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The kids are all right

Canned art gets tossed out at W.A.M.

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Enjoy a mouthful of Squonk opera, part of Saturdays - W.A.M. festival.
  • Enjoy a mouthful of Squonk opera, part of Saturdays W.A.M. festival.

Lauren Kumpf, Devin Malloy and Charlie Milo, three students from the Colorado Springs Conservatory (CSC), were happy to dish the scoop on W.A.M. (What Art Means), a daylong performing arts festival Saturday, April 16, by and for regional high school students.

In its second year, the festival promises to be one of the more demographically diverse youth gatherings to occur in recent memory. The 60-plus organizing committee represents students from the CSC, the YMCA, the Urban League, the Mayor's 100 Teens and the Pikes Peak Youth Council. Milo, Kumpf and Malloy offered a glimpse into the seldom understood world of high school and the challenges that young artists face.

Like most artists, the talented three -- all musicians -- struggle to find a niche in a crowded marketplace dominated by the sterile, canned art streamed through television and radio. Despite the city's half-a-million population, an absurdly limited number of venues actually cater to the younger crowd.

Conservatory students perform many "outreaches" during which they play at nursing homes, conservatory recitals and other public events, explained Kumpf, a vocalist. The performances aim to expose others to their music while the students gain valuable live playing experience. Still, they rarely have the opportunity to showcase their talents to larger numbers of their peers.

Enter W.A.M.

"Performing throughout the community is a kind of community service," Kumpf added. She sees W.A.M. as an extension of the outreaches, but on a much larger scale. Student organizers predict 1,500 to 2,000 people will attend this year's festival.

The three young musicians also labor to bridge the cultural chasm between the jazz they study and love and the more popular musical preferences of their cohorts, exploiting their musical versatility to tackle other challenges.

When their jazz group, Fresh Day Trio, was playing at a downtown cafe and a couple of punk rock-types entered, Milo thought, "How can we get these guys to stick around and listen?" In the middle of a number, the trio switched tempo and segued into Green Day's "When I Come Around," a modern pop-punk standard.

Unimpressed and apparently offended, the heavily tattooed and pierced duo stormed away. Although they hadn't anticipated such an angst-ridden reaction, the students enjoy such opportunities as "a platform for spontaneous improvisation."

In a town with a disproportionately small, yet dynamic, art scene, self-promotion is as important a lesson as theory, repetition and creativity.

Linda Weise, director of the conservatory, stresses the practical experience gained from such an operation.

"It's not a world of 'if you have art, they'll come,'" Weise said. "You have to know how to market it."

If the maxim is true about the children being the future, W.A.M. proves that things are looking up for the city's music scene.

-- Aaron Menza

capsule

W.A.M. (What Art Means): Youth Cultural Festival

Battle of the Bands and Freestyle Throwdown, with special guest artists Squonk opera

Phil Long Expo Center, 1515 Auto Mall Loop

Saturday, April 16 4-8:30 p.m.,

4 p.m.: Battle of the Bands and Freestyle Throwdown

7 p.m.: Squonk opera

Tickets: Youth 18 and under, $5; adults $10 Call 577-4556 or check out

coloradospringsconservatory.org.

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