Providence’s Meeting Street School is an incredible place. To be frank, I was not exactly thrilled to have to get up so early on consecutive mornings in order to fill in for Laura (out of commission with a bad cold) for two days of 9-10, 10-11, and 11-12 school presentations last week. But that feeling changed the moment I set foot on the brand new campus at the intersection of Eddy Street and Thurbers Avenue in South Providence.
Day One. Chloe, Jesse and I can’t agree on what time to rendezvous at the office, so we each drive ourselves over to the school. I know I’m in the right neighborhood when I turn onto Eddy Street in front of a certain graffiti-enhanced Chevy Prism [see March 26 post]. We all sign in at the front desk and head down a hallway to one of the school’s large rooms for the first of three demonstrations that we’d been rehearsing over the past several days.
After introducing ourselves, and our instruments, we start the program with a couple movements of the Dohnanyi Serenade, follow that up with the variations movement from the Mozart E-flat Major String Trio, and then present a dramatic reading of Hansel and Gretel that Laura had imported from her time with her string trio in Los Angeles. Using brief musical excerpts (Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony’s first theme, Copland’s Simple Gifts, Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) to create specific atmospheres, the story would allow us to match music with emotions that we could return to in the classroom setting the following day.
That was the plan, had Jesse not forgotten his music back at the office. Chloe was amazing and vamped for about ten minutes on various and relevant topics, keeping the kids engaged. I contributed a lengthy rendition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite in G, drawing it out and hoping to spot the Chevy Prism through the large windows at the back of the room as it re-entered the parking lot.
Ironically, this was a situation that the Providence Quartet has used to great critical acclaim in school demonstrations. Each player independently enters the room with a different excuse ("I missed the bus" "I overslept") until Jesse (bike helmet and reflectors flashing) comes pedaling down the aisle and the ensemble becomes a complete quartet. [see November 11 post]
As CMW’s Director of Development, it was certainly an unusual experience for me to get to sit in with Jesse and Chloe in this situation and become a teaching artist again. It has been quite a while since I sat down with a cello in front of a group of kids. I don’t think anyone at the performances would have identified me as an administrator masquerading as a performer, but it sure was an odd feeling to be in the middle of Hansel and Gretel and to look up and see two of our biggest local funders peering in from the hallway, in the middle of what was clearly a school site visit.
After the first presentation, the rest of the morning went off without a hitch.
Day Two. A word about the Meeting Street School. When I started this post by calling it an incredible place, I wasn’t just talking about the gleaming new facility. The school is a national model for classroom inclusion of children with a wide range of developmental disabilities, include those that are quite profound. Not only is it a school, but Meeting Street also boasts a national center for research and professional development for teachers and therapists. Right in our neighborhood!
We start again at 9 am. This time we have all of our music, and I’m playing on my own cello (instead of my wife’s), freshly adjusted by Gary Davis and with four new strings.
I can’t say enough about how well Chloe and Jesse handled these 45-minute presentations (read: carried me on their backs). Both of them have that special ability to connect with kids, and it’s easy to see why each of their CMW students have grown so attached. Chloe, as the witch threatening poor Hansel and Gretel, cackled with evil glee and got volunteers from the audience to wear witches hats and chop wood-she had the little ones in the front row in the palm of her hand! Jesse ended up "helping" several youngsters to play the Sesame Street theme, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Happy Birthday, and Twinkle Twinkle when we put down our own instruments and spent the final ten minutes of each session giving the kids a chance to scrub away on smaller instruments that we had brought over from the CMW office.
The teachers and therapists at the Meeting Street School are downright impressive. The level of care and connection that they clearly have achieved with even the least connectable kids was so wonderful to see. I think we each walked away feeling completely exhausted, but also changed and inspired by our brief experience. I have a feeling that this won’t be CMW’s only interaction with the incredible Meeting Street School.
-Heath Marlow, CMW staff