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Daily News-Tribune (October 29, 2003)

Music to their ears

by Sasha Brown

WALTHAM - Fifth-graders from both Fitzgerald and Northeast Elementary schools had the chance to sit on stage with musicians as some of the music they have been studying in school came alive Friday.

Nearly forty Waltham students sat on the stage of Slosberg Concert Hall at Brandeis University as members of the Lydian quartet - artists-in-residence at Brandeis - played music ranging from American jazz great Duke Ellington to Russian composter Dmitri Shostakovich and talked about the composers.

The afternoon was part of a pilot program called "Music Unites," designed by Lydian Quartet member violinist Judith Eissenberg.

"Music is a common language that can unite diverse cultures," said Eissenberg, who formed the idea for the educational program after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. "Education can be such a political act," she said.

"There is a way to learn justice and ethics through this," said Eissenberg, who thought it would be positive for children who continued their art even in difficult circumstance, be they political or physical.

As it turned out, Waltham school officals were excited about the idea as well, so with backing from Brandeis, the program began. Friday was the first day the children went to Brandeis.

"This is just a great lesson for kids," said Fitzgerald Principal Alice Shull. "Those composers reflect the countries they came from and the feelings that people have."

During the one-hour program, the four musicians played music that was preselected and the children had already studied a bit thanks to a CD provided by Eissenberg.

And when the musicians were not playing, they were discussing circumstances driving each composer to create the music.

Discussing Beethoven, Lydian cellist Joshua Gordon talked about how his deafness affected his work as a composer.

"He had to just imagine the work in his head," said Gordon to the children. "Can you imagine writing an entire piece of music that you would never hear?"

Discussing the political atmosphere encountered by Ellington and Shostakovich, the musicians posed questions that would help the children understand that "nothing happens in a vacuum," said Gordon. Great art has been created against a backdrop of upheaval throughout time, he said.

"There is a real effort here to make a link between music and other subject areas," said Eissenberg.

And the children loved what they learned.

"It was amazing," said fifth-grader Amanda Fournier, who plays the viola, "I hope that someday I will be able to play."

Fifth-grader Sara Capello was so moved she asked Gordon for his autograph and called the program "wonderful and amazing".

The children will visit Brandeis again next month to hear the drumming of two visiting fellows from Africa who use music to promote reconciliation in divided communities.

Eissenberg hopes the pilot program will promote a greater sense of cultural understanding in the students and continue past this year.

"Music is such a defining thing for a culture," she said.

CSK MCC