Kids and pro players make beautiful music

Concert: Pupils from five local elementary schools shared the stage with members of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

March 26, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

For a moment, the practice area at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis was deafeningly quiet. Quiet, that is, for a room filled with children ages 9 to 11 - all of them armed with some kind of stringed instrument.

With their bows poised above their violas, violins, basses and cellos, they waited patiently for their conductor, Cristina Conly, to say the word.

"Pe-pp-er-on-i pi-zz-a," called out Conly, a music teacher at Germantown Elementary, singing each syllable. With that, the room filled with the collective sound of a D-scale.

The 33 pupils gathered yesterday afternoon to practice for last night's Side-by-Side concert - an event organized by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra to give children from five local elementary schools the chance to share the stage with professional musicians. The concert grew out of the Annapolis orchestra's 5-year-old "Adopt-a-School" program with Germantown Elementary in Montgomery County.

"It's a truly valuable and memorable experience for the children - one that encourages the growth and participation in music," said R. Lee Streby, executive director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Dressed in bright white tops and black pants or skirts, some of the pupils confessed to jitters during the pre-show rehearsal.

"I think I'm gonna be nervous when I get on the stage," said Ben Wastler, 11, a cellist who attends Hillsmere Elementary School. "I've played on a stage before, but not - like - with a symphony."

The six-song lineup for last night's half-hour concert included "Kum Ba Yah," a French folk song and, as a finale, part of "Spring" from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi.

In addition to the experienced musicians in their midst, the children played under the leadership of guest conductor Emil de Cou, associate conductor of Leonard Slatkin's National Symphony Orchestra. Although de Cou has conducted children many times before, he said he was impressed by the Side-by-Side pupils.

"They've got a jump on me," said de Cou. "None of them will ever forget this experience. It opens a whole new world for them, one they are only able to get through music."

Marshall Mentz, manager of the Annapolis orchestra, agreed. "They are just starting out, and they have a great enthusiasm," he said. "They will definitely remember this night."

Despite the presence of professional musicians, some of the pupils said they felt confident in the hour leading up to the show.

"I know I'm good at the songs, so I don't really know why I'd be nervous," said Moya Shpuntoff, 10, who plays the violin.

For the orchestra, the Side-by-Side partnership is an ideal way to reach out to the community.

The talented ensemble suffered a setback last season when it dropped music director Leslie B. Dunner. By spring of next year, Mentz said, the orchestra will have a new conductor.

Mentz said the Side-by-Side concert is, above all, an investment in the orchestra's future and in the future of orchestral music.

"We're hopeful that one day down the road we'll see these kids in our audience, or in our orchestra," he said.

Ten-year-old Asia Wallace could see herself as a concert musician. "I think I wanna be in an orchestra," said the violin player, a pupil at Eastport Elementary School.

With a giggle, the bright-eyed girl added: "But I also want to be an obstetrician and go to Harvard."

Information about the symphony's subscription season is available at 410-269-1132 or www.annapolissymphony.org.

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