Cultivating a passion for classical music

How can passion for classical music be cultivated in the classroom?

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014 the Calidore String Quartet, a promising young quartet focused on technical precision and emotional vibrancy, visited students at The Masters School (Dobbs Ferry, NY). Armed with instruments, anecdotes, and some kid-appropriate humor, the Quartet brought live and interactive performances to students taught by Mr. Curt Ebersole, Music Department faculty member and Conductor/Music Director of the Westchester Symphonic Winds. Ebersole’s classes, Humanities Music and String Ensemble, were treated to works by Haydn, Hindemith, Ravel, and Beethoven, and had the opportunity to ask questions of the Calidore ranging from the origin of the group to why cellists develop blisters.

“Their superb performances were equalled by their kind and nurturing interaction with our students,” says Ebersole. “The highlight of the clinic was inviting the quartet members to sit in with our students for a rehearsal of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium. The experience heightened our students’ sense of the possibilities for emotional expression in that piece, and really awakened their senses.”

The group’s appearance at Masters was not an isolated one; as Caramoor’s 2014-15 Ernst Stiefel Quartet-in-Residence, the Calidore toured schools across Westchester County this fall through Caramoor’s Student Strings program and will continue doing so next spring. Additionally, they will present multiple concert programs at Caramoor during the fall, spring, and summer.

Violinist Ryan Meehan speaks with students and parents after the Calidore String Quartet's November 16 performance at Caramoor

Violinist Ryan Meehan speaks with students and parents after the Calidore String Quartet’s November 16 performance

Caramoor appoints one professional chamber group annually to take up the mantle of Quartet-in-Residence, focusing on mentoring, performance, and education. Student Strings provides each quartet the opportunity to engage with budding musicians in classrooms throughout the county and at Caramoor’s Katonah estate, encouraging open dialogue, interactive performance, and musical exploration for students more prone to hearing pop songs than Prokofiev in their day-to-day lives.

“We participated in the Student Strings program in 2013 with the Caramoor’s 2013-14 Quartet-in-Residence, the Dover Quartet,” says Ebersole. “This year’s experience with the Calidore was even more effective because our curriculum changed from Full Orchestra to String Ensemble, and the quartet could focus solely on string technique issues. The interaction of professionals and students has profound and immeasurable impacts on student musicians. I applaud Caramoor for fostering this program, and look forward to participating again in the future.”

With popular media scrambling to figure out if or when classical music will meet its end, mentorship of young musicians by their professional counterparts remains crucial to keeping classical relevant, fresh, and accessible.

A student from Somers HS during the Calidore's Student Strings session on Thursday, November 13, 2014

A student from the Calidore’s Student Strings session at Somers HS on November 13

“If we didn’t know any better, it might seem that classical music education has become less and less valuable in this day and age,” says Ellie Gisler, Manager of Artistic Planning for Caramoor. “When I am lucky enough to sneak in alongside our Quartets-in-Residence to the schools served by our Student Strings program, it becomes very clear how valuable our middle and high schoolers find this kind of education. It is striking, but perhaps not so surprising how easily youth of all ages understand Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms … even Hindemith. These pieces are born of intense human emotion written by complicated and tortured composers, brought to these schools by hip, professional musicians barely 10 years older than the students they are working with. As a teenager, what’s not to love?”

Back at The Masters School, the students’ connection to Hindemith, in particular, was apparent. Prior to launching into this dystopian masterwork, the Calidore Quartet’s Jeremy Berry, violist, introduced the German composer’s Quartet No. 4, Op. 22: “Considering that Hindemith was composing this piece just after World War I, one of the most devastating periods in human history, the dramatic spirit of this piece is not surprising.” “Fasten your seatbelts,” added violinist Ryan Meehan.As students were thrown into the work’s raucous opening, each sat with rapt attention. This was not the stereotype of a dry, floral quartet they’d been programmed to expect. 

“The students we serve in this program are the same ones that will invest in this music someday,” says Gisler, “… if our society does not continue to suppress their natural inclination to love it.”

The Calidore String Quartet will make a second appearance at Caramoor on Sunday, March 22, 2015 in addition to continuing their tour of area schools in the spring. Curt Ebersole’s Westchester Symphonic Winds will perform for Caramoor’s July 4 celebrations during the summer Festival.

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