Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Strathmore elementary school audiences now include fifth-graders

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
(From left) Wood Acres Elementary School fifth-graders Jordan Martin, Katherine Bruchalski and Lauren Furst chat before a performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore on Friday. Strathmore hosted a free concert series for the 10,000 Montgomery County Public Schools fifth-graders, mirroring a program already in place for second-graders.
On a class trip to the Music Center at Strathmore in second grade, Matthew Barrett fell asleep.

The music was boring, he said.

Now, three years later, another class trip to Strathmore has changed his tune.

‘‘I’ve figured out that there are qualities you can listen for,” said Barrett, a 10-year-old from Wood Acres Elementary School in Bethesda. ‘‘It’s not just noise.”

Barrett, along with 10,000 other students from Montgomery County Public Schools, got to experience Strathmore and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last week as part of the center’s new springtime program for fifth-graders.

The six performances, all at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, took place May 7-9.

In 2004, Barrett and his classmates were the first MCPS students to take part in Strathmore’s annual fall series for second-graders. Now, they are the first fifth-grade class to attend. It’s safe to say their tastes and understanding of music have changed.

‘‘I didn’t know hardly anything about music in second grade. I just remember it was really loud,” said Rucha Pandit, an 11-year-old from Bells Mill Elementary in Potomac. ‘‘Now we can understand it.”

The orchestra performed a collection of vibrant works by American composer Aaron Copland ranging from a hoedown to a Mexican-tinged piece to a Shaker song. In a composition by Gregory Smith, who hosted the show, students participated by voting on the final notes of the piece and yelling a collective ‘‘BOOM” in sync with the orchestra’s bass drum.

Teachers in attendance said bringing the fifth-graders to Strathmore helped the students see their education come to life.

‘‘These kids actually play the instruments that the orchestra is using,” said Shauna Smith, a music teacher at Wood Acres Elementary. ‘‘Where in second grade the kids are excited to leave school and ride a bus, now the kids get to see something they do every day.”

Strathmore executives said the concert is a great opportunity to educate students both before and during the show. Prior to the performances last week, Strathmore employees sent each elementary school a packet of information about the performance, including a CD of music.

‘‘This is more than just a one-day concert and a half-day off from school,” said Mark Grabowski, executive vice president of operations for Strathmore. ‘‘We’re trying to expose these students to something that isn’t a big part of curriculums anymore.”

During the orchestra’s performance, the students hooted and hollered for their favorite instruments, with groups of friends choosing sides between the percussionists and the woodwinds. After each number, the students cheered loudly, especially for the bass drum and crashing crescendos.

Brian Prechtl, a percussionist and composer for the orchestra, said the musicians feed as much off the students as the students do off the music.

‘‘What I love about kids is you get their reactions right away,” he said. ‘‘If they think it’s great and exciting, you know. If they don’t like it, you still hear noise, but it’s them talking to each other.”

Toward the end of the show, Wood Acres student Charlie Lobsenz summed up his day at the orchestra, compared to his second-grade adventure.

‘‘I paid attention the whole time because I actually wanted to hear the music,” he said. ‘‘Plus it was fun.”