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Young listeners really dig that eyebrow music


A computer glitch had forced Chris Dudley to put aside his electronic wind synthesizer -- brought to Sandy Plains Elementary School in Baltimore County in hopes of dazzling the fourth-graders -- and to pick up his trombone instead.

This time the Bach would have to be performed the old-fashioned way.

Mr. Dudley, a pony-tailed associate principal trombone of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, stood before about 30 students, most of them in chairs, some of them seated on rug remnants on the floor, and ascended to a high, pleasant place. He closed his eyes and played an excerpt of a Bach concerto.

The students of Alaric Radosh's music class were silently reverent, if not transfixed, during Mr. Dudley's performance. They applauded when he finished, then asked questions, among them:

"How come you move your eyebrows so much when you play?"

After Mr. Dudley performed a contemporary piece on his contemporary EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), again a student asked, "How do you get your eyebrows to do that?"

At first, Mr. Dudley seemed surprised that 9-year-old boys would make such observations and ask such wiseacre questions. Yet the boys' curiosity was as sincere as juvenile, and apparently shared by other students.

"Maybe," Mr. Dudley answered, "my eyebrows go up when I'm thinking about hitting a high note."

Another boy wanted to know why Mr. Dudley kept a pencil taped to his trombone. (To make notes on sheet music.) Another asked, "How do you learn to be a good player?" One requested Beethoven; one requested rap; one requested "Achey-Breaky Heart."

Another boy, an embryonic trombonist named Joseph Konarski, asked to join Mr. Dudley in playing the national anthem.

Understand something: Thems who play Bach do not usually play for thems who love rap. Professional orchestral musicians rarely have the time or inclination to commune with kids. Mr. Dudley's visit to Sandy Plains, on the edge of Chink Creek, was occasioned by a three-week project called "Musical Explorations," an effort by BSO musicians to keep kids in touch with music, and to keep music in the public schools.

More than a dozen other BSO musicians volunteered to visit 12 Baltimore County and Baltimore City schools in early May. Though a number of BSO musicians have been going on their own into Baltimore-area schools for several years, this formal program was launched last month. It was initiated by a BSO group led by Mark Sparks, associate principal flute.

The musicians ventured out this year because of a concern over the impact of budget cuts in local school districts. At the time the project was announced, Chris Wolfe, assistant principal clarinet, said, "If you take the arts out of education, you might as well take the soul out of kids' bodies. The more that the schools cut back on music and music teachers, the more we, the performing artists, have to get involved."

So, for example, Mr. Wolfe lectured at City College and Dundalk Middle School, and Emily Controulis, BSO principal flute, played Highlandtown Elementary.

One recent day there, Ms. Controulis, dressed in concert black, took off her shoes and assumed the lotus position for a duo performance with sitar player Tim Gregory. Together, they provided Carol Foreman's class with a lesson in comparative classical music, Western and Eastern. Ms. Controulis spoke of musical interpretation, ornamentation, impromptus and fantasies. Mr. Gregory spoke of ragas and gurus. Together they performed Indian folk melodies, producing a tremendously interesting and pleasant sound.

The students had many questions for Mr. Gregory, who was seated on the floor of the music room, the strange instrument propped against his left foot and leg.

"Why do you play with your eyes closed?"

"Are you thinking about being a guru?"

"Is the sitar heavy?"

"Is the guru always a man?"

No one asked about his eyebrows, and Mr. Gregory received no requests for rap themes on the sitar. Of the sitar performance as religious experience, he said: "In India, to be in tune with music is to be in tune with God, with nature, with everything."

Ms. Controulis performed a baroque piece and offered this advisory: "If you listen closely, you can actually hear the flute accompany itself."

Before she did Mozart's variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," Ms. Controulis warned: "Don't be disturbed because I'm going to start decorating." And she played wonderfully, adorning the simple, familiar melody with all kinds of musical fringe and frosting. The kids were lucky to have such a treat.

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