DOWNEY - It is a brilliant morning, rain-washed air, the purest sky. At Maude Price Elementary School the pleasant cafeteria is ready, tables folded away, floor newly polished. Five musicians from Downey's Symphony wait with their gleaming instruments - dazzling brass, burnished wood. Time for another Music in the School presentation.Soon the big room fills with excited voices as the third and fourth grade children file in and sit on the floor. With them comes the sunniest light of all, their shining faces. Principal Janice Hobson welcomes the Symphony Quintet and Mark Artusio steps forward, smiling. "My name is Mark. Good morning, Panthers!" "GOOD MORNING, MARK!" Music in the Schools has visited each of Downey Unified's 13 elementary schools plus private school every year since 1996 with a program emphasizing different aspects of music. Today is about Melody and Accompaniment. This quintet is like few others: violin, bass viol, clarinet, trombone, percussion, representing the sections of an orchestra, and it works just fine. Kids sit close really seeing what the instruments look like and how they are played, hearing how different they sound. They watch the group communicate as Carolyn Osborn's violin sings a luscious melody while the others soften in accompaniment. The children sigh. Then the instruments switch around, sharing the theme. The music ranges from a Joplin rag to Vivaldi and Stravinsky, Rossini and Copland, and it's accessible and fun. Everyone loves Rob Coomber's slide trombone. When he tells them it is the loudest instrument in the whole orchestra, several aspiring trombone players are hatched. Happens every time. Patty Massey's clarinet glides into the suave Pink Panther theme. Her Panther audience grins and applauds. And Mark's huge string bass, miles taller than the kids, inspires awe at every school appearance. Now Mark invites a volunteer to conduct the performers in The William Tell Overture, that one cloned as the Lone Ranger theme. This will involve some tricky tempo changes, though. Emily comes up. Her task is to hold her arms high when she wants the instruments to play fast; arms down for slow. Emily is a natural, adventurous and poised. A conducted is hatched. You should experience Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" played on the xylophone. Four mallets dance in Danielle Squyres' hands, incredibly fast, impossibly accurate, improbably inspiring. A wow performance. Then comes an unexpected surprise for everyone in the room. Teachers and students didn't know the Quintet would play Yankee Doodle. The Quintet didn't know it was the school song, set to words every Panther knows by heart. Their warm, light voices join the instruments in delighted collaboration, a bright moment indeed. Before saying goodbye, Mark encourages the youngsters to learn music. "You learned how to read. You can learn music too, a little bit at a time. It isn't hard." Everyone says thank you, and the classes file out. The quintet remains, however, because the little kids, kindergartners through grade two, are scheduled next. Patty Massey, the clarinetist, says, "This year particularly more teachers are coming up to say they are really looking forward to hearing us." So the system is working well, and the system is also expensive. It costs about $900 per school for youngsters to have this inspiring introduction to live music. All donations to Music in the Schools are gratefully welcomed, and put to the best possible use, enriching the imagination of our students. For information, please call (562) 403-2944, or see www.downeysymphony.org. And thank you.
********** Published: March 26, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 49