Meet the Instruments

“Okay, guys I’m going to play some music for you,” says Colleen Gilligan, a senior USC student, balancing her bass in front of a class of 2nd graders at 32nd Street School in Los Angeles. There is an audible “Yessss!” from the students, and some crane their necks and shift in their seats so they can see Colleen better as she begins a jazz song. One boy pretends to conduct.

When she finishes, the class erupts into applause.

USC Senior, Colleen Gilligan, demonstrates a walking bass line for a 2nd grade class at The 32nd Street School in Los Angeles.

USC Senior, Colleen Gilligan, demonstrates a walking bass line for a 2nd grade class at The 32nd Street School in Los Angeles.

“Meet the Instruments” is a program that brings USC music students into classrooms of local elementary schools where they can give a small lesson about their instrument and their positive experiences with the arts.  In one morning, Colleen gets to meet four different classes of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. They are excited to listen to her play, but also to ask her questions:

“How tall are you?”
“What is that stick for?”
“When did you start playing?”
“Is the bass like a big violin?”
“When is your birthday?”

Colleen answers all of the questions with a smile. At the end of her hour long mini-tour, she says, “Today made me want to go into music education. I was already interested, but that was so much fun.”

After Colleen leaves to go to another classroom, Jesse Freedman, a second year masters student, walks in with his classical guitar.  He takes one of the 2nd grader-sized chairs and sits in front of the kids, looking comically comfortable so close to the ground.

Second year USC grad student, Jesse Freedman plays a selection of classical guitar music that his 2nd grade audience called, "spooky."

Second year USC grad student, Jesse Freedman plays a selection of classical guitar music that his 2nd grade audience called, “spooky.”

Jesse takes some time to describe his guitar and how it makes sound. “The guitar is like a giraffe,” he says. “It has a round body and a looong neck.”  He introduces the song he is going to play, and tells the class that it was written in Spain in the 18th century. “Does anyone know when the 18th century was?” A boy raises his hand. “A long time ago,” he answers. “Before cameras.”

Before Jesse begins his song, he asks the class to close their eyes and think about how the song makes them feel. They immediately put their heads down on their desks.  While Jesse plays, their faces scrunch in thought, and when he is finished, they rush their hands to the air, eager to tell him how they feel about the song.

“It’s so great to see that moment,” says Jesse afterward, “when they get quieter and stop hitting each other and during my song, reach this deeper level of hearing.”

Later, I ask some of the kids what is their favorite part of “Meet the Instruments.”

“I like the flute because it is the leader of the woodwinds,” says one little girl.
“I like to hear music in real life,” says a boy sitting near her.
“Yeah,” his friend agrees, “And to see the instruments in real life!”

Everyone in the class gets excited by this answer. It’s pretty obvious that “Meet the Instrument” has been a huge hit.

To get involved with “Meet the Instruments,” contact USC Thornton Outreach at outreach@thornton.usc.edu.

Christina Wolfgram is a Master of Professional Writing student at USC. She writes for her own blog at christinawolfgram.wordpress.com and can be contacted at thecwolf@gmail.com.

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2 thoughts on “Meet the Instruments

  1. As a lucky first grade teacher (Alexander Science Center School) whose classroom has been graced by the presence of some amazing young adults/musicians this week, I just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! How lucky are my students to get to hear and learn about music from passionate students. We love them all and Colleen and her bass are quite a sight for inner city students who have never seen anything so big! Thanks again for all your time and commitment to our students. I know it has inspired some future musicians!

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