st century musicianship that GLFCAM mentors pose — Artistic excellence coupled with a humanitarian view on proactively working with and playing for people from all demographic backgrounds. In its short history, multiple press articles from around the country, including a major feature in Chamber Music America and the San Francisco Classical Voice, testify to GLFCAM’s work; and in 2019, Musical America recognized Gabriela as one of its “Top 30 Professionals of the Year” for the founding of GLFCAM.
The mission of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is threefold:
1. To inspire emerging composers to create self-determined artistic lives through mentorship, readings with master performers, and hands-on practicums addressing the creative habit in the intimate and eco-conscious setting of Gabriela’s two farms in Boonville, CA; to create a support structure for alumni of our programs that entails commissions and seed funds for collaborations with one another.
2. To honor essential civic initiatives: Connecting guest musicians and composer fellows with a local small rural community; encouraging composer fellows to strategize and realize their own potential citizenship in low arts access areas; encouraging the efforts of composers hailing from diverse backgrounds.
3. To document the stories and teachings of the Academy for video dissemination for the widest audience possible.