Basics from the pros

Kidznotes students get all-day music lessons
Jun. 28, 2014 @ 03:59 PM

Marc Moskovitz and Bonnie Thron, both professional cellists, give four young students attending the Kidznotes summer camp some basics about shifting notes. Moskovitz tells the students to play a “C” with the fourth finger, then to shift to the same note using the second finger.

“Close your eyes,” and feel the note, he tells them. “One of the things practicing does is teach you where your hand is supposed to be,” Moskovitz said. The students in this sectional rehearsal are Jonathan Ortiz, Jiovany Cardenas, Marcus Gee and Lawrence Hunt. They are among some 90 students attending Kidznotes summer camp at Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary (a separate summer camp is going on in Raleigh).

Rachel Johnson, Kidznotes’ business and development manager, compares the camp to “a full school day, where every class they go to is music.” For 6 ½ hours, students do music theory games, sectionals and full ensemble practice, learning music by Beethoven, Dvorak, Smetana and other composers. All the students start by singing, and this day, they gather and sing Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy.”

The summer camp also helps move students through the next level of orchestra, introducing them to all the symphonic instruments, said violinist Katie Wyatt, founder and executive director of Kidznotes. The organization was founded in 2010 and is based on the model of the Venezuelan organization El Sistema, which teaches students in impoverished areas of that country. Like El Sistema, Kidznotes serves students in schools in poor areas of Durham and Raleigh.

Students enter Kidznotes during kindergarten. At this camp, students range from first grade to rising seventh-graders. Next year, the organization will enroll 320 students, and students in sixth and seventh grades who have been in the program will help teach and mentor the younger students, Wyatt said. As the students get older and the program grows, she envisions Kidznotes having a large youth orchestra that will play concerts.

On this day during the camp, Thron, who is principal cellist for the North Carolina Symphony, is the featured guest artist and “is here to make the case for the cello,” Wyatt said. For the full group of students, Thron plays three solo pieces – one by a Spanish composer, another an arrangement of the African-American spiritual “Deep Water” and a composition by a contemporary composer from China inspired by Tibetan dance music.

Thron also answered some questions from students. One student asked her how often she practiced a new piece of music. “I’m never done,” she said. A musician has to set goals for learning a new piece based on a deadline, Thron said. Another student asked about making mistakes, and Thron urged students not to worry about them. She said she makes them “all the time. In fact, I messed up the last piece. If you spend all your time worrying about making mistakes,” you might never play, she said.

One value in students’ enrolling in Kidznotes is to see musicians like Thron and Moskovitz (a teacher with Kidznotes and principal cellist with the Chamber Orchestra of Ohio) as partners, not members of an elite, Wyatt said.

She praised the partnership with the symphony. The camp also has help from volunteers like Cameron Eck and Ambika Viswanathan, both Durham Academy students. Viswanathan also plays violin and helps the students with their music and “making sure everyone has their basics down.”

Moskovitz drives home one of those many basics of playing a string instrument. “I don’t want any flying fingers,” he tells the students. “I want you to feel the hand and the fingers as one unit.”