Face the Music's Peripatetic Playlist

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Kaufman Center’s Face the Music is an “alt-classical” ensemble of more than a hundred talented teenagers. Under the direction of conductor Jenny Undercofler, FTM has played at Le Poisson Rouge, Roulette, BAM Café and the Bang On A Can Marathon. The group has been featured on WQXR’s Young Artist Showcase and NPR’s All Things Considered. Face the Music was honored with the 2011 ASCAP Aaron Copland Award. Most recently, the group opened for the Philip Glass Ensemble at the River to River Festival.

What's on Our iPods
by Jenny Undercofler, Director, Face the Music 

Whenever the Face the Music kids gather to rehearse, they talk about music. Frequently rehearsals get bogged down, in fact, with what I call “noodling” – kids playing fragments of other pieces when we stop to fix something – which sometimes leads to hilarious results. Famously, last year, an audience at Queens College came back after intermission to find Face the Music rapturously engaged in an extended rendition of “Careless Whisper.” Okay, so not always that sophisticated…

However, Face the Music always surprises me, and the mixtape session, which involved twelve of the players, was no exception. With kids elbowing each other out of the way to plug their own iPods into my speakers, I got to hear a fantastic range of music, all of it interesting. Because there was so much good music, in fact, what emerged is a rather peripatetic playlist, with nothing more than seven minutes long. In some ways, what got left off the list was even more interesting, coming from kids ranging from 10 to 18 (juicy romantic bits like Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, and Bartók’s First Quartet; the Carter Piano Sonata!).

Of what did make it on the list, some of the pieces and artists have a direct connection to Face the Music, but most of them don’t. More like, if you want evidence that the “iTunes generation” sees no lines between genres, here it is. To wit, the contributions of Javen, one of FTM’s longtime violists: “Arrival,” from Nepomuk’s Dances, by Marcelo Zarvos; “Two Weeks,” by Grizzly Bear; “A Dog Barks at Midnight,” by Terry Riley, and the coda of Bartók’s Third Quartet. Of those pieces, only one has made it onto FTM’s concerts (the Zarvos, and that was several years ago).

Charmingly, the group professed a collective love for the music of several composers: Philip Glass, John Adams, and Kenji Bunch, so there is Knee Play 1 (several of the kids have been to see Einstein), the first movement of Hallelujah Junction (which two of the FTM pianists played, years ago), and “Unleashed,” from Kenji’s eponymous album.

Then there are a group of songs that come from the jazz/rock side of the music world. Again, a great range, from Django Reinhardt’s classic Nuages to Robert Glass’ reworked Butterflies, sung using auto-tune. From the iPod of David, our cellist and resident hip-hop expert, we took Jazzy Joint, by J.A.M., and S.O.B., by Tablo & MiK, as well as Psychotic Girl, by The Black Keys. 

Finally, we have A Young Man Walks in Brooklyn, from Sxip Shirey’s wonderful album Sonic New York – a favorite album of mine, and also of James, one of FTM’s most seasoned players. Actually, we wanted to use the funky, catchy I Live in New York City, but for one prominent verboten word!

My deepest thanks to all of the spectacular young composer-players in Face the Music, but most especially to Albina, David, Emma, Ethan, Jessica, Jonah, Javen, James, Jack, Kate, Paris, and Mae.


Marcelo Zarvos  - “Arrival” from Nepomuk’s Dances (performed by Ethel)
Béla Bartók - Third Quartet, Coda (performed by Guarneri Quartet)
Terry Riley A Dog Barks at Midnight
Grizzly Bear- Two Weeks
Meredith Monk- Maybe One
Philip Glass - “Knee Play One,from Einstein on the Beach (from album Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts)
John Adams - Hallelujah Junction, mvmt 1
Kenji BunchUnleashed I (from “Unleashed”)
Django ReinhardtNuages
The Black Keys - Psychotic Girl
J.A.M. - Jazzy Joint (feat. Jose James)
Rabbit Velvet - Right Now
Robert Glasper - Butterfly
Curtis Mayfield - Little Child Running Wild (from Superfly)
Sxip ShireyA Young Man Walks in Brooklyn