Potomac Arts Academy Makes a Big Splash This Summer

Posted: July 12, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 12, 2010 at 8:13 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Mason alumnus Vincent Oppido teaches a music composition class. Photo courtesy of Potomac Arts Academy

Where can you design your own computer game one week, compose a musical score the next and then perform in a musical theater production? All of these activities are available this summer through the Potomac Arts Academy.

Offered through Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, the Potomac Arts Academy aims to enrich the lives of community members of all ages, skill levels and socioeconomic backgrounds by providing instruction in a variety of artistic disciplines.

The program began in 2003 as the Potomac Music Academy, made possible by a generous donation from the Don and Nancy de Laski family and taught by Mason faculty and graduate students affiliated with the Music Department.

New Beginnings

As it continued to grow in size and popularity, the program expanded its class offerings to include instruction in all of the arts disciplines. Adding year-round classes to its repertoire, the program changed its name to the Potomac Arts Academy. Today, the program annually welcomes more than 1,000 students from the Mason and surrounding community.

“We are so pleased that enrollment continues to grow every year, and we look forward to new opportunities for programming as our relationship strengthens with professional artists and performers as well as with the surrounding community,” says director Libby Curtis.

“Offering classes that are taught or supervised by nationally and internationally known artists and teachers shows families that the Potomac Arts Academy is one of the best places to receive high-quality programming in the area.”

The program has partnered with organizations serving all ages, from Little Hands, which offers music exploration classes for young children, to A Class Act – Acting for Young People to Encore Creativity for Older Adults, an organization that provides an accessible artistic environment for adults 55 and older.

A computer game design class is taught by the technical director of Mason's Computer Game Design Program for undergraduates. Photo courtesy of Potomac Arts Academy

Classes for the Tech Savvy

While the Potomac Arts Academy continues to offer music programs during the summer, such as Ovations String Chamber Academy, Woodwind Camp, and Orff and Kodaly training workshops for music teachers, a few new additions have been added to its lineup.

The Potomac Arts Academy received an overwhelming response to the “Introduction to Computer Game Design” class offered in the fall and spring and is now offering a summer Computer Gaming Camp. Two sessions for children age 9 – 12 and 13 – 18 are held in the morning and afternoons now through July 16.

The camp teaches children the basics of designing a computer game in an interactive and supportive environment. Taught by Matt Nolan, technical director for Mason’s Computer Game Design Program, the course covers the history of games, current events in games and understanding and applying artistic design principles involved in games. Nolan incorporates into the course his holistic vision for music, art, movement and light.

From Symphonies to Star Wars

Students who want to pen the next classical symphony or see their names on the big screen can take advantage of the Potomac Arts Academy’s “Composing Music Today” course. The week-long music writing intensive is open to ages 12 – 18 and runs now through July 16.

Taught by Mason alumnus Vincent Oppido, who has a master’s degree in conducting, the course covers classical orchestration and structure, contemporary methods and movie music scoring.

Students will learn how to compose a melody, understand different harmonic options and develop notational skills, both by hand and using notational software.

Students will also learn the art of writing music for films, what to look for in a movie and how to synchronize music to a picture – for movies, television and video games. The course will culminate with each student scoring a 15-second film clip.

Having penned his first composition at age 14, Oppido has had several of his works published by major companies and is an Aspen Music Festival Film Scoring Fellowship alumnus. He has taught music composition at the Potomac Arts Academy for the past two years.

Arts Classes Spread Across Campuses

This year the Potomac Arts Academy is holding some of its summer programs at the new Hylton Performing Arts Center on Mason’s Prince William Campus.

Mornings and afternoons in the arts for ages 3 – 7 are filled with stories and games aimed at providing a fun and enriching arts experience. Participants can sign up for one or all three weeks of the program, which runs now through July 29.

Guitar classes for teens will also be held at the Hylton Center. This program prepares students for middle and high school programs or further study. The class runs July 20 – 29 and covers fundamentals of reading music, strumming and picking, music theory, song structure and development, improvisation strategies and styles of accompaniment.

Throughout the 10 days of the program, all types of music will be explored. While students should already know a few basic open chords, varying ability levels are expected and instruction will be tailored to individual needs.

Fees for each class vary.

For more information about the Potomac Arts Academy, visit the website.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu