Our very own Audience Engagement Artist in Residence, Joseph Palmer, has been touring the city of Austin visiting Elementary Schools, Middle Schools, and High Schools as well as places like the Thinkery Children’s Museum, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, and Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Joseph has developed a program to engage children and young adults in the arts by integrating music and the story telling process. His emphasis on learning the listening process to influence the emotions, aids students in imagining a story based on the sounds they are hearing.

After explaining how a composer took inspiration from a folk tale and was able to creatively transform it into a piece of music (Pedro y Diablo – Joe Williams), the kids then did this process in reverse; taking three short pieces of music and constructing their own three part story in response to what they heard in the music (Caprice Variations 1, 16, & 35 – Rochberg).

At one of the schools Joseph most recently visited, he describes this transformation process-

Here’s a synopsis of the story created by the students at Perez Elementary in response to the Rochberg-

Caprice No. 1: A man named Pablo is on a quest to look for his lost love but is challenged to a duel by the infamous villain Jacques. Despite his odds, Pablo is able to defeat Jacques.

Caprice No. 16: Pablo continues on his lonely journey through the desert to look for his love but soon catches word that Jacques’ spirit has somehow returned and is chasing off everyone in Pablo’s hometown to seek revenge.

Caprice No. 35: A very intense chase ensues. Pablo finally reunites with his lover and together they try to escape from the wrath of Jacques. At the peak of tension, they find shelter inside a transparent forcefield which prevents the evil spirit from reaching them. The spirit becomes increasingly enraged until suddenly reaching the point of complete self-destruction.

If you’ve heard the 35th Rochberg Caprice, this ending totally makes sense.

This is just one example of a story that a group of children have come up with after listening to these pieces being played for them. Another one of Joseph’s recent visits was to Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center which he described as a more “up-close, interactive performance.”

One moment that particularly stood out to me was when I played a piece without revealing the title, composer, or any background info and simply asked them to “listen closely and imagine what you think the composer is trying to express through this music just from the sounds you hear.” Afterwards, I heard a number of thoughtful comments from them. Though there was one kid who said “It sounds like you’ve lost someone that you love.” I then revealed that the piece was entitled “Farewell” by Sergio Assad and that the composer wrote the piece as a farewell to his wife who he had just lost to terminal illness. We went on to discuss how amazing it is that music can express such emotions so profoundly and with such precision that another human being can truly feel and understand what is being communicated without any words being exchanged or ever having even met the person – just by listening and feeling into sounds they put together.

After the students had listened to Joseph’s performances and built the stories to fit them, they were asked a few questions about how the demonstration affected their overall experiences as listeners and audience members. One student put it simply, “For a while I forgot I was in this place and just imagined a story about a boy walking by himself & realizing the hardships in life.” Comments like these go to show the incredible potential that music has to transport an individual into another reality.

The goal of this program is to give students the opportunity to become more in touch with their creative sides and develop their perceptive listening skills in order to encourage them to use their imagination through a multi-sensory experience. We encourage students to develop their own interpretations and create something new in hopes that they will be inspired to continue to do so.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Creativity is contagious,” and we are on a mission to spread it.


Joseph at Perez Elementary, playing for a group of children.


Joseph’s visit to the Young Women’s Leadership Academy


Girls in a class at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy eager to add their perspective of a piece Joseph played for them into the story they built to match the music.