|A Rochester Residency
hush came over the audience. As I played the first few bars, I saw their
eyes light up, practically glued to my bow. I felt the connection between
myself and the listeners grow, reaching a new height. As the piece neared
its end, I could tell that the audience was following me through every nuance,
through every change of character. The ensuing eruption of applause showed
me that the audience had truly understood the piece.
|Ed Klorman asks first and second graders
at Council Rock Primary School to practice "spider hands" to use when they
tap along in rhythm to his playing on the viola. (Photo by Rhonda Jones)|
A Carnegie Hall debut? Try Council Rock Primary School, where I had
the pleasure of teaching and performing for some 460 first- and second-graders
as part of a residency project last May.
The idea for the residency began several months ago when I was looking
for funding to help pay for a recital that I planned to give in my hometown
of Rochester, N.Y. A representative from a Rochester-area community foundation
explained that his organization's charter did not allow it to make grants
directly to individuals. However, he suggested that I try writing a proposal
for a project I could do in the public schools. If the proposal was accepted,
then the foundation could provide me with funding, which I could use to cover
the costs of the recital.
I put together a proposal to create the artist-in-residence position
in my former school district, outlining what all of my responsibilities would
be. Over the course of three weeks, I was to perform four recitals, lead
three viola sectional rehearsals, and perform a solo with a student orchestra.
On top of this, I was to present several hours of aesthetic education programming
to primary-school students and teach numerous group lessons to beginning
and other viola students. All in all, the proposal involved more than 25
hours of teaching and performing for roughly 700 students in four different
I completed this project over the course of three weeks last May.
When I arrived on the first day, I didn't know what to expect. How would
the high school students react to me? Just two years ago, I sat alongside
many of them in our school orchestra. What right did I have to stand in the
front of the room, leading them in a rehearsal?
Despite these worries, everything went (more or less) smoothly. The
sectional rehearsals were the most challenging for me because I had only
45 minutes to present numerous musical and technical concepts. I quickly
learned that the teaching style I am used to at Juilliard simply did not
work with many of these students. In some cases, asking a young violist to
stand up straighter or to play more in tune literally had no effect. Eventually
I realized that merely helping a student to notice his posture or intonation
was a significant accomplishment. This was an important lesson about self-awareness
that I have begun to incorporate into my own practicing.
The recitals that I gave were especially rewarding because the students
were such an enthusiastic audience. I chose a 40-minute program of music
by Bach, Hindemith, Mozart, and Telemann. I spoke a little about each piece
at the beginning of each performance, and I took questions afterward. The
questions ranged from the inevitable ("How much do you practice?") to the
irrelevant ("Are you married?") to the bizarre ("Do you feel like you're
full of fluff when you play the Hindemith?"). But I was struck by how thoughtful
the vast majority of their questions were, such as "Why are you a musician?"
or "Why did I like the Hindemith even though it's so hard to listen to?"
The final component of the residency was three full-time days of
teaching aesthetic education to first- and second-graders. The idea behind
aesthetic education is that performers can prepare the students to be active
listeners by heightening their sensitivity to one salient element of a work.
I chose to perform a movement of a solo Bach work and a movement of a solo
Hindemith work, designing my lesson plan around the different types of meter
in each piece. Whereas the Bach remains in a consistent meter throughout,
the Hindemith changes meter erratically, meaning that each measure contains
a different number of beats.
I taught the students how to count and clap these different types
of meters. Over the course of each class, the students learned to perform
patterns of increasing complexity. By the end of the lesson, the children
were able to count and clap one pattern that represented the meter of the
Bach and another pattern that represented the meters used in the Hindemith.
To demonstrate this, I asked the kids to clap the patterns while I played
along short excerpts from each piece. At this point, the students were ready
to listen to each movement in its entirety. To see the smiles on the kids'
faces when they heard the connection between their clapping and my playing
was truly gratifying.
In sum, this residency was by far the most rewarding musical experience
I have ever had. It is one thing for young musicians to worry about diminishing
audiences for classical music. But it is another thing to actively cultivate
future audiences through quality arts education. The residency provided me
the extraordinary opportunity to share wonderful music with the most receptive
audience I've ever seen. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend those three
Ed Klorman is a third-year viola student.