Itzhak Perlman, quite possibly the world's most renowned violinist, is a name that is synonymous with classical music. He has performed in front of kings, queens, presidents, and premiers worldwide. Yet, few people realize that he has a presence here on the Suncoast.
The Ariel Quartet, a group of four exceptionally talented string players, was the first alumni group to be personally coached by Perlman at the Perlman Institute in New York, after auditioning for the exclusive program as young teenagers.
To have the tremendous opportunity to host a concert by the Ariel Quartet representing the Perlman Institute would be a major coup for any high school. For Southeast Orchestra teacher, Mr. Joseph Downs, to have these accomplished musicians teach a class in his orchestra suite would be a dream come true. Yet on Nov. 6, that's exactly what Downs experienced.
The quartet performed for hundreds of budding musicians from Samoset and Wakeland Elementary schools and Johnson Middle School, as well as Southeast orchestra students. By bringing the Quartet to Southeast High, Downs had the hopes of instilling a love for classical music into the young minds of students who might attend Southeast High School and become part of the orchestra program.
And while Downs sought to build his program, he had a second motive of improving the school's academic performance as well. By exposing the students to this genre of music, research shows that students involved in music programs at an early age are more likely to perform better in school and on standardized tests than those who aren't involved with music. Factors that may contribute to this are increased cognitive skills, higher self-esteem, or perhaps just being more involved with school. Whatever the reason, music seems to have a positive effect on students both in and out of school.
But not just any music. In today's culture, kids are growing up listening to the top hits of the week, mostly consisting of pop and rap music. Fewer children are exposed to classical music and therefore, cannot appreciate it.
In the reality show world of X-Factor, American Idol, and The Voice, rarely does one experience a classical music performance.
Sex and Sensation sells, Sense and Sensibility sinks.
Ratings are king and society has become focused on "music" with overused melodies and meaningless repetitive lyrics. So how does society expose the next generation to classical music--the music that inspired every other type of music we hear today? Is it even possible to reignite the passion for the classics? The Ariel Quartet may just have the answer.
When traveling around the world and performing for all types of audiences, one of the Quartet's main goals is to introduce their audiences to the classical genre and open their eyes to this kind of music. "We are here to invite the younger audience into our world. In a culture where we have performers like Lady Gaga and her genre of music, we understand that it might not be exactly "hip" to play classical music, but we hope to
introduce the kids to this type of music," explained cellist, Amit Even-Tov.
Viewing themselves as storytellers, Quartet members asked their young audience to listen to each piece and imagine their story and try to see how the music fits into their lives. Through this exercise, students saw that music would have a much more powerful meaning if every song and melody were open to interpretation, rather than filled with lyrics of angry words and harsh content.
"It's amazing how many people turn up to concerts, including young kids and students, and just watching their eyes light up!" said violist, Jan Gruning. "With the experiences that we have, it's not that the kids don't like it, it's just that they are not exposed to enough types of music," added violinist, Sasha Kazovsky, "When we go to the schools and perform all kinds of different pieces, and they hear it for the first time, they love it!"
After their concert, the group also worked with the Advanced Placement Orchestra class, playing with the class and giving tips to improve posture and sound quality. According to Downs, "My students are still talking about the experience with the quartet and wishing that they could have stayed even longer. It's almost like having an NFL star, right here on campus." For anyone interested in becoming a classical music professional, Amit said, "The key is to practice, practice, practice and always be consistent. Ask your parents to take you to the best schools in town and listen to great recordings!"