Trading rap for a taste of Baroque Violinist offers talent to schools

January 29, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

The bearded man in the red sports jacket strolled the school auditorium like a gypsy musician, fiddle blazing away at Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer."

His accompanists: the students of Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in East Baltimore, who slapped their thighs to the African-American composer's rag-time rhythm.

In a program designed to promote classical and concert music to city students, violinist Isidor Saslav and his pianist-wife, Ann, yesterday played Joplin, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven for an audience more accustomed to rap and pop tunes.

The recital, sponsored by the school system and the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust, was their latest in a series of concerts in some of Baltimore's low-income schools.

"Often, we play for children who have never seen a violin and bow up close before," said Ann Saslav, whose children graduated from Baltimore public schools. "We're writing on a slate that's never been touched."

The couple's idea is to pique the children's curiosity with a brisk recital of short classical pieces.

Mr. Saslav, concert-master of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1969 until 1981, and most recently a musician in New Zealand, held the attention of some 200 third- and fourth-graders with plenty of lively stage business.

"Imagine yourself on a time machine, taking you back 100, 200, 300 years ago," he told the students, trilling away on his violin with a baroque flourish. "This is how music used to sound back then."

The violin, he said, "is a very magical box, out of which I can draw all kind of sounds."

Like the buzzing of "The Bee," by Franz Schubert. Or the jazz-inflected swing of "Let Me Dance," by African-American composer Clarence Cameron White.

And in a piece called, "The Clock," the Saslavs plucked a volunteer from the audience who had never touched the violin before, teaching him to play rhythmic strokes as they improvised around him.

Their performance was clearly a hit.

"I like the different sounds they make," said 8-year-old Leon Williams, an aspiring bass guitarist who usually listens to rap and gospel music. "When they did, 'The Bee,' it sounded like it was a real bee."

Demetria Boyd, age 10, is a jazz and gospel fan who plays the xylophone and flute.

But the recital gave her some new ambitions. "I liked the pretty sounds they made, how the tones went up and down," she said. "It makes me want to learn how to play the violin."

BThe recital offered students a taste of music that many inner-city families simply can't afford on a regular basis, Principal Alma W. Brown said.

And at a school that is deeply involved in efforts to promote African-American heritage and culture, a recital of European classical music has other benefits, Ms. Brown said.

"If we expect other people to want to be interested in our culture, we have to be interested in other people's cultures," she said.

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