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The Daily News-Tribune (Feb 17, 2008)

Music and Harmony: Program helps children see what they have in common

by Jeff Gilbride

The notion that music is a universal language is the foundation for the Music Unites Us program at Brandeis University.

"What we want to try and do is help people find what they have in common and find out what's different," said violinist Judith Eissenberg. "We think music can unite us in ways other things can't."

The focus was on immigration, a subject fourth-grade students study across the district. The students were invited to Brandeis on Friday to hear international music played by the Lydian String Quartet.

The music came from all over the world, from Argentina to the Czech Republic and back to America.

"Basically (the program's) about the fact that every group of people has something to offer," said Eisenberg, a member of the quartet and founder of Music Unites Us. "It's about identity and culture and that's really about showing where people bring music from ... we look at immigrants as the founders of this country."

Eissenberg created the program in 2003. She's brought musicians from around the world to perform for students through an outreach program with Waltham public schools.

Music Unites Us now brings 1,000 students annually to the Brandeis campus, Eissenberg said. The group holds performances about three times a year.

On Friday, fourth-grade musicians had a chance to play alongside members of the Lydian String Quartet, a first for the program.

"I enjoyed the (quartet) playing and learning how they play their instruments," said Northeast Elementary School violin player Jacqueline Lopez, 10. "We've spent a lot of time practicing."

Waltham public school program directors Stephen Goodwin and Lynne LaValley helped organize the trip. This year LaValley said she wanted the students to take part in the concert.

"I figured those kids would be in the audience so let's let them go and play a little bit," LaValley said. "I love the idea of these kids feeling very special. What better way then having them perform on stage with some master musicians."

The fourth-grade students played two short musical pieces during the program.

"It was Dutch and Chinese," said Northeast Elementary School violinist Kristen Antunes, 10. "(For) the Dutch song we used a thing to make it sound like people used clog-shoes to dance."

Northeast Elementary School student Victor Chang, 10, said he practiced his cello twice a week to prepare for the concert.

"I started in third grade," he said. "I'm happy because I got to play in front of the whole fourth grade from all of Waltham."

Northeast Elementary School student Michelle Mazares-Monga, 9, said she wasn't worried prior to the performance.

"I knew I'd do a good job," she said. "I knew if I made a mistake I'd just have to keep on going."

Djalai Babazadeh is the stringed instrument instructor for the Northeast, MacArthur and Plympton elementary schools and the Kennedy Middle School. Babazadeh said she chose the Chinese song because of the number of Chinese students she teaches and the Dutch song "just for fun."

"I was very pleased," she said. "I thought they did awesome."

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