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Outreach Program Brings New Voice To Middle School Orchestra



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Outreach Program Brings New Voice

To Middle School Orchestra

By Tanjua Damon

The sound of the Newtown Middle School eighth grade orchestra improved significantly over the course of Monday, thanks to an outreach program that brings professional musicians in to work with the students.

The young musicians participated in a new outreach program sponsored by the Newtown Friends of Music. The Alexander String Quartet worked with the orchestra on several pieces from Beethoven’s Greatest Hits to Two Minutes by Haydn to “Fiddler on the Roof” in preparation for an afternoon concert by the eighth graders at the Homesteads at Newtown.

The Quartet spoke to the students about changing the pace of their bowing in certain areas of the songs and addressed how students need to be aware of what the other musicians are doing around them.

“When you are practicing on your own, as I’m sure that you do, really take it slowly. Really listen carefully to the tuning,” said Paul Yarbrough, who plays the viola. “If you’re just listening to yourself and are not aware of what is happening across the room, if you just disregard what’s happening around you, it’s not going to sound very good.”

The outreach program gives students the opportunity to make changes that are recommended by professional musicians and allows the students to hear the musicians play.

“We hope they have the ability to play with more quality,” Fred Lifsitz, who is the second violinist, said. “We can come in and just pick on a couple of things we think are going to make a difference. And we reinforce what the teacher or conductor has been teaching.”

The Quartet also spoke to the students about their career as musicians, explaining that they perform over 100 concerts each year and are on the road away from their families quite often. The Quartet has been together for 20 years and enjoys working with children to help them aspire to be musicians.

“What brought us together is the mutual love for playing chamber music,” Mr Yarbrough said. “Getting a career started is another thing that requires a lot of work that’s more than just music. We have to work hard in other areas.”

Getting advice from outsiders is another experience these youths were able to gain, especially since the Quartet had not heard them before.

“It’s wonderful to have the professionals here,” middle school teacher Keith Hedin said. “It’s good to hear the things from these guys. They need to hear it from another voice.”

What the Quartet hopes to do is to add on and continue what the teacher is already accomplishing with the orchestra.

“Our point is to enhance the work that the teacher has in place. To do anything to build their morale,” Sandy Wilson, cellist, said. “What we would like to do is to try to give these kids a sense of accomplishment and specialness. They are winners in our view. Their teachers are really our colleagues.”

First violinist Gefanf Yang thinks the outreach program works because it also provided students with the understanding that art belongs to everyone.

“It’s fun. It’s always nice to influence them to work hard,” Mr Yang said. “You have to convince them that art is enjoyable. Not everyone will grow up to be a professional musician, but art should be a part of our life. It belongs to all human beings.”

The students enjoyed the time the Quartet spent with them showing them new ways to accomplish great music.

“It was pretty fun,” Liam Cawley said. “They taught us a lot more things about playing in the orchestra.”

“They were able to help you out and change pieces that they thought would sound better,” Sara Fogliano added.

Working with professional musicians and spending time with them was an experience for several students.

“It was interesting to interact with them,” Hadrian Kim said. “It was fun to know what it is like to be a professional musician.”

Listening to the Quartet perform also had an impact on many of the students.

“They are very good. It’s very interesting to see professionals like that in person,” Stephanie Henss said. “It is cool that they have so much talent. It’s incredible.”

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