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Laurie Niles

December 4, 2003 at 5:38 AM

Never underestimate the educational power of an auditorium of school kids yelling "Sponge Bob Square Pants!" That's the lesson I learned after playing 12 quartet concerts for local public school children this fall.

No matter that we lured them in with a goofy character from a kids' T.V. show. We got them to listen with rapt attention to quite an eclectic mix of music, with little bits of Kreisler, Fiddler on the Roof, Blue Danube, Dvorak's New World, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Flight of the Bumblebee and more.

It all came about when my friend, Marisa McLeod, and I expressed our interest in playing some shows for the Pasadena Symphony's education program. We noticed a little note on the bulletin board during a rehearsal, asking musicians to play for school concerts for children ages six to eight. Her son is seven and my daughter is six, and watching our own children has only strengthened our conviction that children need to hear music, to feel it, to have it in their lives.

Unfortunately, the public schools in America often give music education short shrift. Children's knowledge of music is not measured with a standardized test. And being a society that doesn't seem to understand the value of something with no immediate "purpose" or measurable result, we discarded it as a "frill" of education.

The Pasadena Symphony has stepped in and come up with a very ambitious education outreach program for the children who happen to live in this district (mine!). The Symphony gives public schools lesson plan books for young children, monthly concerts for first-and second-graders, training to help teachers include music education in their classrooms and a box for each school filled with books, CDs, tapes, rhythm instruments and art supplies.

We were thrilled to be a part of it, and we decided to write a show that we thought would lure the kids in while also giving them something valuable to remember. I wrote a story about a girl losing her tooth, her brother throwing it in the river and the tooth fairy coming to give her a little money for her tooth despite the fact that it was lost. Then we chose little bits of music that fit the characters and storyline and interspersed them through the story. We called it the "Losing Teeth Leitmotif." After telling the story, we tested them to see if they remembered the "leitmotifs." They did!

I hope they also found new understanding for how music can express something without using words, how four stringed instruments can make so much wonderful noise, how fun it all is, how they should keep seeking the music that is everywhere in their lives.

Thanks, Sponge Bob!

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