May 9, 2013

Many Strings Attached


This week our students in both the preschool and the elementary school were treated to wonderful classical music performances from professional musicians within our school community. 

On Monday, Carolyn Kuban and George Banks, the parents of 2nd grade Teacher Candidate Andrew Banks, brought their harp and cello to the Great Room.  The very next day, Friends’ parents Beth and Thomas Heinrich wowed the preschoolers with their cello and violin.

George and Carolyn both played with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra – George still does.  Carolyn is now a music therapist and still plays the harp professionally, having played with the Colorado Music Festival and Central City Opera.

They played a delightful mix of classical music for our kids, and even improvised on the spot.  Our students were a wonderful audience and impressed by the amazing quality of the performance as well as the mechanics of how the instruments worked. They asked many questions and our performers were very impressed by the audience’s active listening and overall enthusiasm. 

For TC Andrew, the concert brought back memories of childhood when he would play with his trucks backstage at the orchestra, waiting for rehearsal to finish. Andrew is proud of his parents’ vocation and loves connecting his students with part of his heritage and what he calls “the basis and backdrop for
modern music.”

Thomas and Beth are also current and former members of the Colorado Symphony.  In fact, George and Thomas sometimes carpool from Boulder to play in the same string section!  Thomas is also the assistant principal cellist of The Santa Fe Opera orchestra. Beth, who made her solo debut at the age of seventeen at Carnegie Hall, is still an active orchestral and chamber musician.

Parents of Friends’ students Eli and Emi, Thomas and Beth brought in pint-sized instruments for the children to play on, after impressing our three and four year olds with superb performances.  It’s not too often that an entire preschool class will sit still mesmerized for 20 minutes!

Beth and Thomas talked about the parts of the instruments, how bowstrings are made of horsehair, and rosin comes from pine trees. They made the connection for the kids between music and feelings.  After a particularly upbeat Mozart piece, several children exclaimed how they felt “Happy!” One child said, “My heart was beating fast.” Thomas responded,  “So was ours!”

After the performance, our preschoolers were eager to try playing the cello and violin at the ‘instrument petting zoo’.  Some took to the experience immediately.  In Thomas’ words, “I could see joy, exuberance and smiles spreading from cheek to cheek.”  Some kids were a little more timid to try something new.  The teachers were delighted at how Beth and Thomas expressed how new things can be hard, and how they gently played while allowing the more nervous children to touch the instrument.

I later asked Thomas, who like Beth began playing his instrument at age three and started formal lessons at age six, why he believed it is important for young children to learn to play music. He said, “Young children are so receptive to music at this age, like language.  They are able to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions through music that they cannot express in words.  Teaching kids music gives them an important seed that can grow and blossom.”

Friends’ preschool teacher Jessie Vanden Hogen, herself a passionate and talented violinist, shared with me an article about the importance of music in early childhood education that comes from the Colorado State Standards.  She pointed out the essential role that music plays in the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, physical, and creative development of children.  She particularly liked the quotes: “Music is one of humanity’s deepest rivers of continuity. It connects each new generation to those who have gone before. Students need music to make these connections and to express the otherwise inexpressible.” and “Research shows that music provides a firm foundation for connecting concepts, facts, and higher order thinking skills throughout the curriculum. Music should be an integral part of the program of general education for all Colorado students.”

When George Banks asked our elementary students how many of them played a musical instrument, I was amazed to see how many hands shot up. Following the concert, Andrew received an email from one of our parents: “My son was so moved by your mother's harp playing yesterday.  I have rarely seen him this way before, but he now knows that he is meant to be a harp player!  He would be thrilled to take lessons from your mother.” Lessons have already been arranged! 

Our preschoolers, who end each day with The Goodbye Song, were played out of circle by professional symphony musicians  - musicians who also got their first exposure with the muse at a similar age.

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