It’s Tuesday evening, about 7:00 PM at Federal Hill House. Lessons have been taught; two orchestras, totaling about 30 second-graders, have rehearsed; instruments have been hauled to and from rooms; and tables and chairs have been stacked and unstacked, arranged and rearranged.
I’m giving Adrienne the rundown of today’s session with our first-year Daily Orchestra Program students (whom we have now dubbed “The Britten Orchestra”). “The problem is I just can’t get the cellos to stop talking!” I say.
We both simultaneously realize that it’s because they’re all friends, and they just can’t help joking around with each other during orchestra. (Somehow this problem isn’t present in the violin section, but I’ll keep my own musings about the larger implications of the nature of violinists vs. cellists to myself.)
Even though the endless chatter from our young second-grade cello section is giving me a headache I decide that it’s really not the worst problem to have, and it might even be a sign that we’re doing something good. After all, having our students make friends with each other is one of our goals. So if they’re making friends and making noise together? Success! Sometimes I just wish they’d make noise more quietly.
Up until the winter break our two orchestras were meeting as two separate groups at separate times. By our final class of 2013, our second-year group (now dubbed “The Beethovens”) had made steady progress on the familiar round “Frere Jacques” as well as the seasonal favorite “Jingle Bells.” On Fridays the Beethovens continued to have fun with improvisation games. One of the favorites was “Animal Guessing Game,” for which students divided into teams, came up with an animal and a way of imitating that animal on their instruments, and had other teams guess their animal based on a short performance. Our “Holiday Guessing Game” was the most creative experience yet, though sadly, no one was able to guess the exact words “Santa climbing down the chimney with his reindeer on the roof” (We guessed santa and reindeer, but not the entire specific scenario).
Our first-year ensemble (the “Brittens”) ended 2013 with a spectacular review game show, in which each student added a small piece to a winter scene when he/she answered a question correctly. The winter scene ended up looking like this:
Okay, so it didn’t quite turn out in the way I had envisioned when I originally cut out the pieces, but that’s just the way things go around here. The conglomeration pictured above is proof that each and every student was able to answer a review question correctly, which means that each and every student learned something in the first half of their year in the Daily Orchestra Program!
Since the downbeat of 2014 we have taken the courageous step of combining two orchestras into one. The Brittens and Beethovens have come together, each group adding to the other group a dimension that might not have been present before. Last Friday our freshly combined orchestras strutted their stuff for the audience at the Performance Party. The Beethovens supplied a pizziccato accompaniment for the Brittens during the truly rockin’ “Rock N’ Roll.” Then they proceeded to stun me with their beautiful singing of “Are You Sleeping,” before they played it on their instruments, with Beethovens bowing the melody along with a steady pizziccato provided by the Brittens.
Adrienne and I were both so proud of our Daily Orchestra’s performance. With the week shortened by a holiday and a snow day, we were not quite sure we’d be able to pull it all together. However, our young orchestra members united for the evening and not only did an amazing job but smiled and clearly enjoyed themselves while doing it. “You couldn’t have wiped the smile off of Jimmyla’s face!” beamed a joyful grandmother.
I saw many many unwipeable smiles that night. It is such a pleasure to see our students taking pride and enjoyment in their music. Adrienne and I are both looking forward to the new semester ahead with the Daily Orchestra Program!