(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Four Boston-area teens shared a life-changing experience this month, as they became the first youth band in the 21-year history of the Zumix performing arts program to travel and perform internationally.
The members of the band Annual Snowfall traveled to London and Paris from Aug. 1 – 11, performing in two concerts, taking in the sights and the culture, and visiting other music programs and nonprofit groups.
The band includes Ixchel Garcia and Esmeralda “Lala” Mendez, who are both 16 and attend the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science; Francesca Canepa, 14, a student at the Boston Arts Academy; and Sarah Coelho, 13, a student at East Boston Central Catholic School. Garcia, Mendez, and Canepa are East Boston residents, while Coelho lives in Winthrop.
Each has participated for years in classes at Zumix, a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award-winner founded in 1991 to offer children and teens an outlet for self-expression through music and the performing arts.
The band grew out of Zumix’s RockEd class, where students learn how to play in a band and perform in public. Canepa was part of a core group of students that continued to practice together after the class ended. When the group needed a guitarist, ensemble instructor Tris Coffin recruited Garcia, and he later brought in Mendez to play keyboards.
As band members moved on for various reasons, the core group coalesced into Annual Snowfall as it exists today: Canepa on vocals and keyboard, Garcia on guitar, and Mendez on bass guitar. Originally the band had a different drummer, but when she had to leave last spring, Coehlo stepped in.
Prior to their trip to England and France, Annual Snowfall had performed publicly around 20 times, at the Middle East in Cambridge, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Zumix, and at festivals around Greater Boston. They also recorded their first album, which they are now in the process of mixing.
With that much experience under their belts, the girls said they weren’t at all nervous about performing for audiences in London.
“I was like, I’m not going to see them again,” Garcia said.
“My attitude toward it was I’m just going to have fun and just enjoy it,” Mendez said.
The girls performed in two shows at the Paradise in London’s Kensal Green area, along with students from the Rhythm Studio at the London School of Popular Music, a music program for youth and adults that is in some ways similar to Zumix.
They also visited and toured the Rhythm Studio, as well as another nonprofit group, WGirls, which helps provide support and resources to women and children in need.
In Paris they visited the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, a research center for music and science at the Centre Georges Pompidou. There they got to visit an anechoic chamber, a room lined with sound-absorbing material so that it is totally silent. The experience is disorienting, they said.
“Your whole equilibrium changes because there’s no sound bouncing off the walls,” said Kim Dawson, Zumix’s program director, who accompanied the band on their trip. “They don’t let people stay in there very long because you’ll get dizzy, but your whole body feels different being in a room with zero sound.”
“You could hear your blood flowing inside,” Garcia said.
“As soon as I walked in, my eyes started to water,” Mendez said. “My ears kind of like started to hurt a little bit. … I had a mini-panic attack in my head. It’s too quiet.”
The trip gave the girls a chance to see the cities’ historic sites and experiment with some unfamiliar foods, such as lamb, apricots, couscous, and stinky French cheese. The London Olympics were an added bonus, Dawson said, and gave the girls a chance to have an even more international experience by visiting some of the cultural villages set up by participating nations.
“We saw an Olympic event by accident, too,” Dawson said. “We ran into the marathon happening in front of Buckingham Palace.”
The trip whetted each band member’s desire to travel more, though each responded in her own unique way. Garcia fell in love with Paris and wants to visit again, though she’s already planning a big trip to Australia when she graduates from high school in two years.
For Mendez, this was the first time on an airplane, and she’s eager to fly again. She wants to take her mom to visit London, though she found Paris “kind of frustrating” because she doesn’t speak French and “couldn’t understand anybody.”
Canepa has traveled pretty extensively, but had never been to London. Visiting the city fulfilled a long-held ambition, and it was even more exciting because she turned 14 the day they arrived.
“Ever since I was like 2 or 3 I’ve always told my mom that I wanted to go to London, and I finally went on my birthday. I was really happy,” she said.
In fact, Canepa loved it so much she’s talking to her parents about moving to London. She said her mom told her it’s possible, but her father is resistant to the idea because he’s gotten a bad view of Brits. He works at the InterContinental Hotel and says British guests never tip the staff.
Coehlo had done plenty of traveling prior to this trip, but for her the experience of performing before British crowds was exhilarating and made her want to perform internationally again. She said the audiences initially seemed not to know what to make of an American, all-female band, but they quickly warmed to Annual Snowfall once they began playing.
“On the radio, you don’t really hear all-girls bands,” she said. “I guess it was kind of different for them.”