Even before entering Finney Chapel this Thursday, one could hear the loud shouts and yelps of over 400 area schoolchildren. Those shouts only got louder during the next 45 minutes.
"What Makes Music Scary," the second of a four-part series of Coalition Children's Concerts run by the Oberlin Music Coalition (OMC), was held this Thursday at 11 a.m. in Finney Chapel.
Inspired by Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, the Coalition Children's Concerts seek to interest students and to make music a bigger part of their lives. "We want the kids to have art as their own, we want them to use art for expression and communication," said double-degree fifth-year Krista Johnson, Director of Operations for OMC. "We do music education outreach-oriented activities."
The first concert in the series was "What is Music?", an introductory season premiere that introduced children to many different types of music. The last two concerts in the series will be "Music from Around the World" and "It's Easy to Write an Opera." The concerts feature live performances by Oberlin students and a variety of activities for children to experience.
"John Goodell, double-degree fifth-year and I started the program about two and a half years ago, and since then we have done concerts for over 1500 kids," said Johnson. Goodell , OMC's Artistic Director, and Johnson created the series; Goodell was the primary narrator for the concert Thursday. "There were four schools here today, and about 400 kids," said Goodell of Thursday's concert.
OMC is a student-run volunteer group founded by Oberlin students in 1994. One purpose of the Coalition is to allow for greater musical interaction between Oberlin College students and the Oberlin community. The Coalition also aims to stimulate children's interest in music. Children's Music Workshops, Conservatory Children's Concerts, Instrumental Lessons, Instrument Drives, Music Appreciation Classes, and Traveling Musicians are the six basic programs offered by the Coalition, which is the only volunteer group run by music-conservatory students in the country. According to Johnson, in January of 1997, the Coalition and Children's Concerts were nominated for the Presidential Points of Light National Service Award.
The concert opened with "scary" organ music and a blue spotlight aimed at the organ pipes. Throughout the program, slides and live musical performances were used to illustrate concepts and to hold the audience's attention. Goodell posed the question, "What makes music scary?" at the beginning of the program and explained some principles of "scary" music, highlighting the elements of shock and surprise. Goodell also mentioned the essential role of music in scary movies.
One of the main methods of instruction used in the program was the playing of a theme by several different instruments. For example, Goodell played the familiar tune "Frère Jacques" on the piano, then explained how composer Gustav Mahler changed the theme slightly and made it sound eerie by writing it in the double bass part of one of his symphonies. Promptly after the explanation, a bass player came on stage and played the theme, Mahler-style, to illustrate the difference.
A vocalist and a trombone player also played "Frère Jacques," each demonstrating a distinct way to play the theme and how different instruments cause us to feel differently about the same melody. The viola, bassoon, and flute were also played in "scary" ways: the flute player walked down a side aisle from the back of the chapel playing trills and high-pitched notes.
Musicians were not the only Oberlin students who performed. Two students also danced to Strauss' pleasant "Waltz of the Hours," then danced to a so-called "scary" waltz written by composer Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by an Oberlin string quartet. A few measures into the second waltz, the dancers stopped dancing and "became" goblins who went into the aisles haunting and chasing audience members.
Throughout the program, Goodell asked the children how the music made them feel, what it made them think of, and why they thought it was scary. He also isolated parts: he asked the violinist, and then the celloist and violist, to play separately, and then asked children how each part contributed to the scariness of the music.
The program seemed to have an effect on the children: "It was interesting how they had the instruments come out," said a fourth-grader named Brittany from Mrs. Dobbins' class from Lowell School in Lorain. Fourth grader Krystal said she learned "more about major and minor [scales]," and "how to make scary faces." When asked what makes music scary, Julia, a second grader at Eastwood school, said, "The tunes make it scary."
Three other Oberlin students came on stage a little later in the program and asked the children to stand and pretend that they were gnarled trees in a haunted forest. In response to the student leaders, the kids made haunted forest sound effects and made grotesque faces at each other.
Goodell also explained programmatic music - music which is written with a particular story or idea in mind. He asked the audience for scary images and then had the quartet play musical interpretations of those images. The quartet played "dragon" music, "ghost" music, and "vampire" music, complete with eerie high-pitched violin sounds and harsh chords played in unison by all four musicians.
During the last segment of the program, the quartet played a "dance of death" while Goodell told the story behind the composition. Goodell then asked the kids to come up with their own images to fit the music, and the result was an original story created by the kids that also fit the scary-sounding piece.
"I am always astonished to see how enthusiastic kids are," said Johnson, "...they turn to each other and make ghoulish faces with such abandon!"
Continuing the Halloween festivities for local youth, Oberlin students will host a Halloween Festival in the courtyard between South and Afrikan Heritage House this afternoon at 5 p.m. The dorms will host trick-or-treating at 7 p.m.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997
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