Reimagining musical collaboration and community: An interview with Cava Menzies

February 22,2022

On April 4, CMC is launching (Re)Imagine: 100 New Works from Cava Menzies & Community Music Center to commemorate 100 years of music for everyone. This project is in collaboration with artist, composer, and educator Cava Menzies and will result in 100 new works—50 created by Menzies in collaboration with international and local musicians and 50 created by YMP and MDYMP. These works will be shared digitally from April 4 to May 23 with an in-person event on May 14. 

(Re)Imagine emerged from collaborative pieces that Menzies made during the earliest days of the pandemic. Menzies, who has been a music educator for nearly 20 years with a long affiliation with Oakland School of the Arts (OSA), began remote collaboration videos with her students soon after shelter-in-place started. These short pieces were powerful moments of self-expression and creative responses to landmark moments during 2020, including the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. These videos spread quickly on social media, resulting in collaborations with other artists, OSA alumni, and international artists. 

In the (Re)Imagine project, Menzies is further developing these impactful compositional methods under the overarching theme of “reimagine.” For Menzies, this theme speaks to a world slowly reemerging from an unprecedented pandemic. As Menzies shared, “We’re reimagining what collaboration looks like, what connection looks like, what community looks like, especially as we’re seeing all the different ways that people have been impacted by the pandemic.” 

Menzies, who has been an artist-in-residence with YMP and MDYMP since January, is providing a framework for the youth to explore three topic areas: cultural identity, critical community issues, and world music/culture with an emphasis on student-centered learning, inquiry, and self-expression. As Cava said, “It actually doesn’t matter what your skill level is or where you’re at on your journey as a musician. Music has a healing quality as a tool to comment on what’s going on in your life and in the world.” 

For Menzies, working with the young musicians has been revelatory. “I love the genius of young people,” said Menzies. “I think there’s magic in them. Just to be able to tap into how young people are thinking about the times right now—that’s a message that we all have to listen to and take the time for.” The residency concludes in March. 

The (Re)Imagine project is a powerful tool to creatively respond to a world that is struggling to find balance. “We’re all grappling together,” said Menzies. “None of us know the outcome. None of us know how this is all going to unfold. The idea that we would embark on something together with the unknown and infuse it with beauty, creativity, and thoughtfulness is a beautiful representation of humanity.”  

Watch your email box in the coming weeks for an invitation to receive daily videos from the (Re)Imagine project, bringing musical inspiration to your day!


An inside look at the (Re)Imagine residency

YMP and MDYMP students are developing a wide range of work from exploring concepts related to racial division in the U.S and gentrification, to invoking thankfulness despite loss “Gratitud y perdición,” to “CMC Feelings” about the joy of music at CMC, to exploration of the traditional music from the heritage of students in the program. Cava Menzies and the faculty have been helping the young musicians identify what musical concepts can best express their reflections and creative ideas, as well as providing feedback throughout the process.

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Miguel Govea (MDYMP faculty) leads an improvisational exercise for his winds students.

Miguel Govea, MDYMP faculty:
“The project and composition process has been fascinating and fun. Mainly, I wanted each student to play within their comfort level on their instrument and to focus on conveying emotion rather than exhibiting proficiency. It only took a few weeks to get them used to playing without written parts, to trust their ears, and to believe in their own abilities.”

Gian Velasquez, MDYMP student, age 17:
“I was inspired by ‘Mambo Mongo,’  a Latin jazz/funk piece by Mongo Santamaria. I liked it because it takes music from different cultures and brings the music together into a cultural melting pot. In our group, we are creating a similar kind of piece. My idea was to take Latin music and fuse it with American bebop— two seemingly separate genres that are African at their core. Having this experience for me and for the group is beautiful. I’m experiencing what it would be like to become a professional musician, since we’re learning to start a song from scratch. It’s super empowering.”

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Cava Menzies works with a YMP student.
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MDYMP students and faculty working on an ensemble piece. Gian Velasquez on congas.
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YMP student writing down ideas for the project.