Fifth-graders hear, play with N.C. Symphony

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Gracie Warden already takes piano lessons, but she could be adding viola to the mix.
“I like how the melody is low,” she said.
The fifth-grader from Millbridge Elementary School was inspired to try her hand at a new instrument after seeing the N.C. Symphony perform Thursday at Catawba College’s Keppel Auditorium.
And she isn’t the only one.
Classmate Jordan Watts was also drawn to a stringed instrument. The range of the violin is what piqued her interest.
“It’s neat because you can play all different pitches,” she said.
Landis students Hannah Wallace and Egypt Littlejohn are more attracted to the crisp sound of the brass instruments. Hannah said French horn could be in her future, while Egypt plans to follow in her older brother’s footsteps and pick up the trumpet.
Music teacher Lucy Shue said it’s not unusual for students to walk away from the annual performance wanting to learn to play an instrument.
“It definitely sparks kids’ interest in symphony instruments, which is great because fifth grade is the gateway to band the next year,” she said.
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The N.C. Symphony has been performing for students in the Rowan-Salisbury School System for decades.
Students have always attended the concert free of charge, but that luxury was jeopardized when budget cuts forced the district to nix funding for the performance.
“The Salisbury Symphony felt very strongly that this was an experience that was important, so we requested to receive funding from the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation and the Woodson Foundation,” said Susan Trivette, education director for the Salisbury Symphony.
Trivette said it costs about $12,000 a year to provide the concerts for the district’s fifth-graders.
“That’s a lot of grant money to find,” she said. “The Robertson and Woodson foundations have been very generous in their funding.”
Teachers like Shue, who teaches at China Grove and Faith elementary schools, say it’s a once in a lifetime experience for many students.
“I don’t think they realize how big of an opportunity it is until they get older,” she said. “But they are still amazed by the music coming to life in front of them.”
Beth Yelvington, who teaches music at Overton and China Grove elementaries, said students are always thrilled to discover new instruments.
“Every year when they show the bassoon it’s always like, “ahhhh” because none of us have a bassoon to bring to class,” she said.
And Yelvington said the concert is a wonderful experience for the nearly 2,000 students.
“It’s so much different to see it live than sitting in class and listening to a recording,” she said. “Hopefully this plants some kind of seed they can hold on to for the rest of their lives.”
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Before attending the concert, students learn the fundamentals of music, musical terminology, the instruments of the orchestra and concert repertoire.
“They get more out of the experience if they have some prior knowledge,” Shue said.
During the concert Thursday, conductor William Henry Curry told the students about everything from texture to melody. He also shared tidbits about each composer before performing each piece.
The hour-long program featured eight different pieces of music, one of which enlisted students to join in.
About 400 of the students showcased their skills on the recorder, performing Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” for audience members.
After they were done, the symphony played the song and all students sang the lyrics, first in English then in German.
Jordan said she was nervous at first, but after arriving at Keppel Auditorium her fears subsided.
“When I got here I thought, ‘Oh this isn’t a big deal,’ ” she said.
Gracie said it was empowering to be able to play during the concert.
“It was a fun opportunity to show kids they can play with the symphony and maybe someday be in one,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.