Twelve first graders stood poised on stage, lifted their violins to their shoulders and plucked out a tune with seriousness and glee; fifth grade string musicians, many of whom have studied for 3 years, proudly performed solo pieces and chamber works. Grinning to their peers in the front row, some bowed bashfully, others with bravado. This classical music concert was as uplifting to see as to hear.
Such a show of dedication, hard work, joy, and promise is a part of many performances given in the Boston area in private and public elementary schools. What made this performance extraordinary was that it occurred in the Chittick School in Mattapan, where art and music classes have been cut completely. There were about twenty audience members seated in the small gym, including volunteers at an information table where parents could sign their children up for future classes.
The concert on June 10, billed as a performance party, was put on by students and members of the Boston Public Quartet, a group of professional musicians, who have partnered with the Chittick school to create a permanent music education and performance residency at the school. Betsy Hinkle, the group’s founder, and group members Marji Gere, Ashleigh Gordon and Jennifer Bewerse, performed the first piece of music, Bach Bradenburg Concerto No. 4, along with special guests Ealain McMullin, Adam Eccleston, Ellen Hinkle, and Dan Sedgwick.
Each fifth grader played a solo piece, and then played chamber pieces with and without their teachers. Selections ranged from Ode to Joy by Beethoven, to Beat it by Michael Jackson. The first graders showcased what they have learned in small groups during the school day.
The most memorable performance for this audience member was the last one, which involved all the fifth grade students and professional musicians improvising. They formed a large semi-circle on the gym floor in front of the audience. Hinkle started playing a melody. She then looked at the student next to her who picked up the melody and made it his own. The tune was carefully passed all the way around the semi-circle, changing with each performer.
In its 3rd year, the Boston Public Quartet provides 300 students with their only access to music education through presentations, workshops, violin, viola and cello lessons and chamber music. The Boston Public Quartet relies solely on grants and donations to fund their programming. “According to surveys,” Hinkle stated, “99% of parents said they hope their child continues to play an instrument “forever.’”