Cherokee students and teachers touch the piano to feel the sound vibrations while Langley HS sophomore Theron Masters plays a familiar tune. Langley HS Orchestra conductor Dr. Scott McCormick and his students enjoy the moment.
Photo by by Diane Hara
The smiling high school senior held her violin in her outstretched hands, offering to show the 6-year-olds how to play it. As she plucked the strings, a child recoiled in surprise, afraid that he was close enough to hurt the instrument. Twenty minutes later, that same child was holding the violin and the bow, exclaiming,"I want to play this."
Similar positive experiences occurred in five other classrooms at the Cherokee School in Orlando, Fla., when the Langley High School Orchestra brought student-led educational sessions and performed two concerts during a recent trip. The Cherokee School is a special education elementary school, part of Orange County Public Schools.
In classroom sessions taught by teams of high school musicians, principles of early childhood music were combined with sensorimotor experiences to give the Cherokee students the best possible introduction to a string orchestra. After a demonstration of how vibrations produce sound, freshman Aaron Grossman led a demonstration of the different sounds made by violins and violas. Students in senior Julia Hara's classroom enjoyed stomping their feet to establish a beat, and also learned how a conductor uses the beat to keep the orchestra musicians together. A student in sophomore Haley Simkins' class was fascinated with the conductor's baton. Cherokee students learned how they could use their bodies or hands to demonstrate dynamic changes in music.
MANY CHEROKEE STUDENTS enjoyed the opportunity to control the speed of the violins when they tried their hand at conducting in the classroom. Melody and harmony were introduced, and sophomore Erik Toor treated his class to his arrangement of a popular song for two violins and two violas.
When students asked questions, Langley Orchestra members were also happy to share information not related to music. In the classroom led by senior Harrison Nam, Langley and Cherokee students took turns showing on a globe that their families hailed from places such as Vietnam, India, Lebanon, and Haiti. Cherokee students in the classroom led by senior Sara Ibrahim were curious to learn what sorts of other activities the orchestra students participated in. As Langley students identified extra-curricular activities such as Model UN, robotics club, sports, tech crew, scouts, art, and dancing, some Cherokee students requested further explanations and demonstrations. Lively discussions ensued as Langley Orchestra students explained why school is important, and described the many benefits of learning an instrument and playing in an orchestra. Cherokee teachers commended the Langley Orchestra students for their teamwork and leadership, and thanked them for
sharing their diverse backgrounds and interests.
Langley students were thrilled by the warm welcome that they received at the Cherokee School. Prior to the visit, several orchestra students wrote letters to the school, introducing themselves and their instruments. Each classroom received a letter, and one was read over the loudspeaker to the entire school. The Cherokee students were very excited and curious, and the letter writers were touched to receive some letters back from Cherokee students. Sophomore Armon Moussavi-Nejad said, "I really enjoyed reading the letter that an 11-year-old boy wrote back. In the letter, the Cherokee student shared some of his hobbies, described a recent trip, and said that he was looking forward to hearing me play in the orchestra."
THE TWO ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCES were wonderful for everyone involved. Langley Orchestra presented classical music and selections from Disney movies that they performed just days earlier at Downtown Disney. Cherokee students enjoyed hearing so many musicians playing together, and their teachers noted that the introductions to the instruments and to the students were extremely beneficial. Many of the Cherokee students wanted to stand behind the orchestra so that they could get closer to the instruments, and when they did so, they were captivated by the conductor and his baton. Prior to the orchestra performances, sophomores Lyric Yu and Theron Masters performed piano solos, including music the children might recognize. Masters was rewarded when students correctly identified the movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the theme music from the Mario game.
Conductor Dr. Scott McCormick held up his baton at one point, and asked the elementary students if they knew what it was. When the student who had been fascinated with the baton in her class correctly answered the question, sophomore Haley Simkins was pleased. "It was surprising how enthusiastic the students were, especially since they had not had much exposure to the instruments prior to the visit" she said.
Afterwards, senior Alex Blankinship said, "I was glad to visit the Cherokee School because sharing music enabled me to meet children that I otherwise might not have had the opportunity to see." Violinist Julia Hara commented that "many students said that their favorite part of being in Florida was the experience at the Cherokee School. Langley Orchestra students like to get in touch with the community."
Susan McQuade is a Langley High School Orchestra volunteer who designed classroom sessions.