I am a cellist in the Detroit Symphony with a volunteer project that I'd like to share with ICS readers. Once a year, I get together with one or two other string players and we go into our local elementary schools and demonstrate our instruments to the entire third grade class. Sometimes we have a cello, viola, and bass, sometimes three cellos. We discuss particular points and play some music, both alone and together. We approach this from a broad range of angles in the hopes of sparking interest and appreciation in as many kids as possible: the science of our tools/instruments, spelling, foreign language, the feel of horse hair, recognizable themes, and a little humor and weird sounds!
by Carole Gatwood
In light of all the brain research that has recently been published, which connects music study with higher test scores/SATs, complex thinking skills, visual-spatial skills, etc., and the endorsement from the business community of the specific skills that an arts education builds (see Business Week 10/28/96 "Educating for the Workplace through the Arts"), one can see the importance of inspiring young potential string players. By exposing them to cello playing up close, we can help to develop in them a respect for the arts, build future audiences, and open the door to some for their own musical journeys.
In case there are some of you who have wanted to take your instrument into schools but weren't sure how to go about it, here is a detailed outline of how one might go about doing a demo for kids:
- Approach the schools. I started with a music teacher.
- Tell him/her what you'd like to do and discuss how it would best fit into the music curriculum. (In which year are the students taught about the instruments of the orchestra? Is there a beginning string program and when does it start? We chose third grade, one year before violin instruction begins.)
- With the teacher's endorsement, contact the principal to discuss dates and times.
- Next, round up other musicians, if you like. One of you must be comfortable talking with kids.
- Choose or arrange some duets or trios.
- Gather the following:
- One used string, cleaned with alcohol
- An old bridge
- Two or three hanks of used bowhair from your local repairman. (Wash with detergent)
I prepared a one-page handout for the teachers to send home with each child after school which includes a short letter of introduction, informing the parents that we played our instruments for their children today. Sprinkled around a cello picture in the center are the following snippets:
- The String Family: violin, viola, cello, bass.
- Did You Know?: Stringed instruments come in full size, half size, quarter size, and even as small as one-tenth for very small children.
- New Findings: Music study develops discipline, complex thinking skills, creativity, higher SAT scores!
- If Your Child Shows an Interest: ask your principal about the string program, attend live concerts, consider private lessons.
- Quiz for Kids: (using a few facts about hair, rosin, etc. which we cover in the presentation)
- Web Site for kids: http://www.playmusic.org.
In the Classroom
~END OF DEMONSTRATION~
- Briefly introduce yourselves, telling where you live, what orchestra you play in.
- Introduce the Instrument(s)
- "Who knows what this is?"
- "Does anyone know how to spell the word 'CELLO'?"
- "What family of instruments is it in?... Name the others..."
- "How many strings does it have?"
- "Here's what a cello sounds like."
- Play a short movement of Bach.
- Parts of the Cello
- "What is it made of?..."
- Top and Back -- wood
- Strings and Endpin -- metal
- (Pass a string around the room.)
- "Does anyone know what this is called?" (bridge)
"Why?" (its shape)
- "It carries the vibrations from the string to the hollow box,
- where the sound can get loud."
- "The bridge is not held on by glue," etc.
- (Pass around a bridge.)
- Compare sizes of two contrasting instruments
- "Which plays higher (or lower)? and why?"
- Discuss string length, string thickness.
- "What am I doing to produce different pitches? What makes a higher note?..."
- Discuss the length of the vibrating portion of string. As it gets shorter, vibrations also get shorter.
(Play some glissandi.)
- The Bow
- "What is this called?"
- "What is it made of?"
- Hair: Explain that it doesn't hurt horses and their tail hair grows back.
(Pass around some bow hair.)
- Explain that if they looked at hair under a microscope they would see a jagged surface, like a saw.
- We put rosin (show rosin), made from sticky tree sap, on the hair.
- It gets into the jagged surface and makes the hair grab the string and sets off the vibrations.
- Without rosin you wouldn't hear any sound.
- (Play some open strings with an explosive accent.)
- Option: Kids could line up to put a hand on the back of a string bass to feel vibrations.
- Play a piece together.
- Different Sounds we can make ("Sometimes a composer wants...")
- Pizzicato/plucked (Play opening of 'Hall of the Mountain King' -- Grieg)
- Pizzicato/strummed (Play any chords)
- Mute (Play without and with mute.)
- Tremolo (Play tremolo.)
- Sul ponticello = Italian, means 'on the bridge' (Play ponticello. 'El Amor Brujo' has a good rhythmic e-minor figure.)
Also: composers might use this to sound scary. (Play tremolo pont. minor chords.)
- Col legno = Italian, means 'on the wood' (Improvise Spanish rhythms using double-stops.)
- Harmonics (Play "Reveille" or "Taps.")
- Play another piece together. ("Ragtime" makes a good finale.)
- Our Instruments
- Where and when each was made. If time, an interesting story about your cello.
- "Cellos and violins come in smaller sizes for kids: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, even 1/10 size for 3-year-olds."
- Talk about their school's string program.
- Mention the option of studying privately.
- Tell what age you were when you started on the cello.
- Questions from the Students.
An interesting variation occurred the time I brought my 4-year-old who takes Suzuki violin. This shows clearly the positive impact kids can have on peers. My son played just one song at the end of our program. After that, questions were about him: "How many songs does he know? ... How long has he been playing? ... Can he play another one? ... How old is he? ... When did he start? ... Where can I take lessons?(!!!)"
My hope, in writing this article, is that it might inspire some of you to do the same. I would also be interested to read about others' experiences in this subject and welcome the input of string teachers concerning how best to support string programs. I'm always looking for new ideas.