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"That's the first harp I've ever seen in real life."
Harpist Laura Porter said she gets that a lot. A couple of young boys are lingering at the Robinson Elementrary School cafeteria after the Philharmonic's Up Close & Classical program, inspecting the harp.
"I hear that quite often," noted Porter.
Joined by Janette Erickson, the Philharmonic's principal flautist, Porter performs at area elementary schools sharing her craft with 4th and 5th graders as part of the Philharmonic's Up Close & Classical program. Over the last 10 years, the program has introduced hundreds of elementary school children to classical music.
"If you study an instrument or voice, you learn about planning your time (for practicing), setting goals and achieving them, self-discipline, self-esteem," explained Phil Executive Director David Gaylin. "If you perform with a group, you learn about teamwork, taking direction, listening to other people, expressing yourself."
Gaylin actively recruits members of the Fresno Philharmonic for the program. He has assembled a woodwind quintet, a string quintet, and a flute and harp duo to teach the basic elements of music to dozens of elementary schools in Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified, Central Unified, and the private sector.
"Music has an intrinsic value and is part of what makes us human. Our brains are hard-wired for music," noted Phil Executive Director David Gaylin.
In a time where all but three Fresno Unified elementary schools have lost their music education, the Phil's efforts have become increasingly important. A one-hour visit from the Phil is likely to be the only exposure some children will have to orchestral music.
"We have funding for 32 schools, but would like to do 50. It's all private funding," explained Gaylin.
The backbone of the planned expansion is the Phil's Adopt-a-School program. Donors can choose to which elementary school they want their funds to go. A day's program is $1,000 and includes two one-hour lessons for classes of fourth and fifth graders, the grades when children usually begin to study music. The funding goes almost exclusively to pay for the professional musician's time.
While the Phil's efforts are successful in introducing students to classical music, they end when the one-hour presentation is over. If a student's interest is peaked by the music they hear, unless their parents can afford private lessons, their musical education ends in the cafeteria
Gaylin says the Philharmonic would like to do more.
The Phil recently applied for a NEA grant to develop a comprehensive curriculum for the Up Close & Classical program, to ensure the limited time they have with students has as much impact as possible. Longer term plans include music lessons for youth and a community music school.
At the end of the program, Porter and Erickson answered questions from students.
"How long does it take to build a harp?"
"How long have the flute and harp been around?"
"Can you play any song in the world?"
It's unlikely any of the children at Robinson Elementary School will learn to play songs without the help of organizations like the Philharmonic.
For more information, visit the Fresno Philharmonic's website: http://www.fresnophil.org. Donations can be made online.