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Pauline Lerner

February 25, 2005 at 5:49 AM

After hearing two great concerts at the new concert hall near my home on Saturday and Sunday, I went back on Monday and had fun again. There was a Festival of the Arts there, with free admission. The festival was advertised as family friendly, and it was held on a holiday when kids were home from school and most adults were home from work. It was more successful than its planners had anticipated, with attendance estimated at 5,000. I rode there with one of my students and her father, and we met her mother and little sister there. Since I have no children or family of my own, I particularly enjoy these jaunts with my students and their families. There were so many great things to see and hear, and I regretted that I hadn’t brought my camera. I was especially impressed with the intense focus and concentration of so many of the kids while learning new things.

I like the architecture of the building. It is pretty from both the outside and the inside. Inside, all the walls are light colored, and there are huge picture windows. There is an open, light, and airy feeling to the place. The weather was pleasant, and some people went outside and strolled around or sat on park benches. There was a real festival atmosphere, the kind I only expect to experience at outdoor festivals. Even the behavior of the people was remarkable. Even though the place was crowded, the adults didn’t push or shove and the children were all well behaved.

Entertainment was everywhere, including the lobbies. There was a juggler in a clown costume who threw balls to some of the youngest kids at short range. There were crafters, including weavers, spinners, and lace makers. They all explained what they were doing to anyone who was interested, and most of them let the kids try the crafts. There were music and dance performances, including hand dancing and Cambodian traditional dance. The Cambodian dancers were dressed in traditional costumes of brilliant red and blue with gold head dresses. The hand dancers did a demo and then let audience members join in.

There were lots of good things on the stage of the concert hall. First, the lucky people near the start of the line got to go on stage and take a bow while the M.C. announced their names, for example, “Alison and her Mom. Let’s have a big round of applause for Alison and her Mom.” Those of us in the audience gave everyone who made it to the stage a big round of applause. Then came the designated performers. First there were kids from a local Irish exhibition dance school, dressed in traditional costume. The kids often start Irish step dance at age five, and by the time they reach their teens, they are consummate performers. They did some very impressive step dancing. Some of them were so good that they were national champions. They danced to reels, jigs, and hornpipes played by Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, and he was really, really good. He played many “chestnuts” and crowd pleasers, including Kesh Jig. He did an instrumental break without the dancers, and he really got fancy. He played an O’Carolan tune, Planxty Fannie Powers, through three times, each time more highly ornamented. The third time, his fingers were flying through a lot of fast notes. I’ve played this tune many times, but never like this. After the Irish performers, there were two women who sang children’s songs, and they had the children singing along. They even taught the kids how to sing a little harmony. The last group of performers was a doo-wop singing group, and they sang some great songs. I noticed a lot of oldsters like me in the audience. I don’t think kids have caught onto this genre yet.

One of the special things about this music center is that it is also a teaching center. One of the major local children’s music schools is affiliated with the music center and has a whole suite of rooms there. The School had an instrument “petting zoo” there that day, and kids could drop in and try playing each of several different instruments. One of my current students, a delightful seven year old girl, came to me for violin lessons after going to a summer camp with an instrument petting zoo type of program. She knew, from her own hands-on experience, that she wanted to play the violin. I thought that it would be good for me to learn about this type of zoo, so I went. Kids were standing in three lines to get the chance to play one of several small size violins, and there weren’t enough teachers there to help them. I couldn’t help myself from jumping in and helping the kids. I don’t know who had more fun, them or me. I could sense that magic that happens when someone connects with a violin. It’s like falling in love. The kid who learned the most the fastest, by far, was fifteen years old. (Almost all the other kids were under the age of nine.) After just a few minutes with him, I had to tell him, ”I’m sorry, but there isn’t any more that I can teach you now. You would need to take lessons.” He and his mother, who was listening, were both very excited about the possibility. Some of the younger ones were equally excited when they found that they could make a pretty sound on the open strings. I showed some of them how to put their fingers down on a string to make notes of different pitches, with the help of tape on the fingerboard. Only one little girl looked like she just didn’t get it. The problem was that she was too small for even the smallest violin there. I told her that it would be more fun if she had a smaller violin to play, but she wasn’t impressed. She would have had to try it herself to know.

I decided that it would not be ethical for me to try to recruit students for myself there, since I’m not affiliated with the School. However, a few parents asked me whether I could give them my business card, and I was happy to oblige. Amidst the rush, one of the teachers from the School said to me, “Be sure to speak to me before you leave,” so I did. She said, “You have such a way with kids!” I was really pleased because I have no formal training as a teacher and I’m not even a mother. She asked me whether I could help out at some of their other instrument petting zoos, and she said that she would pay me. Oh, boy! This is like being paid to eat. Afterwards, I thought, again, about one of the things that Laurie has written about several times: It’s really important to educate kids about music, particularly classical music. I decided to find some way to do this in local schools while I’m unemployed and have the time available. I’ve just started making inquiries.

My last stop at the festival was at a dance class for the very young, also put on by the School. It was great to watch. Most of the kids were so young that they didn’t know right from left or how to count. Some of them were carried in their mother’s arms. The young woman who was the dance teacher led the kids in different activities designed to let them move their bodies in a deliberate and fun way. She told them to tiptoe and sh-h-h-h. She did it and they followed her as if she were the Pied Piper. She had them do other movements with her, like skipping and “melting.” I had a lot of fun watching them.

All this in just one weekend at the new concert hall near my home! I can see that I am in for some good times ahead.

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