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Orchestra for the young

MSO provides education in classical music for area students

MSO provides education in classical music for area students

March 25, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

Dih-Dih-Dih - Dummm!

Elizabeth Schulze, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's music director, called out the first four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

"You know that symphony," Schulze told the student audience at The Maryland Theatre on Friday. Judging by the perked ears, she seemed to be right.

Beethoven's Fifth was the finale in a special MSO performance for students in seventh and 10th grades. As predicted, it was the most recognized piece.

Celina Martinez, a seventh-grader at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, knew it right away. She has it programmed as a ring tone on her cell phone.

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Vania Guerrero, a classmate, said she has heard classical music through her father, who's a Beethoven fan. But, honestly, she would much rather hear rhythm and blues by Beyonce or Sean Paul or rap by Eminem.

Friday's program was to give Washington County students another chance to hear classical music and explore its foundation and meaning.

It was the first time the county has sent older students to the symphony. About 1,100 students from E. Russell Hicks Middle School, North Hagerstown High School, Western Heights Middle School and Northern Middle School attended.

For years, the school system has sent fourth-graders to The Maryland Theatre for programs of mainly classical music snippets.

It's been good exposure for the children, but they never got back for the rest of their school years, so seventh- and 10th-graders now are going, said Jean Hamilton, executive director of the MSO.

The Washington County Board of Education hopes to expand the program for middle and high schools to two concerts next year, then more, to accommodate as many students as possible, said Rob Hovermale, the school board's director of visual and performing arts.

Schulze said after Friday's performance that she wants young adults to see and hear the symphony, to sample its flavor and texture.

For that reason, on Friday, Schulze mixed short lessons with lengthier stretches of just music.

She introduced the first piece as the work of "a genius 17-year-old," Felix Mendelssohn, who was thought to be a successor to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Under Schulze's direction, the symphony played short passages sounding like an "enchanted forest," including elves and partying townsfolk, with the braying of donkeys.

Then, the symphony switched from, as Schulze described them, "light, ebullient, bubbling" to the "massive and brooding and dark" work of Johannes Brahms.

She said Brahms felt pressure being compared to Ludwig van Beethoven and angst from seeing another composer he admired suffer from mental illness.

Some students fidgeted when guest pianist Jonathan Biss said the symphony would play the first movement of a Brahms concerto for about 25 minutes.

A few were amused by his pronounced motions at the piano, the way his hands at times sprung back from the keys, as if by recoil.

Schulze reminded the audience that Beethoven, in this case, is not the big, shaggy dog from the movies.

She explained that the opening four notes to Beethoven's Fifth - three short notes, one long note - correspond to the Morse code sign for the letter V, and the musical phrase became a shorthand for "victory" during World War II.

For the most part, students seemed receptive to the performance, although several required more shushing than the typical symphony audience.

Schulze said she's confident the music made an impression.

"This is nothing to be scared of," she said afterward of classical music, which might seem daunting. "It is about us, it speaks to us and I want them to be fluent in it."

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