Thousands of graduates leave York University each year and embark on exciting careers. We’re proud of our York U graduates, many of whom excel in their field and create revolutionary projects. The #YUBlog has created an “Alumni Spotlight” series to highlight the incredible contributions York U alumni have made in the world. Check out the first #YUBlog Alumni Spotlight post, “Socero: The Journey to Becoming a Social Hero”.
Today’s Alumni Spotlight post will shed some light on The Silent Voices Project, which creates a connection between young composers in the 21st century and Holocaust victims from the Second World War, amplifying their voices through history and music.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Zachary Ebin, Director of the Suzuki Program at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, founder of The Silent Voices Project, and York U alum, to discuss what inspired him to start this impactful project, what music means to him and how his time at York U has helped shape his career today.
Tell me about the Silent Voices Project.
ZE: The Silent Voices Project seeks to revive the voices of children silenced by the Holocaust with the voices of contemporary children. In the project, young composers wrote string quartets and trios based on poetry written by children during the Holocaust. There are currently 15 composers involved in the project aged 10-20. They live in Toronto, Waterloo, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago. The project has had three performances so far with a fourth coming up on April 10 in Nashville, TN. Additionally, we recently released a CD of the project.
How was the Silent Voices Project first formed?
ZE: I was doing research in the York University Library and came across the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The book is a collection of drawings and poetry created by children during the Holocaust. I was deeply moved by the book, and wondered what I, as a music educator, could do for these children. I started to reach out to young child composers and eventually we had enlisted 15.
Why is this project so important to you?
ZE: I strongly believe that children are born with tremendous amounts of potential. When children are placed in a supportive environment and put in the necessary effort, one sees amazing results. This project was a way to showcase to the world that children can grasp and reflect on difficult subjects in very sophisticated ways. Many of our audience members have been moved to tears by the compositions of these children.
A composition by one of the young composers, Adah Kaplan.
Tell me about your experience as a York U student. How did your education at York University help you launch this project, and your early career?
ZE: At York U, I was always encouraged to pave my own path and not look to what others were doing. This inspired a tremendous amount of creative freedom and helped me create some unique projects. My professors at York U were always supportive of my various projects, even those not related to my studies. I currently have a position at Vanderbilt University. In addition to writing countless letters on my behalf, York U professors helped me in numerous ways, from helping me get a chamber music festival I founded off the ground to providing essential guidance regarding my research.
Fun Fact: Ebin holds a BA and an MA from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, an MM from the Boston Conservatory and completed his PhD right here at York University!
What activities or classes helped you succeed in your career?
ZE: The introductory PhD course helped tremendously. Thanks to the guidance of my instructors, I was able to refine my research methods and develop a path towards my dissertation. Additionally, the music perception course was particularly beneficial and helped me with my music education research.
Were there any specific York U resources that helped you along the way?
ZE: The York University library was helpful along my journey. While completing my PhD, I got a grant to record some forgotten Ukrainian music. The York University library helped get some of the music scores needed through interlibrary loan and through purchasing a score.
How has York U supported your success?
ZE: Professors at York U continue to promote my work, which ultimately brought me to the attention of Vanderbilt University. I am very grateful to the professors at York U who helped me succeed in my career.
Success Tip: Aim to do well in your classes and create a relationship with your instructors. They can help you get into graduate, master’s and doctoral programs. However, don’t just build relationships to advance your education. Learn from your instructors and better yourself from their teaching.
A second composition, composed by Damiano Perrella.
Finally, what advice would you give for students who aspire to succeed in the music industry?
ZE: My best piece of advice is to be flexible and try everything. We often define ourselves musically as a performer, a composer or a teacher. However, all of these pieces relate. If you excel in one area, it will enhance skills in other areas. If you restrict yourself you may lose great opportunities. I never thought I would be much of a teacher, but now I head an education program where I teach and work with future teachers, and I love it!
Connect with Zachary Ebin and The Silent Voices Project
Interested in The Silent Voices Project? You can check out all of their latest show dates and even purchase their CD on their website! All proceeds are to help develop this exciting initiative and continue to share the voices of young composers and young Holocaust victims.
If you would like to listen to some more performances from The Silent Voices Project, watch their YouTube video below!
Are you a part of the York University musical community? What instrument do you play? Comment below or tweet us on Twitter at @YorkUStudents.