The following account is provided by POP Viola TA Jennifer Boorum:
On December 17th, 2012, I had the privilege of performing with my Play On, Philly! colleagues, Naomi Gonzalez (violin) and Victoria De La Cruz (cello), for 5th- through 8th-graders at the Hope Partnership for Education in North Philadelphia. The experience was inspiring and, while we entered the classroom hoping to spark a new interest in the students, the few hours we spent there also served us tremendously as musicians, teachers, and people.
Prior to our visit to Hope, our string trio had the benefit of an expert coaching by Mary Javian, bassist and Coordinator of theSchool Partnership Program at thePhiladelphia Orchestra. The piece we chose to work with was Ernő Dohnányi’s Serenade in C Major, a 20th-century four-movement trio for violin, viola, and cello, with so much to extract and unpack for the kids who would hear it. We and the rest of the POP Teaching Artists left feeling energized by the idea of incorporating more interactive performance into our own careers, and Naomi, Victoria, and I were anxious to meet our audience on December 17th.
The following week, upon arrival to Hope Partnership, we were greeted by an enthusiastic and hospitable staff. The school was quietly situated in a North Philadelphia neighborhood not far from my own alma mater (Temple University), and was a bright and safe environment that was immediately welcoming and warm. The set-up was intentionally intimate: we positioned ourselves in the middle of a tightly-packed semi-circle of audience chairs, giving the kids (and teachers) a chance to sit closely and become invested in the music they were about to hear.
The first group of 5th- and 6th-graders arrived and, before even introducing ourselves, we hooked them with a performance of the first movement of theSerenade: an upbeat March with exciting chromaticisms and quickly-ascending scales. When the movement was over, the students were full of questions and comments about our instruments, which we presented individually before bringing out clave sticks and hand drums for them to play. Before long, the kids were accompanying us, tapping out the rhythmic figures present in the March, using their bodies to indicate phrasing, and identifying musical elements and form heard in the first movement--all led by their own creative ideas. Next, we performed the third movement, Theme and Variations, featuring an alternately hopeful and mournful melody in the viola with a busy, intensifying accompaniment in the violin and cello. We brought markers and an easel along with us, and divided a large piece of white paper into four sections--one for each variation of the theme. The students were eager to draw, offering their visual interpretations of the music, many of them quite introspective, emotional, and mature. Creating a safe space for them to express themselves that way was important and effective, and at the end of the activity everyone seemed a bit more connected. The second audience of 7th- and 8th-graders was, at the start of our presentation, a skeptical crew, perhaps preoccupied with whether or not classical music was cool enough for their adolescent sensibilities. I find that kind of challenge rather charming, as it was around their age that my own life was changed through exposure to a higher level of musical and artistic expression. I think it’s safe to say that our demonstration won them over, and the older kids turned out to be great fun to work with and just as engaged as their younger counterparts. By the end of the class period, they were asking more questions than we had time to answer.
Getting to know these kids, however briefly, through the shared experience of music-making was incredibly rewarding. To witness a sense of creative accomplishment in them, just as we do on a daily basis with our students at Play On, Philly!, was the best part, and I left there with a renewed sense of gratitude for my opportunities as a Teaching Artist and musician. I hope to return to Hope Partnership for Education,whose faculty and staff’s obvious investment in and love for its students is remarkable and inspiring. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we are humbly grateful for the experience.