Thousands of chamber music fans attend Town Hall’s popular Town Music series each season, but few people know that the series has another large, enthusiastic audience…whose bedtime falls around the same time as curtain rises. Series curator Joshua Roman had a dream to share his passion for music with student audiences, so he created the Town Music in Schools program in 2011 so that young music fans can take part in the live music experience, even if they can’t stay up late. Since the program began, more than 1,100 K-12 students have had the chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most talented classical musicians.
The most recent Town Music in Schools excursion brought New York’s Enso String Quartet to southeast Seattle’s Graham Hill Elementary School. Nearly 400 K-5 students packed into the auditorium, whispering with excited anticipation as they waited for the musicians to take the stage.
During their evening performance at Town Hall, the Grammy-winning Enso String Quartet performed rarely heard pieces by opera masters Puccini, Verdi, and Strauss—but for their performance at Graham Hill, the group prepared an accessible, educational program tailored especially for young ears. Much to the delight of the students, they kicked off with the theme song from The Simpsons, which sparked a gleeful murmur of recognition throughout the crowd. Cellist Richard Belcher explained that the iconic Danny Elfman piece was a good example of how music creates a mood—in this case, playful, fun and even funny!
In addition to lighthearted, recognizable tunes like “Happy Birthday,” Enso wove in pieces by Mozart, Haydn, Bartok, and Ljova to illustrate the three essential ingredients of music: rhythm, harmony, and melody. (They also snuck in lessons about more complex concepts like dynamics and syncopation.) The students responded enthusiastically, as one boy played “air cello” while another conducted from the front row.
The mother of a third-grade student remarked, “I thought it was incredible. My daughter was enthralled…the kids learned a lot, but [Enso] kept them entertained.”
The goals of the Town Music in Schools program include “demystifying” classical music, inspiring and informing young people about the dedication it takes to excel in music and other life endeavors. Graham Hill’s students are dedicated—the fourth and fifth grade music students won a district-wide prize for the most time spent practicing their instruments—but they got a real sense for the discipline required of a professional musician. Graham Hill staff member Yedit Bereket said, “I know they left inspired, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that!’”
After the visit, Graham Hill’s Music Specialist, Cherrie Adams, said, “I can teach the students about music and play recordings for them, but nothing can take the place of a live concert. We really appreciate Town Hall partnering with us to give our students an inspirational and educational experience.”
The next Town Music in Schools visit with Joshua Roman and Andrius Zlabys will take place at Washington Middle School on Monday, April 21. Roman and Zlabys perform at Town Hall on Tuesday, April 22 at 7:30pm.