SMITH ISLAND --Michael Lisicky had the kids of the Ewell School right where he wanted them yesterday - in their classroom soaking up every note, every passage, even a few honks and squawks thrown in for laughs by his Trio La Milpa.
Unlike other music education programs that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra oboist has conducted, this one couldn't have been any cozier.
The entire school - 14 students from pre-K through seventh grade - took part. The children listened to the oboe trio while sitting at their desks in their one-room schoolhouse here in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
None has ever heard a symphony orchestra. No one could identify an oboe.
Lisicky couldn't have asked for more.
"You do one of those presentations in a huge school auditorium, and you don't reach kids - it's recess," said Lisicky, "Here, we have the most intimate type of setting. I've been thinking about doing something to bring music like this to Smith Island for years."
Located 12 miles out in the bay from the Lower Eastern Shore, Maryland's inhabited off-shore island is accessible by a flotilla of small boats that haul passengers, mail, groceries and other necessities from the town of Crisfield.
Yesterday, the three musicians - Lisicky, his wife, Sandra Gerster, and Katherine Needleman, the Baltimore Symphony's principal oboist - arrived by boat for a weekend residency program that Lisicky had organized.
Lisicky said the idea came during the years he and Gerster played for the Richmond Symphony and vacationed a couple times on nearby Tangier Island.
When the trio signed on this year for the BSO's "On the Go" program, an outreach and education effort based at the symphony's Strathmore center in Bethesda, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity.
Michael Mael, the vice president at Strathmore, said the program is designed for small groups of first- through third-grade students in settings that allow children to interact with musicians. The idea, he said, is to use music as a tool to learn about cooperation and communication through 45-minute workshops.
The On the Go program, which began in February, has taken musicians to 1,300 students in 25 schools.
"It's not a traditional music education forum where students file into an auditorium and the symphony plays," said Mael. "We're talking about kids being able to touch the instruments. The musicians are right there, sitting on the carpet with kids."
Janet Evans is a teacher and a principal at Ewell, the school she attended as a child and where she has taught for 25 years. She said the music program - which was paid for by the BSO - was a wonderful gift to a school that can afford extended field trips, such as a visit to the Inner Harbor, only about once every two years.
"Our children here are so close, they're all like an extended family," Evans said. "The down side is that we don't have access to the arts. This program is a wonderful thing."
Evans and other natives have watched the population in Smith Island's three small towns - Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point -- dwindle. Decades of declining oyster and crab harvests have been matched by plummeting population on the island, where most people still earn their living from the water.
In 1980, more than 600 people lived on Smith Island. A decade later, the population was about 380. Now, longtime residents guess that 250 or 260 live here full time.
At the school in Ewell, which serves all three towns, Evans and two teachers' aides supervise all 14 children. The island's teen-agers go to Crisfield High, which requires a daily round trip to the mainland on the "school boat." Ten years ago, Evans said, the island school had 30 or 40 students.
Janet Tyler, whose daughter, Ashley, 8, is a third-grader at the school in Ewell, said she can't recall a similar program.
"There certainly aren't a lot of people on this island who've ever had the chance to hear classical music," said Tyler, director of the island's museum. "Maybe you can go to Salisbury once in a while, but it's a real trip anywhere from Smith Island. This is great for kids and adults, too."
The chamber music trio, which spent two weeks this summer on an outreach program to Greenland, is to spend the weekend on Smith Island. Tonight, they have planned a formal recital at the Ewell United Methodist Church. Tomorrow, they will play at two churches on the island.
Plans are in the works for a new program in which BSO musicians will visit schools to introduce music written for trios and recorders. Students will then learn the music, which they'll play when the musicians make a return trip to the school.
"Certainly, we're not the only ones doing this kind of program, but with the decline of arts education, there seems to be renewed interest in getting music and the arts back in the curricula," Mael said. "I think there is a future."