By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
The logistics alone are daunting.
Taking hundreds of students who arrive via buses and seating them in as large a venue as The Music Center at Strathmore isn’t easy, especially when they’re second-graders.
Once in their places, they hear a classical music concert, which the National Philharmonic Orchestra performs for every Montgomery County Public Schools second-grader.
The NPO programs the concerts, with support from MCPS.
In total, some 13,000 second-graders are involved. The concert hall seats 1,976.
The next program takes place Nov. 27 through Nov. 30, two concerts a day – at 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.
The concerts by the NPO include music by a variety of composers and give students an opportunity to learn about the four families of instruments that make up the orchestra.
A similar program serves fifth-graders in the County. Their most-recent concert took place over the period of Oct. 23 through Oct. 26 but with a different emphasis – the blues, including songs by such music icons as Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and B. B. King.
“These interactive concerts feature a program especially assembled for second-graders that includes music by American icon Leonard Bernstein, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, and others,” said Katherine Murphy, MCPS Coordinator, Choral and General Music.
The educational concerts, which began in 2004 for the second-graders, are a result of a “unique partnership among MCPS, National Philharmonic and Strathmore, who work together to provide the coordination, pre-concert educational materials, transportation and other support to present outstanding musical performances for students in a premier concert hall,” said Lauren Campbell, Strathmore director of education.
While National Philharmonic, under conductor and artistic director Victoria Gau, plays for the second-graders, an ensemble of Strathmore artists-in-residence provide the music for the fifth-graders.
All the concerts are supported in part by the GEICO Philanthropic Foundation.
“There are different versions about who initially sparked the idea for the concerts, said Campbell, but Eliot Pfanstiehl, then President & CEO, of Strathmore Hall Foundation, Inc., certainly was influential.
“One of the strength of the programs is that it fits with the curriculum of schools in the County,” said Campbell. “Next year, however, that curriculum will change. It’s been the same for 12 years, and MCPS would like to refresh it.”
But again, any changes will be tied in with the curriculum.
“We work with teachers. We want the students to have an authentic experience, directly tied to what they’re learning in their music rooms,” said Murphy. “This program is called ‘Element-ary,’ focusing on rhythm, texture, and timbre.”
History may not mean much to second-graders, but the adults remember fondly that the concert for youth was the very first one to take place in the Music Center. “They were still painting when we came in,” said Murphy.
Campbell said that it’s always been the case that the arts center contracts the orchestra for the second-grade student concerts and helps find funding to support it.
Attendance keeps growing. It started at 10,000 and went up to 13,000.
The logistics may be challenging, but, said Murphy: “it’s cool to watch the students come in and participate. They get to perform a body percussion piece with the orchestra. There are also interactive parts to the concert, in which the youngsters sing along.”
While it’s hard to predict what impact the concerts will have in the distant future, the short term is clear.
“It’s common for students after the concerts to tell their teachers they want to play violin, or clarinet, or whatever,” said Murphy.
“It’s so exciting,” Campbell added. “Some kids have never been to a concert before.”
What’s more, the concerts are free for the students.
The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda.