CSO players encourage students: 'Try it yourself'

GUANAJUATO, Mexico — Oto Carrillo asked, in Spanish, if anyone in the assembly of some 800 teenage students knew the name of the composer whose music he and colleagues from the Chicago Symphony Orchestrahad just played.

“Mozart!” a kid at the back of the auditorium proudly shouted.

And how many horn players were present, asked Carrillo, a member of the CSO horn section.

One boy near the front raised his hand, somewhat sheepishly, much to the amusement of his classmates.

Carrillo and four CSO colleagues — violinists Mihaela Ionescu and Russell Hershow, violist Charles Pikler and bassist Dan Armstrong — had gone to the Escuela Preparatoria Oficial (Official Preparatory School) of the University of Guanajuato to give these senior high school students a taste of what the CSO's Citizen Musician program is all about: encouraging people of all ages and cultures to share the pleasures of classical music.

They are one of several CSO ensembles that are bringing music to schools, conservatories and hospitals during the orchestra's tour of New York and Mexico.

Three days earlier, this same ensemble had performed two such programs at the Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. One was a private session for patients with behavioral issues, the other a public affair held in the atrium of the facility.

The only Spanish-speaker among the ensemble members, Carrillo got the kids' attention when he explained he had visited Guanajuato once before, when he was 7 and immigrating with parents from the family's native Guatemala.

Once he found out that none of the students spoke English, he said it didn't matter, since “music is the universal language.”

Each player dashed off a few bars on his or her instrument to whet the kids' curiosity, before joining to present dance-related pieces by Mozart, Boccherini, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. When they launched into the “Star Wars” theme, many kids laughed in recognition.

Ionescu urged all the students to take up musical instruments if they possibly can. “Try it yourself, don't just listen to CDs and DVDs,” she said.

A question-and-answer period concluded the lively session. The kids listened attentively and greeted the Chicago visitors with cheers at the end.

Asked afterward what he and his fellow musicians took away from the experience of introducing these school kids to the classics, Carrillo replied, “We feel we are a big part of a small mission — it's a more visceral satisfaction than playing in an orchestra. We've played for some great kids in various places before, but these were especially enthusiastic. It's not often we are asked to sign autographs at the end!"

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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