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Santa Barbara Symphony Van Brings Sound of Music to Third-Graders

Mobile music classroom fuels band on the run — and a lot of fun

Twenty third-graders at Hollister School recently got the chance to pluck, shake, blow and beat an array of instruments, all without fear of being shushed by nearby adults. All the noisy fun was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Symphony’s Music Van Mobile Classroom, which carries a handful of docents and dozens of instruments to local schools to help kids discover music in a hands-on way.

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After laying out labeled woodwind, strings, brass and percussion instruments, docents ran through the basics of each, sometimes even playing it themselves and supplementing the others from a recording.

Professional cellist Claudia Vanderschraaf was also there and held the kids in rapt attention as she played several movements from Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals” and asked children to visualize what animals the melodies brought to mind.

The undisputed high point, however, came when the children were allowed to “play” the instruments themselves. Despite the din, the docents put up with the clamor and seem rewarded by the effort.

Chairwoman Mary Jane Cooper, who spent the day helping children learn about percussion instruments, has been with the Music Van almost a decade.

The project started in 1978 and is an effort of the Santa Barbara Symphony League, which programs all of the schools and musicians. Cooper coordinates all of the docents.

“Our main purpose is to bring the joy of music to the kids and to let them feel what it might be like to be in a symphony orchestra,” she said.

Every day over a span of 12 weeks, Cooper and her docents visit schools throughout the South Coast, Santa Ynez and Lompoc. The group tours in a donated van and all of the instruments the docents show the kids daily are donated, as well as maintained, by Nick Rail Music. Each instrument has four different sets of mouthpieces, which are sterilized between classes as well.

The program runs from mid-September to mid-December, a time period over which the Music Van sees about 2,000 third-graders.

Cooper says it’s an important time for the project because the children will probably select an instrument to play in fourth, fifth or sixth grade.

“This is a good chance for them to try out everything,” she said. “Most times, they just get to look at instruments if they even get to do that. To be able to handle them and actually try to blow a sound out of them is new to almost all the kids.

“They have a ball.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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