Playing in Tune with Giving Hearts

Elizabeth Catlin tentatively plucked a few notes on a violin after eighth-graders McKenzie Watkoski and Presley Avery showed her how. The she gamely played along with a blues tune played by the student orchestra, which had come to entertain her and fellow residents of their long-term care facility.

“This is neat. I love it,” said Catlin, 74, of the cafeteria concert at the Sanctuary at St. Mary’s. “I sure like music, especially kids from Kenowa Hills,” added the grandmother of a former Kenowa band student.

Judging from their smiles and heads nodding in time, a few dozen other St. Mary’s residents also like music, especially when it’s brought specially for them by young people.

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St. Mary’s resident Betty Stevens gave it the old college try on violin, encouraged by freshman McKenzie Talsma About 40 members of the Kenowa ensemble played not only for but with the facility’s residents, as part of their Giving Bach program. Begun in 2009 by California music instructor Richard Meyer, the initiative aims to give young musicians opportunities to perform for others in educational and interactive ways.

District orchestra Director Weston Hosler brought the program here after seeing Meyer present at a conference, beginning last year with his seventh-grade musicians performing for special-education students. The 55-member eighth-grade/high school orchestra this year created a program on their own with the goal of 20 group presentations to schools and the broader community, Hosler said.   

“My goal is to inspire my students to want to go out and inspire the community,” said Hosler, in his ninth year at Kenowa. “No matter what the group is, I want them to feel they’ve touched the lives of somebody else.”

Rileigh Botbyl gives Richard Kelley pointers on playing the violin Plucking the Blues

The orchestra players clearly felt that way in their performance for the residents, beginning with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. Hosler gave the crowd a short lesson in the history of stringed instruments and how they are played, and students demonstrated each one.

Following the Brandenburg, Hosler invited residents to come into the orchestra so they could hear the various instruments up close. Students then went out and mingled with the residents, showing them how to pluck along with the “D-String Blues.”

First violinist Rileigh Botbyl kidded Richard Kelley as she bowed her violin while he held it. He mischievously reciprocated with a duck call.

“They’re just so much fun,” Rileigh, a senior, said of the residents. “It makes me happy to be able to serve them and help them out, and it brings them just as much joy as it does us.

“Anything we can do to bring a smile to their face, that’s what we just love.”

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.


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