On a gray and cloudy Wednesday morning, the music department at one local high school is glowing with excitement.
A whiteboard in the chorus room of Clarence High School reads: "Welcome Jim Papoulis!" Students cleaned every nook and cranny of the room and prepared for the arrival of a composer who would work as a clinician with the choirs to prepare them for a concert the next evening.
Papoulis is a renowned composer, film scorer, and producer who composes music for a wide array of performers and purposes. He is a classically-trained flutist who enjoys immersing himself in all types of music.
Papoulis’ music has been featured at prestigious events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the World Cup in South Africa, and the 2008 Presidential Inauguration. He also has conducted many orchestras worldwide, such as the New York Philharmonic and London and Chicago Symphonies, and has worked with some of the biggest icons of the music industry.
"I write all day long. Usually on the weekends, I conduct somewhere, whether it is with a choir or an orchestra. That’s sort of my world; I immerse myself in all styles of music," said Papoulis during a question-and-answer session with students.
In his choral music, Papoulis often uses African influences and lyrics in foreign languages to convey various inspirational messages.
"My mother is from Africa; she was born and raised in the Congo. She grew up speaking Swahili and French, and that was passed down to me and my sisters," says Papoulis. "Music is such a big part of culture there, so that’s how it all started."
Papoulis also is an avid percussionist, and teaches percussion to students wherever he travels. He attends drum circle sessions across the country and all over the world as often as he can, and "immerses himself in percussion wherever he goes."
As part of his work with the Clarence choirs, Papoulis conducted one of his pieces with each choir for their spring concert. He also gave the students the opportunity to experience a percussion workshop with a variety of instruments.
"I was really inspired by his energy," says Eliza Lahti, a senior at Clarence. "The whole room was just more calm and focused when he was around. I remember during one of the Q&A sessions someone had a concept for a song, so he made a graph and had them sketch out the energy of the song. I’ve used that same graph to help me improve my own songwriting progress."
"It was incredible working with him," says Aneris Rivera-Wagner, also a senior at Clarence. "It was great for us to partake in a drum circle because it not only gave us a quick look into the cultures of other countries, but it also taught us a little about what it takes to really lock in rhythmically."
Aneris, a percussionist himself, also had the opportunity to work with Papoulis privately in preparation for the spring concert.
"Working with Jim one-on-one was great as well," says Aneris. "He himself as a percussionist was able to not only demonstrate, but put into words exactly what he wanted me to play. This made learning the parts and putting them together with the chorus very comfortable for me."
In addition to his work as a composer, Papoulis is also the co-founder of the Foundation for Small Voices, an organization which aims to empower children across the world through music and creativity. Papoulis’ dedication for what he does and passion for working with children are what drives the foundation to carry out their message and great work.
To say the least, Clarence students truly enjoyed their time with Papoulis, and are grateful for the opportunity to work with such an acclaimed and talented clinician.
"He’s a really creative man who’s inspired me to try new things and be better," adds Eliza.
"Nothing has moved me more than music," says Papoulis. "As a human, philosophically speaking, you need to feel connected to something. I’m a true believer that if you commit yourself to something, everything will work itself out in the end."
With the impact music has had on him, Papoulis says "there’s no question" that that is why he has such a commitment and dedication to music. This dedication surely has left its impact on Clarence, and will continue to have an impact wherever he may travel.
Alex Renzoni is a freshman at Clarence High School.