Christmas songs

By: Bennett Astrove, ArtistCorps member

I am in the middle of thirty-eight four year olds and four of their teachers, performing some christmas carols at the request of one of the classroom instructors. This is not a typical music class for my students and myself, and it has not been made very clear to me what's expected, except to bring my violin and some christmas songs to play.

I have repeated jingle bells about five times as it is the only christmas song that the teachers have started to teach them (next year I will plan to teach some to them myself during our normal lessons!). We attempted to teach them words to a few other songs, and the teachers sang along to help, however, our memory of the lyrics had become a bit too matured, and were not quite as reliable as one would expect. Big surprise. We tried our best though. At one moment, perhaps after jingle bells no. 5 and as I am wondering how they might want me to fill more time, one of the teacher asks if I can get a student to play for them alone. They would like to video tape it and share it with the school and parents. I am instantly filled with angst, a performance?! Are they really? Which one could I choose? Will it reflect that I have been teaching something that they are actually learning?

Calmly (after a moment), I scan the class and decide to ask Armanie to come up and play. 2015. At this point however, we are mostly working on holding the instrument well, and plucking our open strings, occasionally bringing the bow out to play with. These tasks do pose some potential challenges to a four year old. Keeping the violin from crashing to the floor, which hand's to use, which string to pluck (there are four), how not to snap a string, how to do more than pluck as if a mosquito just lifted off the string, how many times to pluck, how to keep it steady, so on and so forth. The kids so far were learning from these challenges pretty well so far, but I had no idea if one would be able to just go for it on the spot like this.

So, as Armanie took her place in front of the class to play our open string song, I help her with the violin and bringing it to playing position. She holds it like a natural, and I am beginning to feel a small sense of pride. She seems unfazed by the audience of eyes glued to her, which amazes me as it is her first solo performance. I ask the other children to join with me and sing the words while Armanie plays. "One, Two, Ready, Go," and it began. I spent most of my attention helping with the class as we sing and make our hand gestures that accompany the words. None of my attention was needed by Armanie, as she cooly and adeptly navigated her way from string to string, plucking each one just the right number of times and in a perfectly steady beat. Each pluck rang bright and clear, no snaps, and no fluff.

The teachers beamed with smiles, they and all of the children clapped, all excited for the occasion, and Armanie took her bow graciously. It was a day full of surprises, none more satisfying than really seeing what Armanie had grown to be capable of accomplishing in front of a crowd. Next time, we will be sure to save enough time for everyone to share what they have learned.

December 15, 2015