After my long absence from blogging, we have some things to talk about! I’ll start with lessons.
The quartet and I have thus far been giving more lessons to our Harding Middle School students than anything! I personally have a number of very interested 7th graders who have been soaking up musical knowledge like sponges.
Unfortunately this week is all about ITEDs testing, and that means, of course, that it can’t be all about our IMM project. Therefore, we will not be seeing the Harding students during the day this week. That does not mean that we cannot make progress with after school lessons. Twelve cello students replied that are interested in taking private lessons. I decided to go with the riskier plan we discussed at the last Sunday meeting, to pick certain days of the week to have lessons and hope that people show up to take them. I would really love to have individual lessons with each student, but I just don’t have that much time to give.
Last week we met with the 7th grade orchestra for the second time. Sectionals were a new idea to them, but they caught on very fast. The four cellos and I worked on an admittedly difficult piece, Bad Romance, by none-other than Lady Gaga. Most of the troubles came from the multiple sections of off beats and complex rhythms; and I struggled explaining to the 7th graders how each part was supposed to be counted and played. Many of the problems could be solved by listening to the song, but it shocked me to see how few of the students knew the song at all, let alone well enough to get the rhythms. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced “generational shock”. Almost all of my high school classmates know the song, but it is apparently not as popular to kids that are only four years younger than me really hit me pretty hard. My next thought was: how can classical music from hundreds of years ago survive in a pop culture world when hit songs from one year ago are forgotten the next?
We also had some fun with the 6th graders the day before City Contest, on April 1st. Christina and I listened to a cello and violin duet and gave them helpful tips (hopefully). Their biggest issues were with tone and sound depth. The first run-through they played very well, but quite softly. With some coaching and confidence boosting, on their last play-through they ripped through the Can-Can like never before. I was proud, and I believe they were happy
Our large group presentations to the middle schoolers are done, and, hopefully, the hardest part of the project is over. You wouldn’t think you would be nervous playing in front of students who, we have been told by Mrs. Hauschildt, look to you like orchestral Gods, but the nerves always find a way in. Still, it was a fun time, and we were surprised by the reactions we received from some the students. The 7th graders amazed us with a good 10 to 15 minutes of questions ranging from “Would you ever play a different instrument?” to “How can we fit orchestra into our schedules?”. The 8th graders were a bit more subdued, but they seemed more interested in getting to know us (I’m guessing because they are closer to our age) and asked what orchestra was like in high school. The 6th graders were the most engaged group, and we were completely taken aback by their class size (they have 15 cellos) and then by their attentiveness. They were the most silent group I’ve ever played for. Before their class, Mrs. Hauschildt gave us one of the pieces they were starting to learn (La Rejouissance), and we performed it for them at a relaxed tempo so they could understand their parts a little better – and then at break-neck speed for some entertainment. One cello in the front row smiled so big I thought his face was going to be stuck like that – no kidding! It was a great time with all the grades, and we are really excited to start sectionals with them this week.
The quartet met on Sunday for several hours to rehearse our upcoming introductory presentations at Harding. Iman describes the presentation in her post if you want to get a feel of the layout. Anyway, as we were practicing, I realized how much rested on 15 minutes of talking to each of the grades. In such a short period of time, we have to convince the middle schoolers that we are capable musicians and teachers, we are awesome people to hang out with, and they should get involved in our project by accepting individual lessons. The success of our project depends on these first meetings. I’m a little bit nervous. The two pieces we are playing are solid, but I still worry about the overall presentation. Wish us luck.
P.S. Our quartet has decided that having a script is more unnerving than not. I think we will appeal more to the students if we are able to just talk to them, more student-to-student level.
Today we headed over to Mrs. Ponton’s studio to learn how to help young orchestra members advance in their music. It turns out that explaining how to hold the bow or violin or viola or cello is much more difficult than one would expect. We take for granted that we just know how to work the basics of music, and when it comes time to pass along our knowledge to beginning music students, we are completely inarticulate. After fumbling and finding words (and diagrams) to describe proper string technique, we discussed how to achieve great sound from your instrument. This went better than the “holding” techniques, but it was still hard to do. For our final instructional pointer, Mrs. Ponton talked to us about ringing tones, the notes that sympathetically resonate with open strings. These are great tools to teach players early on so that they can improve their intonation.
Now that I’ve had lessons on teaching myself, I can honestly say that I’m ashamed of the lessons I’ve given before this. Fortunately, I’ll be seeing the same students again when our quartet goes to Harding Middle School.
In other news: we met with Mrs. Hauschildt, the orchestra director at Harding, to decide when our quartet would introduce ourselves to the students. March 8th and 9th we are giving small performances to all three orchestra grades to, hopefully, pump them up for our project. It looks like we are going to be planning school-day visits and lessons on a weekly basis.
Kyle & team: Christina, Iman and Eric
Hello, me llamo Kyle. We are going to be spending a lot of time together in the next couple of months; provided you keep reading my additions to the blog. I don’t want to sound desperate, but I do enjoy reading comments, and you are in a position to indulge me. With an introduction this creepy, you should have a lot to comment about anyway. Please leave as many comments as you would like to. I want you to talk to me.
So….I play the cello in the Kennedy Quartet (real name undecided, give name suggestions if you are creative), and our group is going to be working on boosting the musical abilities of orchestra students at Harding Middle School in Cedar Rapids. With a little luck, and a lot of work, we hope to give sectionals and lessons to all of the orchestra students in grades sixth through eighth. Extra time will be devoted to the upper strings (in years, not pitch or ability) with master classes. It is our wish that all grades and ensembles perform for their parents and maybe even a mini-show case for the community. Stay tuned for more details and my thoughts on how it’s going. Now that we know the basic layout of our project, I’m eager to get going.
Backing up to the first IMM meeting, I had a pretty cool time. It was interesting to have so many people who care about music in the community in one place. I met so many new people who were not only fun to be around but productive as well.
Have a great day!