Orchestra at the Chittick School

by Betsy Hinkle, director of musiConnects

To be perfectly honest, when I started musiConnects in 2007, having a student orchestra as part of programming was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to truly experiment with the possibilities of making chamber music central to our students’ lives. And I also wanted to ensure that each student received nurturing, one on one relationships through private lessons. Both of these programming components are still rare in public school music programs today but are at the core of musiConnects.

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In year 6, we needed to hire a second cello teacher and I met Laura Messina. She came to musiConnects not only with years of teaching and performing experience, but also with a Masters in Music Education, and orchestral education training and experience. Meeting Laura planted the seeds for adding orchestra when the time was right. Image

This fall our Chittick orchestra was born, with Laura as our fearless leader. Since day one she has instilled a new sense of belonging within our students, who are very familiar with their role in a small team through chamber music, but had not yet felt the magic of being in the middle of a large orchestral sound. Her expert group management, rehearsal structuring and sense of humor keeps students focused throughout the long rehearsals which take place at the end of an even longer Thursday.

Orchestra is very popular with our students, and has made Chamber Music sessions even more productive. Our kids are even more aware of the possibilities that collaborative music making brings to their development as young musicians, and as human beings.

I sat down with Laura recently to ask her to share some of her orchestra director tricks of the trade and here is what she had to say:

“I always try and structure rehearsals the same way each time – begin with some warm-ups, usually using elements of the piece(s) we are working on, but by rote so they are not bogged down by looking at music at first. This is when I remind students of all of the possible kinds of conducting they will see from the podium with regard to tempo, dynamics, and simply what each beat will look like. Then I begin rehearsing a piece. I expect silent listening and observation from each student throughout the session, and the kids are pretty good at staying on task and listening for which section, which measure, or other explanations I might call out. I make a point to be as positive as possible when giving feedback, while having very high expectations for effort. I think we are off to a pretty solid start, and there is lots of potential for exponential growth.”

I love looking around at specific students in orchestra on Thursdays. One student who might have been in trouble earlier that day in the classroom, and also might have had a hard time during our snack and homework time, is suddenly giving Laura his undivided attention, sure to sit up tall in his chair and hold his viola with expert posture. Another just started the cello a few weeks ago, and is so excited about being a part of the group that he is beaming from ear to ear the entire hour. And then there are the older, more experienced kids, pointing out which measure we are on to a younger player, and proudly demonstrating how far they have come with hard work and dedication. I love hearing the very beginning sounds of a new piece, too. There is so much potential, so many possibilities!

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Community Lessons and Chamber Kids

by Josh Addison, musiConnects resident musician

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musiConnects is delighted to announce that the Springhouse retirement community has agreed to host community concerts! Located in Jamaica Plain, the Springhouse boasts an intimate performance space complete with a baby grand piano and a basically guaranteed in-house audience of Springhouse residents. At our first two Springhouse recitals, musiConnects students, Chamber Kids, and the Sumner Quartet performed to a packed house of parents, relatives, friends and appreciative residents.

These Springhouse concerts will afford students further opportunities to meet new faces and to make new friends as students from the in-school programs at the Chittick and the Sumner and those enrolled in community lessons and Chamber Kids come together to perform for one another. At our December recital, Chittick student and cellist Julien Burks dazzled in a performance of French Folk Song, and violist Saniya Antoine shared a beautiful rendition of Rigadoun at our March recital. We hope that many more Chittick and Sumner students will follow in their footsteps!

The Chamber Kids premiered their rendition of End of the Day by Sheila Nelson at the March recital. In preparation for this performance, the students practiced the art of rehearsing. Each student utilized a full score of End of the Day to discover where their particular musical line was primary and where it was secondary as well as where they share melodies or rhythms with other instruments. With these discoveries in hand, they were able to adjust their dynamics so as to achieve balance, to create unified musical shapes and contours, and more generally to open their ears to the complexity and fullness of the music. Just as important, they continued learning how to treat each other respectfully and to work constructively as they express their musical opinions. In making beautiful music these students are honing their social skills!

We hope to grow our Chamber Kids program and to continue to share the wisdom and joy of chamber music with young people. I encourage interested parents to make use of the contact form located on the “Private Lessons and Chamber Kids” tab under the heading “Community.” With enough interest we will be able to create additional Chamber Kids groups for the fall of 2014.

Reflections on my first year with musiConnects and the BPQ

by Cora Swenson, musiConnects resident musician

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When I was contacted and offered an interview with the BPQ, I had never heard of musiConnects and had no idea such a program existed in Boston. I began to learn about musiConnects and was extremely pleased to see how well my ideals aligned with the mission of BPQ. I have always seen music as being something far more profound than just learning to play an instrument. The idea that studying music and learning to play with one another can turn a group into a community, and can mold young people into conscientious citizens contributing to that community, is the foundation of my beliefs about teaching. musiConnects embodies just that ideal. I am so grateful to be surrounded by such passionate and dedicated teachers.

The teaching experience has been rewarding in ways I didn’t necessarily expect. I hadn’t had much experience working with children in elementary school; most of my previous teaching was focused on high school aged students. While it is always satisfying to have a student achieve a goal of keeping their proper bow hold through an entire song or correctly sight-reading, the most satisfying and heart-warming moments have been in seeing the students open up to me, begin to trust me, and feel themselves improving enough that they start to set their own goals for music making. Just this past week, a student proudly played me her new ringtone- a movement from a Bach solo suite for cello. She asked me if I had learned it yet, so I played it for her. She looked up at me in awe, her eyes shining, and said “maybe someday I can play that too!”

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I was a bit apprehensive about taking on the task of coaching a chamber group composed of such young kids who were relatively new to playing music. It has been a new kind of challenge for me, and some days and experiments have been more successful than others. But nothing compares to the moment when that group of six young girls finally plays through an entire chorale in true harmony. I once jokingly told the group that it was time for their favorite part of chamber music- packing up. One of them said “no!” very emphatically, and told me that her favorite part was when they played something well all together and I told them how beautiful it sounded. It has also been amazing to see some of them taking on leadership roles within the group, helping each other and learning to give comments in a constructive, respectful and caring way.

Overall this has been an incredible first year teaching at the Chittick and collaborating with my musiConnects colleagues. I’ve learned so much from them and from the students, and I’m proud of what I have contributed to the program as well. I’m very much looking forward to another year and another group of inspiring and stimulating students!