At the beginning of this spring semester, four musicians from various PA ensembles united and formed the Philharmonic Association Discovery Quartet.  The goal of this chamber ensemble was to put together an educational program that could be performed at elementary and middle schools.  The four musicians in the ensemble–Amanda Johnson (violin, Sinfonia), Oliver Walters-Clift (violin, TYO), Maddie Hurst (viola, TYS), and Natalie Wiese (cello, Sinfonia) are all homeschooled which allows them to perform during the daytime for schools.  Under the direction of Executive Director Margaret Partridge and Executive Intern Krista Wiese, the quartet put together a program that explores the different elements of music. The Discovery Quartet will be performing a total of  three times this May.  The first performance took place this past Thursday, May 9.

After four months of hard work and preparation, the members of the Discovery Quartet were understandably nervous before their first school performance.  Their program features not only music, but speaking parts and interactive elements.  The musicians have worked hard to prepare a program designed to engage an audience and spark curiosity.  It is a program that demands much confidence and focus from the performers.  As soon as the musicians arrived at Poe Elementary on Wednesday morning, however, nerves settled.  The teachers and students at the school greeted the musicians enthusiastically, and as the third, fourth, and fifth graders from the chorus and strings classes sat down, curious smiles on their faces, the musicians relaxed and began the program.

Discovery Quartet performs at Poe Elementary

The opening piece on the PA Discovery Quartet’s program is definitely the highlight of the program. The four musicians set their instruments down beside their chairs and take out a balloon.  After making a show of “tuning” their instruments, Amanda cues and the musicians begin playing what seems to be piece of music using their balloons to create different rhythms and sounds.  The piece ends with a bang, literally.  Maddie releases her balloon so that it flies around the room while at the same moment, Natalie pops hers on the end peg of her cello for a dramatic finish to the piece. Once the giggles and murmurings of curiosity die down, Maddie poses the question, “Was that music?” Founder of the Philharmonic Association, Hugh Partridge, wrote the piece to spark thought about that question, and the piece is the perfect segue into a program about the different components of music.  The piece certainly served its purpose at Poe Elementary. The musicians made it smoothly to the end of the piece–a challenge given its unique nature–and from that moment on, the attention of their young audience was captured.

The program goes on to demonstrate how melody, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, form, and texture function in music.  After each demonstrative piece, a member of the quartet will pose a question or two and talk a little bit about one of the aforementioned components of music.  The students at Poe Elementary were eager to raise their hands and answer questions which was a huge encouragement and joy to the members of the quartet.  The students were also eager to participate in the interactive portion of the program during which five volunteers are each given a sign with a letter on it to indicate a different part in the form of the music.  They are shown when to hold up their signs in order to illustrate to the rest of the class when the song changes parts.

Discovery Quartet at Poe Elementary

The thirty minute program came to a close, but the Discovery Quartet’s job was not done.  The students at Poe Elementary had an endless string of great questions for the four musicians:  How did you play without a conductor?  How did you become interested in music? How did this quartet form?  How did you play the first piece?  Where is the nearest PA orchestra? The members of the quartet enjoyed answering the students’ questions, and the many questions proved to the Discovery Quartet that they had accomplished their goal–they had sparked curiosity about music and about the opportunities offered by PA.

Poe Elementary students

Before the quartet departed, the students in Sarah Rhodes’ chorus class presented them with a gift.  The students formed an organized cluster and sang for the quartet one of the songs they had performed in concert the night before.  They sang beautifully and the quartet was honored by the unexpected gift.  The Philharmonic Association is so grateful to Poe Elementary, and the music students and teachers, for welcoming us so kindly and supporting the efforts of our Discovery Quartet.  We also appreciate the attentiveness and respect of the students.  In every way, the PA Discovery Quartet’s first performance was a rewarding experience and we look forward to our next performance at Dillard Drive Middle!

This program is available to the public on May 31, 4:30 pm, East Regional Library in Knightdale during our Music in the Libraries partnership with Wake County.