On Tuesday, May 15, the Central Ohio Symphony welcomed some 900 fourth-graders from the city of Delaware and Delaware County for another interactive concert in OWU’s David S. Gray Chapel. The theme was “The Orchestra Sings.” Jaime Morales-Matos was the conductor this year, and Kristen Basore once again served as host and song leader. This was an exciting field trip for the kids, but it was also the climax of many weeks and months of preparation for them. Throughout the school year, they had practiced a number of vocal and instrumental pieces. Hundreds brought their recorders and sang and played along while the orchestra performed. They were no longer passive listeners; they became fully engaged partners. Who knows – as a result of this experience some may end up as professional musicians in an orchestra some day.
After a rendition of Mozart’s overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” the children were introduced to the four sections of the orchestra – the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Then, they learned about proper tuning. “The orchestra tunes to the oboe,” Kristen Basore explained. After the introduction, about 10 pieces were on the program. Some were songs with words such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Come to Play,” the old Shaker song “Tis a Gift to Be Simple,” “To Make Words Sing,” and “I Bought Me a Cat.” Beethoven’s Ode to Joy” (from his Symphony No. 9) also played a prominent role. Curious parents can find these and other “Link Up” songs on YouTube if they type in “Carnegie” and the title of the song.
After this first round, the students learned that musical instruments too can play melodies and tell stories – so-called “songs without words.” Examples were Dvorak’s “Symphony from the New World” and Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird.” Of course, the Symphony played only excerpts, not the entire works. Then, 17-year-old Hayes High School junior (and rising senior) Adryán Rojas played part of the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concert in E minor, accompanied by the full orchestra. He is a talented musician whose award-winning quartet has already performed in a number of national competitions. He performed the fast and challenging Mendelssohn piece with great technical skill and emotional depth, as demanded by the composer (“allegro molto appassionato”). The young, mature violinist is seriously contemplating a career in music and hopes to attend a music conservatory after his graduation from high school.
All the kids had great fun at the concert. Not one looked distracted or bored. Not only that – they also learned a lot about orchestras and classical music during the event. They may soon forget the names of Mozart and Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Dvorak, but what they won’t forget is the power of music and how it can unite even disparate people and build community. The last song, sung by everyone in Spanish and English, was the jazzy and rhythmically inspiring “Oye”: “I am all alone,” the song starts, “in tears and in the dark.” But others call out to her and reach out to him, ready to embrace the child lost in the shadows, and lift it up. With music, no one is alone. Singing brings together and builds community. It also gives hope and empowers. The kids were swaying, dancing, and jumping in excitement when they sang “Oye.” This is an experience the fourth-graders will not forget.
Thanks are due to the Delaware County Foundation for major project support as well as the Ohio Arts Council, Aldi Food Stores, the City of Delaware, Delaware Lions Club, the Delaware Music Academy (Adam Furay served as sound engineer), and Ohio Wesleyan University. Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute provided the programming concept and curriculum materials. Thanks are also due to the many active participants, especially the kids themselves and their music instructors. Kristen Basore’s strong leadership and beautiful voice deserve special recognition. Her job may have been the most demanding of them all, but as a professional studio teacher of piano, voice, and acting she handled it with confidence and grace. Lastly, our thanks also go to the various school districts in Delaware County that supported the initiative. Events of this nature inspire not only the children, impacting their future in unknown and immeasurable ways, they also enrich families, communities, and society as a whole. As Lyndon B. Johnson said in his remarks when he signed the bill to create the NEA and NEH in 1965, “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage.” Without the vision and mission that the arts, including music, provide, the people perish and will be condemned to loneliness, darkness, and tears. There is no greater gift we can give to our children than the arts.
Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., teaches foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.