Stinky Schumann and Orkidstras (Part 2)

Posted by Adrian Anantawan on Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stinky Schumann and Orkidstras (Part 2)

Above: The CODA kids and Orkidstra have a joint reading at the Bronson Centre

Often described as a tenant in developmental psychology, it has been proven that young children actively confront their fears through role-play. For instance, dressing up as Frankenstein for Halloween allows a child to externalize what he fears most, and by doing so (using candy as a catalyst) conquers it.

Rebranded as the Stinky Shoe-Man group, each of the five members were given the responsibility to invent fun and engaging ways to teach the even younger Orkidstra kids how to have a good rehearsal. Some ideas that came up ranged from “bad posture,” where the cellist would play her cello like a violin, or “bad balance”, where the pianist would play her accompaniment too loud during a viola solo. We also had fun getting the violist to pretend to take a cell phone call during rehearsal, finding the most obnoxious ringtone known to man (i.e. the Mexican Hat Dance). 

It worked like magic. Finally, these kids were interacting and having fun with each other, an element that we had all but forgotten in the presence of such serious and complex repertoire.

The presentation was to take place at the Bronson Centre—-a small community shelter nestled in the heart of one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Ottawa.

We arrived at the place, expecting to find some official welcome party. None existed but a large, empty lobby, save for a janitor mopping the floor. It turned out his second function was that of the secretary, and he showed us to a cramped room with window-bolted air conditioner, making its best impression of a Canadian blizzard, in volume and severity. The outlet and controls were guarded with a steel box, secured with a lock; when we asked him if we could turn the unit off, he shrugged and mentioned that the safeguards were in place to prevent theft. Plus, he didn’t have the key. Luckily, did have the key for the upright piano, although we quickly realized that no one would want to steal the suffering instrument. Like an old car well past its expiry date, it physically looked dangerous to play. Each key provided a shrill, metallic rattle as it was pressed; it looked ready to collapse on itself if you took it past forte.

While setting up chairs and stands for the performance, we heard a knock at the door. A Korean girl, no older than six looked up at me with inquisitive eyes, and a small florescent yellow note in her small hands. It was all written in Korean. I tried talking to her, but quickly realized that she didn’t speak a word of English, as all my attempts at communication were met with a blank, curious head tilt. It was like having someone leave a baby at your doorstep, and I had no clue what she wanted from us.

It was at that moment we had our first minor miracle, where our seemingly reticent Korean violinist had finally found a compatriot to converse with for the first time since coming to Canada. The girl’s eyes lit up in a spark or recognition and relief, as if she could describe and unload all the burdens of her young life to someone other than her parents. It turns out that the note was to register her for next year’s incarnation of Orkidstra, and that she was here for the show.

As more parents and students filed in, we had the sense that this was going to be something special. All the Orkidstra kids had brought their instruments, which presented us a unique oppourtunity to capitalize upon after our Stinky Schumann group had finished with their presentation.

All things considered, most of the “bad rehearsal” ended with some good laughs (most from unintentional hitches), and all the kids were thrilled help correct the Stinky Shoe-Man group, like telling our cellist to play her instrument between her legs instead of on her lap. After an inspiring performance of the first movement from the Schumann Quintet, we had an idea. What if we could read some music together with our group and Orkidstra?

The kids on both sides were in rousing favour of the suggestion, so we decided to set up chairs for everybody to play a piece that the Orkidstra ensemble had just performed at their year-end recital. Each member of the Schumann group was paired with a younger player, well aware that these poor kids (and their families) couldn’t afford to buy an instrument themselves, yet alone pay for lessons. Our cellist sat next to a young refugee boy from Thailand, who was wearing a deep navy blue T-shirt, and had played the cello only for a few months. It was here where the moment of magic happened. 

Our cellist started to give her stand partner an impromptu lesson on how to use the bow, gregariously describing techniques that she had just learned herself over the past weeks. Even more astoundingly, she physically touched the boy’s forearm, to demonstrate the concept of applying “weight” from the bow to the string.

It was a moment that Bryan and I realized was a microcosm of all that we were trying to achieve in the CODA Project. Our premise of kids helping kids was finally substantiated through a simple act of kindness, one that would resonate with us far beyond the tenure of the program itself.

Tags: "stinky schumann" "orkidstras" 

The CODA Project

Created in 2010 by myself and colleague Bryan Wagorn, the Community Outreach for Developing Artists (CODA) program was implemented June 2011 at the National Arts Centre (NAC) Summer Music Institute (SMI), founded by Isreali violinist Pinchas Zukerman.