MORE THAN 300 squirmy children squeezed into Swansfield Elementary School's cafeteria last week to listen to the haunting sounds of ancient Chinese stringed instruments.
Performing were Pearl Pan and Liang Shan Tang, graduates of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, who emigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s.
Swansfield students Jennifer Wong, Lidang Li, Jessica Tsaoi and Sheldon Xie welcomed the performers in Chinese and English.
Pan is a vocalist who also plays the pipa, a four-stringed lute, and the yuan, a guitar.
Tang plays the erhu, a two-string fiddle derived from an ancient Mongolian instrument.
The bow of the erhu is played between the two strings. At the base is a membrane made of cobra skin. The pipa and the erhu are used in Chinese orchestras.
Tang brought along several versions of the erhu in different sizes. He also demonstrated an instrument with 21 strings on a wooden frame.
Fifth-graders Gary Thompson, Jason Hawkins and Jeremy Garnes tried out the erhu under Tang's direction.
The three children play violin in the Howard County Elementary Enrichment Orchestra.
Music teacher Peggy Greenman arranged the musicians' visit through the Asian Pacific Art Institute of America in Ellicott City.
She noted that nearly 8 percent of Swansfield's students are of Asian background.
In preparation for the assembly, Greenman spent two weeks exposing students to Asian music and instruments.
Stargazers to party
A newly formed astronomy club for parents and students at Wilde Lake Middle School and Wilde Lake High School will hold its first star party at 7: 30 p.m. Friday at the middle school, 10481 Cross Fox Lane.
The party is sponsored by the middle school's PTSA.
Several types of telescopes will be available, according to organizer Dana Boltersdorf -- a Hickory Ridge resident whose son attends the middle school.
L If the weather is clear, Saturn and Jupiter will be visible.
"It's just so fascinating what you can see," Boltersdorf said.
The group will start by finding constellations, then move on to looking for nebulae and galaxies.
In case of rain, Boltersdorf has planned indoor presentations, including a slide show, videos and speakers.
Boltersdorf hopes to keep club members informed of celestial events through the middle school's Web page.
In addition to monthly meetings, she anticipates holding impromptu star parties to observe such things as a meteor shower next month.
Organizing the club at the high school is Wilde Lake physics teacher and amateur astronomer Glenn Bock.
Support also has come from Wilde Lake Middle School Principal Albertha Caldwell.
"The interest is there," Boltersdorf said, adding that an astronomy club for adults might develop out of the school group.
Boltersdorf noted that she and other members of the Baltimore Astronomical Society gather several times a month for star parties at Alpha Ridge Park, but the group is not based in Howard County.
Information on the astronomy club at the two schools: 410-992-6924.
Aid for storm victims
Rescue workers traveling to the Dominican Republic this week to assist victims of Hurricane Georges are delivering three boxes of medical supplies put together by Soroptimist International of Howard County.
The boxes were created with the support of Peter Mbi and Susan Malerk-Mbi, owners of the Medicine Shoppe in Wilde Lake Village Center.
The Soroptimist club, working with Interchurch Medical Assistance Inc., in New Windsor, began assembling medical kits for village dispensaries early last year.
The Howard County group is coordinating the efforts of 14 Soroptimist clubs in the South Atlantic region. So far, 20 boxes have been filled and delivered to villages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The boxes, which are designed to last about three months, contain items such as bandages, antiseptic ointments and vitamins.
Martha Ferrara and Glenda Johnson are co-presidents of the Howard County club.
To help with the medical boxes or for information: 410-750-3112 or 410-465-2545.
Storyteller to perform
Families of students at Running Brook Elementary School are invited to attend a free performance by Namu Lwanga -- a storyteller, actress, musician and dancer from Uganda -- tomorrow evening at the school.
The PTA, which is sponsoring the event, will hold a brief meeting at 7: 30 p.m. The performance will follow.
Lwanga will perform for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at an assembly tomorrow morning.
In her show, Lwanga draws on her experiences as a child in East Africa as well as on traditional stories, interweaving them with music, dance and mime.
She plays several instruments, including drums, strings, panpipes and xylophones.
Fall festival planned
Members of the Swansfield Elementary School PTA are making last-minute preparations for the school's fall festival, to be held Saturday at the school, 5610 Cedar Lane.
Beth Mackey is coordinating a flea market and craft sale that will be held from 7 a.m. to 10: 30 a.m.
Spaces, at $10 each, are available.
To reserve a space: 410-964-1926.