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Ensemble ACJW: Artistry. Education. Advocacy. Entrepreneurship.

Being a member of Carnegie Hall’s resident Ensemble ACJW is not for the faint of heart: Between performing on world-class stages and in school auditoriums, collaborating with celebrity composers on new compositions, teaching in New York City public schools and in higher-education settings, engaging with the community, and attending professional development sessions, the fellows have grown into their roles as forward-looking artists, educators, music advocates, and entrepreneurs. We asked five fellows to share highlights from their busy first year as part of Ensemble ACJW.


ACJW Circles 640px


ACJW Michael J Smith 151x151

Michael James Smith, Piano Fellow
On Articulating Artistic Goals to College Students

During our residency at Skidmore College, I served as a panelist in an arts administration class that was discussing the realities facing young artists today. While preparing for the panel, I realized that I could only be a resource to students if I could readily articulate my own personal values and professional goals as an artist. In addition to helping me define my artistic vision, this experience gave me the chance to learn from the honest questions and feedback of the students who offered insightful reflections on what it means to be a classical musician today.

ACJW Jacqueline Arrington 151x151

Jacqueline Cordova-Arrington, Flute Fellow
On Working with Meredith Monk

I felt both honored and anxious to work with Meredith Monk on the world premiere of her piece Backlight, but when she entered the room, her positive spirit and charm dissipated any sense of unease. She invited the musicians to participate in a warm-up of stretches and breathing—freeing up our bodies actually created an environment in which we could dare to be more authentic in our musical ideas. Meredith’s sincere care for musicians and unconventional approach to musical creation are an inherent part of her authenticity. This has inspired me to crystallize my own identity as an authentic artist so that I can share who I am and what I value about music with others.


ACJW Monk playbill wrap
Photo by Deanna Kennett


ACJW Shir Semmel 151x151

Shir Semmel, Piano Fellow
On Teaching in a Public School

Once a week, I get to share my love for music with elementary schools kids in the South Bronx. I didn’t quite know what to expect the first time I walked into the classroom, but I immediately fell in love with the kids. The first time I introduced the piano to my students, their enthusiasm for the music was so strong that they kept smiling, clapping, and dancing in their seats—half of them came up to the piano just to give me a hug. I realized how privileged I was to be able to open a door for them to a whole new world and hopefully inspire them to develop a lifelong relationship with music.


ACJW Shir Classroom ACJW Playbill Wrap
Photo by Deanna Kennett


ACJW Caleb van der Swaagh 151x151

Caleb van der Swaagh, Cello Fellow
On Performing for Young Audiences

Since joining Ensemble ACJW, I’ve had the chance to give interactive performances for students in grades K–12 throughout New York City; in many respects, I have found the students to be the ideal audience. This might be the first time some of these students have ever seen a live performance, but no matter what the age range, they have always been excited to listen to music and be a part of the interactive experience. Whether we’ve played standard chamber music repertoire, contemporary music, or our own arrangements, as long as we as musicians believed in what we were playing, the audience has been receptive. It is a privilege to play the music that I am passionate about for people who listen with such open ears.


ACJW School Demo playbill wrap
Photo by Deanna Kennett


ACJW Garrett Arney 151x151

Garrett Arney, Percussion Fellow
On Developing as Artists and Entrepreneurs

Every Monday, the ACJW fellows meet for professional development sessions. They cover a number of topics, from onstage speaking to entrepreneurship, and comedy improv to performance psychology. One of our first sessions was with teaching artist Eric Booth, who taught us the “Rule of Nine”: If you ask a child younger than nine years old to draw a cow, they’ll commit to drawing the best cow ever before their crayon hits paper. After age nine, we become self-conscious and lose our ability to try anything new. Professional development sessions give us the tools to inspire and bring back that excitement. We strive to give that desire to our students, our colleagues, and audiences of all ages.


ACJW rehearsal playbill wrap
Photo by Deanna Kennett


The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education

Major funding has been provided by The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, Susan and Edward C. Forst and Goldman Sachs Gives, the Max H. Gluck Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Lester S. Morse Jr., Phyllis and Charles Rosenthal, The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, and Ernst & Young LLP.

Additional support has been provided by Mr. and Mrs. Nicola Bulgari, EGL Charitable Foundation, Leslie and Tom Maheras, Andrew and Margaret Paul, Park Hyatt hotels, UJA-Federation of New York, and The Wallace Foundation.

Public support is provided by the New York City Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.