They came to our school as a part of Pro Musica Joplin. They came to share their love for classical and jazz compositions. They came to demonstrate their dedication to their craft.
They are Ilmar, Melissa, Jaime, and Felix - the Harlem Quartet - and when they visited our school, we received more than we expected.
But so did they.
The four members of the Grammy Award winning ensemble were unpacking and warming up. We were the first to arrive.
Now where did that question come from? To tell the truth, earlier in the day we had studied the Harlem Quartet's About Us web page. Hoggatteers took this short research and ran with it. By the time we met the quartet, we were addressing them by name. We knew them. We had looked at their professional careers. We looked at their musical training. We took note of their musical acquaintances.
Ilmar wondered aloud how fourth graders knew his name. This kind of research simply isn't usually done.
Our research showed in the way our class viewed the ensemble; it was a notable difference. They listened differently. After all, we knew these people. These weren't nameless people visiting our auditorium. We knew who they were and where they came from.
And that changed how we listened. Students kept rhythm with their fingers. They looked at their neighbors to express satisfaction. They visualized.
Afterward, they wanted to put our class' standards of operation into play: they wanted to greet our guests.
I am reluctant to grant such a request. I know the performers are winding down, that they are packing their equipment, and that they are having conversations with other adults who are highly interested in Pro Musica activities. Still, at the same time, my students need real experiences. It's one thing to greet the teachers in the hallway every morning; it's quite a different experience to shake hands with world-traveling performers.
A little Beethoven
An Afro-Cuban Selection
Sweet Home Alabama
After a short time, I called them away. We returned to the classroom for debriefing. The kids had noticed a difference in the types of questions they had for the visitors and the questions that were asked by students in other classes and in other schools (Three other Joplin schools rounded out the audience.). They also recognized the attention they received by the performers. During the presentation, Ilmar even mentioned to the entire crowd that they would play an Afro-Cuban piece, partially at the request of our class, stating that having elementary-aged students learn their names ahead of time was a first for the group.
Students also noted that the performers were looking at each other and commenting that they had never experienced this kind of reception before. The experience, from start to finish, seems to have made a lasting impression on both performers and audience. We felt good about it all. We were energized. We felt a little bit grown up. It truly still amazes me how much teaching kids to properly shake hands and share a conversation changes them and their behavior and their self-confidence. One student expressed what others could not: "I can't believe I shook hands with professional musicians!"
I suppose we will follow up on the Harlem Quartet. Our class was asked to write to the musicians and to share our correspondence with Pro Musica. Now I have to teach them to write coherent friendly letters.