Cranston students 'Link Up' with RI Philharmonic

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Veterans Memorial Auditorium was rocking last week as over 12,000 third, fourth and fifth graders from around the state performed with the Rhode Island Philharmonic in the eighth annual Link Up concert program.

Cranston students from Oaklawn, Garden City, Edgewood Highlands, Gladstone Street, Eden Park, Arlington and Dutemple Elementary, along with Pumpkin Patch, were given a quality soprano recorder and workbook as part of a 12-unit curriculum on basic music literacy through performance.

Anthony Mazzi, a music teacher from Eden Park Elementary, was back for his second year.

“I love this program,” Mazzi said. “This kind of opportunity doesn’t come often. We have rehearsed in the classroom over the past five months, learning how to sing and play four songs. Before the program began, members of the orchestra brought their instruments for the students to hear, see, and touch. It was like and instrument petting zoo.”

Jonathan Cox, a music teacher at Arlington was enjoying his third year with the program.

“It is such a great experience for the students,” he said. “I tell them to look up and enjoy this moment and this beautiful building.”

Boston-based French horn musician Kevin Owen has been involved with the program since its inception, participating in a committee that puts it together.

“We have developed a great program,” he said. “We change it a bit every year and we know what works. While it’s not new to us, it is always a new experience for the kids.”

Many of the students have never been inside Vets, nor had they ever been to a classical concert. The noise level in the building was excruciatingly loud until the lights dimmed and resident conductor Francisco Noya took to the podium, raised his baton and led the orchestra in Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

Trinity actor Joe Wilson Jr. served as MC, chatting with Noya about the music and the instruments.

“The Orchestra Moves,” he said, setting the tone for an hour and a half of participatory learning that had the students laughing, clapping, singing and playing their instruments.

There were lessons to be learned about dynamics, tempo, melody and a number of musical terms in a show and tell style, with Wilson asking the questions and Noya, with the help of the orchestra members, providing musical answers.

Everyone joined together in singing and playing Strauss’ “The Blue Danube,” with help from RIC graduate, Mezzo Soprano Arielle Rogers, who has made quite a name for herself in the Boston/Providence area. She is also a music educator and enjoyed having her class in the audience.

If you think classical music isn’t fun, you should have seen baritone Avery Sujkowski, a member of the Boston Midsummer Opera, belting out “Toreador” from “Carmen,” flashing his cape as Joe Wilson played the bull.

“Link Up is one of our most important programs,” said David Beauchesne, RIPO Executive Director. “It is a key strategy toward achieving our goal of music literacy for every child in our state, regardless of the zip code they grew up in. We partner with mayors, superintendents, principals and teachers, as well as our wonderful funders, which include Taco and Hasbro, to reach more than 20,000 school children with critical music education.”

As they big yellow busses brought the students back to their respective schools, I thought that each school committee, city council and mayor could see this program through the eyes of these children, there would never be any consideration of cutting the music and arts programs.

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