Students from PS 128 in Middle Village, filed into the auditorium last Friday morning with their bookbags and packed lunches in hand, amid a rush of voices and woodwind instruments being tuned. Excitement was stirring among the children as the special musical performance “Bach to School” was about to begin.
Through the program, Maxine Fisher, an English professor at Queens College and coordinator for “Bach to School,” along with the support of Prof. Edward Smaldone, director of Aaron Copland School of Music, brings free classical music mini-concerts with demonstrations, directly to elementary students.
The initiative is to encourage children from a young age to learn about and hopefully appreciate classical music.
“I go to a lot of classical concerts and I don’t see a lot of kids present in them, which is what gave me the idea,” Fisher said. “Kids were not being exposed, to at least live classical music.”
Four saxophonists make up the Queens Quartet, founded in 2009 at the ACSM at Queens College, where the members study. Their classical musical performance at the elementary school was a gift from their college.
The musicians performed a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, along with some contemporary and jazz numbers for the students to experience.
The four members also played a quick solo for the children to show how the instrumnents in the quartet — though comprised of only soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxapohones look and sound different.
Thomas Lee, who’s pursuing an M.A. in classical saxophone performance, is the manager and a founding member of the quartet. His participation with the organization, along with the other members, resonates with their group’s ideology.
“It’s so rare that an ensemble has the opportunity to interact with their audience in a way we are able to with these students,” Lee said. “We liked that we were able to break some of the music down and make it more accessible as well as expose these students to this lesser known, but up-and-coming genre, saxophone quartet.”
With a degree in music education, Lee finds the demonstration to students engaging in a practical way for them to relate to instantly. It takes his favorite parts of teaching, illustrating musical points, away from what is just on paper, to something the students can actually hear.
“[With “Bach to School”] they are getting an opportunity to see musicians that are actively studying performance and all of the elements involved with that,” Lee said.
The students were attentive and engaged over the course of the assembly, where one youngster was even overheard yelling “bravo” with a smile.
They took part in a lively question and answer session following the quartet’s performance, asking engaged and thorough questions to the student musicians.
Anthony Izzo, the quartet’s alto saxophone player, demonstrated how important posture is for breathing while playing an instrument, by showing firsthand to the children what not to do.
This question was asked by the school’s music teacher in a teachable moment for the kids to see for themselves. This particular instance is what makes the program so special: the students get a front row seat to the practicality of classical music instruction.
“Bach to School” is funded until June, which includes four more Queens public school concerts in this series for the academic year.
“I hope it will continue,” Fisher said. “The feedback we originally got back from our first concert [Dec. 2011] were kids saying, ‘I think I’d like to play an instrument’ and, ‘I didn’t think I liked classical music, but I did like this.’ ”