Our son is attending Grade Four in a specialized program that includes a compulsory String Instruments class, thus he’s been struggling to master a screechy little violin since September. It’s a public school; by some budgetary jiggery-pokery they manage to retain the services of a nearly-full-time Strings teacher. Last Thursday night was the Christmas Concert featuring the fourth and fifth graders, and we had no idea what to expect.
Madness, madness, madness; the “intermediate” fifth-grade orchestra, the “beginners” fourth-grade orchestra, and the Advanced Seventh-Grade “Irish” and “Christmas” ensembles. This is a lot of kids sawing away in a not-very-big school gym.
The first surprise was that the gym, packed that densely, wasn’t bad acoustically; you could hear all the musicians pretty well wherever you were sitting.
Then it turned out that the fifth-graders were actually good; reasonably tight and pretty well in tune. A perusal of the picture above reveals that the school population is heavily Asian in background; my guess is 80% or so. Accordingly, a couple of the pieces were in a Chinese flavor.
Then it turned out that the fourth-graders, while not actually good as such, weren’t terrible, and were funny. Their segment went with a narrative about how only three months ago they’d never touched a violin and could only make horrible noises (they all gleefully made horrible noises) but had progressed through pizzicato (illustrated) to open strings (illustrated) to actual tunes; and could now play Jingle Bells, which they did without disasters albeit at a lugubrious pace. Here are some of them:
The seventh-graders were polished and fun. The Irish ensemble had some impressive tempo changes and held together through the fast bits. Then the other group played a “Modern Christmas Medley”, schmaltzy arrangements of seasonal music composed between 1940 and 1965. Merry Little Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming, Rudolph, Frosty, Most Wonderful Time, you know the stuff. The stuff they play over bad speakers at malls. The stuff I’ve always loathed. Played competently by live instruments with intelligent arrangements, well, these are actually some pretty fine tunes, and they’re all imprinted deeper on our hindbrains than we’d like to admit. I actually found myself choking up a bit.
I made a point of tracking down the maestro afterward to compliment him on the medley. We’ve had a couple of conversations; at the start of the year I introduced myself as someone with moderate competence in music and strings who might be able to help, and then a month ago I dropped the boy’s violin and broke it (remarkably traumatic) and had to go in shamefaced to ’fess up and pay up.
He thanked me with a smile and said “Hey, you’re in Wikipedia!” Which is the first time this has happened to me. I didn’t have a snappy comeback ready so I just stammered. I’ll have to work on something, civilians don’t realize how easy it is for computer programmers to get in.
Think those pictures look a little yellow? Well, that’s a lie. The gym has yellow walls and violently yellow ceiling lights. Lauren speculated that they were trying to erase the ethnic variations in the room by making everyone look like a space alien. I rammed the White-balance slider all the way over in the interests of humanization.