What’s New with U? – Week 2

Hello – and welcome to the end of Week 2.

Whether your family is wrapping up their time at Usdan, continuing on, or even joining us for the first time in the weeks ahead, we hope Usdan offers your child a chance to create, learn new things, explore different perspectives and, of course, to experience the joy of this incredible summer season.

Thank you for being a part of our wonderful community.

Now, here’s a look at the action and art around campus from the past week.




“I look for unusual ways to get inspired because I want to challenge my own thinking. I find myself most intrigued by modern art and artists -– people who change our perception of how we see, smell, feel and so forth.”
–Tadej Brdnik of Martha Graham in this week’s Guest Speaker Visit to the Usdan Leadership Institute for the Arts.



TEACHING U: Meet the music department

Usdan has always been synonymous with Music. The various sounds emanate from the studios, wafting through the air and into the woods  – creating a unique, unexpected symphony for those passing by.

But the backbone of the department is, and has always been, the talented working musicians, composers and conductors who band (pun intended) together to teach at the camp. A few teachers have shared perspectives on their music practices, what’s on tap this summer and more.

First up: Mark Bligh, an award-winning band director at Denton Avenue Elementary School in Herricks UFSD. He has conducted the winds, brass and percussion sectionals for the NY All-State Symphony Orchestra and regularly performs with the Northwinds Symphonic Band. He was also included in a piece in Scholastic earlier this year. This is Mark’s 12th year at Usdan but his first as Director of Junior Bands.

How does being an educator influence you as an artist, and how does being an artist influence you as an educator?

Being an artist keeps the music fresh, alive and exciting. A good teacher must show their passion and enjoyment for the subject they are teaching. The students are my reminder as an artist to be open to new viewpoints and methods of learning.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

The students that come to Usdan are always interesting, talented, smart, caring and most important, fun! I look forward to molding the sounds the kids create into a beautiful, balanced and mature ensemble.

What’s your favorite Usdan “U”?

My favorite “U” is the music logo. If you look closely, it’s the theme to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, one of the greatest pieces ever written. Also, I teach this theme to every young band I have taught.

Next – a familiar face is back at Usdan in a new capacity: Amrom Svay. A professional jazz musician who plays around the country – including performing with Sal Valentinetti from “America’s Got Talent.” Amrom was a camper in his younger years and then returned to the fold – first in Instrument Check, then as an Assistant Teacher in the music department. Now he’s Co-Director of the Jazz Ensemble with Mike Blutman.

How does being an educator influence you as an artist, and how does being an artist influence you as an educator?

Jazz is my art –  and it requires improvisation. A lot of it has to do with recognizing what’s happening in the now to make a good musical melody in the future. So, when I listen to those with whom I play, their musical feedback informs what I have to do for the next immediate moment. When I teach, it’s the same way –  every child, every personality – gives you different feedback. It requires you to sense what is going on in the music and social environment, to determine how that mixes, and to decide what you can do to make the whole thing move forward.

 What are you most looking forward to this summer?

A lot of things! Here at Usdan, I’m excited to be on the teaching side after having attended Usdan. Outside of camp, I’m just excited about all the music performance-related things I’m doing this summer.

What’s your favorite Usdan “U”?

All the ones that show up on the website – the one with the pencil really stands out.

Finally, meet Patricia Billings – a highly accomplished musician and educator who works in and around the New York area – including as part of The New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Harmony Program. This marks Patricia’s first year at Usdan, and we’re thrilled she’s here.

How does being an educator influence you as an artist, and how does being an artist influence you as an educator?

I must first say that being an educator has helped me to be a better artist. To be in a position where I must have the ability to explain a concept at a fundamental, intermediate and advance level keeps me on my toes. Quite often, it helps me to stay connected to what it was once like to be introduced to music and new instruments.

Being an artist has helped me as a teacher to pay attention to the bigger picture. I am aware of what students will need to play at higher levels. My job is to plant solid seeds of knowledge and skill so the students will grow as musicians.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

I’m most excited about seeing the growth of all the students. In particular, the students experiencing Orff Schulwerk as an early childhood method of music education. Being able to experience playing an instrument, singing and movement will help students’ overall development.

What’s your favorite Usdan “U”?

I must say that although I’m in both the Discovery and Music department, I like the Dance “U” the most.


“We should all be showing up, armed with and open to the richness of experiences being offered at Usdan.”
-Lisa Bielawa, Usdan Artist-in-Residence

Participating in – rather than studying, watching, or merely complementing – other artists’ creative processes allows you to discover and create things that you might not on your own. These experiences ultimately teach you more about yourself and the infinite possibilities of your own imagination and capabilities.

The dream of Usdan began in 1968. Since then, it has offered a transformative space for young people to develop their creativity and artistic skills. In providing students ages 4-18 the opportunity to interact, engage and experience the work of some of today’s top arts and culture creators, we strive for a two-way exchange – one where all involved learn from each other and contribute to one another’s work and development. The rigorous dialogue with contemporary art and artists helps to cultivate an authentic and diverse conversation about art, life and society.

That’s the crux of Usdan’s curriculum: supplementing the study of classic techniques with engagement with contemporary art and artists. This summer is brimming with such collaborations. In past two weeks alone, we’ve enjoyed visits and performances from award-winning contemporary artists including choreographer Abby Zbikowski, dancers from Martha Graham, and a groundbreaking musical experience created by composer and Usdan Artist-in-Residence Lisa Bielawa.

Innovative –  but often challenging – contemporary work may conjure confusion or spark questions because it takes us outside of what is expected or known. This is welcome and an essential way to engage with one another, according to Bielawa.

“As artists, it’s important to remember that you can’t expect everyone to respond the same way; one person’s “norm” is another person’s outside-the-box. There’s significant value in being open to diverse experiences,” says the composer. As an example: her norm is working on her own compositions. Performing the works of others, even classical composers such as Mozart or Mendelssohn, is out of the ordinary for her.

What to do when encountering art that is outside your norm – something that challenges your perception, makes you uncomfortable or just leaves you unsure?  Asking questions  – of the artist and yourself – is the key to understanding. The more a creative work compels you to sharpen your own questions and dive deeper into your own experiences, the greater understanding you will have of the piece and yourself.

Most importantly: Trust yourself. Bielawa adds, “Kids have authentic, meaningful experiences all the time, but they are often not sure that those experiences are OK and socially acceptable. I believe that the world would be a happier place if people had a way to grow into society, learning to trust their own experiences of things. The arts can absolutely strengthen that,  especially if they are taught and viewed with authenticity.  And, in the end, the more we support each other in being authentic in our own work, the more positive and transformative a culture we can be.”

Share your thoughts with us at questions@usdan.org.

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