Before the aptly titled “boot camp” workshop, I only knew Fifth House Ensemble by name. I was aware that they are a unique collective of musicians (the group consists of eleven musicians: ten instrumentalists and a composer who each have an impressive performance record and distinct skills) with a stellar reputation. However, after spending five hours with the musicians, it became evident that this non-profit musical organization is thriving thanks to each of the performer’s enthusiasm for their craft as well as their personable approach to sharing music.
To be honest, I had thus far been sort of intimidated by the idea of walking into a room full of third graders and somehow asserting “hey kids, Mozart is great!” 5HE showed us that not only is this possible, but there are actually several ways to make classical music interactive and, dare I say it — fun as well.
5HE began the workshop with brief introductions and a sample presentation of a performance they often present to elementary school students. A founding member of 5HE, cellist Herine Coetzee Koschak, began by introducing the other present members of the ensemble, stating that an important component of 5HE’s work involves presenting music in schools in an interactive and engaging way. Learning how to do that very thing was especially important for we Civic members because each of the Civic Engagement Ensemble chamber groups perform and present at local Chicago Public Schools eight times throughout the year. Thus, the bootcamp: an afternoon to learn from the masters and hone our skills.
To be honest, I had thus far been sort of intimidated by the idea of walking into a room full of third graders and somehow asserting “hey kids, Mozart is great!” 5HE showed us that not only is this possible, but there are actually several ways to make classical music interactive and dare I say it— fun as well.
5HE’s unique method of presentation to elementary school students centers around “musical story-telling”, consisting of a variety of methods to engage and excite a young audience. During their sample presentation, members of 5HE invited volunteers from the “audience” (we were all pretending to be third graders) to help choose characters and create a plot line based on music played by the ensemble. We drew characters based on an instrument’s sound and melody (a whale, a bird…I drew a sad fish), and created a poem with each stanza coinciding to a piece of music. Following the sample presentation, the members of 5HE went into a very detailed description of how and why they have come up with these concepts, and were very willing to share what they have learned from the experiences they have had over the years. They emphasized that kids can be very unpredictable – while it is ideal to try and plan in advance, the ability to adapt in the moment is critical.
After absorbing a copious amount of information and ideas, it was time for my Civic colleagues and I to come up with our own age-appropriate musical presentations. We divided into our Civic Engagement Ensembles and set to brainstorming, each group assisted by a member of 5HE.
Herine helped direct and organize the thoughts of my string quintet, making suggestions regarding repertoire and theme and facilitating the discussion. The members of 5HE were all very receptive to each group’s ideas, but were able to guide us all in the right direction thanks to their years of experience working in schools. The reiterated often that multiple forms of stimulation and participation help with retaining the attention span of a group of kids, and it is better to have everything planned out to a T so there is very little room for surprises or noticeable mistakes – all the while knowing the plan may change in the moment!
It was a challenge to comprehend all of the information and specifics presented over the five hour period, but it definitely sparked a lot of ideas and affirmed many of the important aspects of presenting classical music to a young audience. What was most encouraging about meeting the members of 5HE was learning that many of the founding members of the group were, once up a time, members of the Civic Orchestra. It is very inspiring as a young, emerging professional musician to see that there are a million ways to do what you love. You just have to be creative.
Photos by SnoStudios