When music mentor Yun Preece set foot into the fourth-grade exploratory music session at Kent City Elementary, she was as excited to hear what the 115 students knew about classical music as they were to hear her play a solo rendition of the “Star Wars” theme.
“It’s been fun to find out what (students) know, and show them they know more than they think,” said Preece, who was impressed at the wide variety of composers with which the Kent City students were familiar. She said she appreciates the sense of accomplishment this age group has when they can share what they already know, as well as when they learn a new musical concept.
For example, when she asked what tempo the Bach violin concerto she played was in, the answer was shouted in unison: “Presto!’
Through a program started by Carnegie Hall called ‘Link Up’, orchestra members across the country are paired with third-through fifth-grade students to teach music and listening skills, as well as prep them for a collaborative concert with a professional orchestra and students from other districts.
“It helps them value and appreciate live orchestra,” said music teacher Rhonda Vanderwest, whose students have participated in the program for six years. “It opens their minds to the beauty of music.”
For some students, the lesson from a professional musician provided several firsts. “I hadn’t heard a violin in person before,” said Heather Polene, who hopes to play the flute once she enters middle school.
The demonstration from Preece was the first of two at the school to get the students ready to visit the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra in May. The students, along with classes from other area districts, will attend the collaborative concert with recorders in hand. In addition to having the opportunity to hear a performance from the full orchestra, students will be singing and playing along with their recorders on several songs.
More Than Music
Prior to becoming music mentors, symphony members go through a training program so they can make the most of their time in the schools. Preece employed a number of methods, such as conductor-type hand movements to keep the attention of the classroom filled with energetic youngsters.
“The biggest thing for this age group is having listening skills,” said Preece, whose demonstration included both listening exercises and engaging activities, such as the entire class self-conducting “Row Row Row Your Boat.”
Beyond preparing them for the concert, Preece shared her love of music-making with the students, and said she hoped they would be encouraged to make music themselves. “I like teaching the concept that although music isn’t tangible, it is something the students can create,” she said.
After the lesson, students were eager to share what instruments they already played, or were hoping to pick up.
“I play the piano,” said Sam Martini. “It’s fun to play because it’s unique and cool.”
Corban Klinek had other ambitions. “I’m really looking forward to playing harp,” he said. “It’s very elegant.”