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DOWNEY - 288 kids on the floor,
Wall to wall, filling the hall
288 kids on the floor.
That was an official count one recent morning at Rio San Gabriel Elementary School: 288 kids from the third- and fourth-grade classes, sitting in excited rows, focused intently on a special assembly program.
They listened, enchanted, as Carolyn Osborn drew shimmering princess music from her violin, and giggled at Mark Artusio's big string bass galumphing around like an elephant. They recognized themes from Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean and Franz Joseph Haydn. They applauded the skill of percussionist Danielle Squyres, soft mallets on cymbals to create those spooky, menacing sounds you hear in scary movies. Ooooh.
The five musicians appearing this day at Rio San Gabriel are principal instrumentalists with the Downey Symphony. Every spring for the past 19 years, as part of our orchestra's Music in the Schools outreach program, they have given a demonstration in each Downey elementary school. That's a bunch of performances, touching thousands of our children, to help them get a feel for musical concepts like rhythm and meter, and to hear what a clarinet or a trombone sounds like.
"These children were so excited to hear they were coming to an orchestra performance!" teacher Melanie Eagen said. "I look forward to this one, too."
Patty Massey's clarinet sent out a jazz lick that inspired lines of young torsos to undulate, mimicking the sound. Bob Coomber's proudly loud trombone, "Here come the good guys!" he called out, got every head bobbing in rhythm.
As principal bass and orchestra manager, Mark Artusio is a busy man - and also the narrator for these performances. He tells the kids that music helps us move and dance. That sometimes music is meant just to make us feel good. That they can learn to play an instrument too. "Think about your personal self. What instrument matches you?"
And he tells them that when they are in fifth grade, they will be invited to go to the Downey Theatre to hear the whole orchestra play a concert just for them.
"Ooooh," from 288 voices.
Then it's time to applaud, wave a goodbye to the quintet, stand up and file out so that the littler children from grades 1 and 2 can come in for their special music assembly.
Veteran teacher Sandy Aguierre has heard these yearly performances many times. She seated her class in neat rows, then turned to a visitor. "They love this. They just love this. Look at them."
Asked how many first- and second-graders there are at Rio San Gabriel, she figured about 300. To the visitor, it was 288 wonderful kids again, different faces, smaller sizes, 288 new kids on the floor, excited to learn about music.
All in all, it was a good morning to be in a Downey elementary school.
Published: February 14, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 44