Two interactive music workshops led by Trumpeter, Kyle Spraker!

NEMPAC visiting teaching artist and trumpeter, Kyle Spraker, made a special visit with the Eliot BPS Innovation School 5th graders last week. The educational workshops led by Mr. Spraker were designed to prepareMrSpraker-Rev the students for their special visit with NEMPAC to the Boston Symphony Orchestra for a Youth Concert.

The BSO Youth Concerts are designed for grades 4 – 6 and “act as an introduction to the full orchestra experience, encouraging long-term ownership of orchestral music and the BSO, and delivering positive character development messages through each performance led by Germeshausen Family and Youth Concerts Conductor Thomas Wilkins.” (Boston Symphony Education Program)

Unfortunately the scheduled trip on February 4th to the Symphony was canceled due to weather and public transportation issues. The 5th graders were still visited by NEMPAC on both February 5th and 6th to make up for the missed opportunity, and to bring the musical repertoire to the school through listening exercises, live performance, and interactive activities.

For any student, an orchestra concert can be a lot to take in, especially when it’s the first time! For the initial workshop Mr. Spraker introduced the four families of instruments that make up an orchestra: Strings, Woodwinds, Brass, and Percussion. With the help of some incredible YouTube clips that the Vancouver Symphony had posted from their own children’s concert series he was able to display each of these families by sight and sound, while giving a sneak peak at one of the pieces on the BSO program: Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from pictures at an Exhibition.

Most importantly Mr. Spraker wanted to convey the brilliance of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano showcase by relating the original to a coloring book that has yet to be colored. Mr. Spraker established the instruments of the orchestra as a palate of colors at the disposal of a composer (or orchestrator). He explained that Mussorgsky’s piano piece “Pictures at an Exhibition” was like a coloring book that Maurice Ravel had decided to vividly color with instruments, bringing it to life even more.

The 5th graders then used their five senses to describe objects and answer the question:  “how does one describe something imaginary or intangible?”

The Answer (they discovered): With adjectives derived from experiences with which we are familiar or by comparison.

Listening to Stravinsky’s Infernal Dance from The Firebird and Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from Midsummer Night’s Dream, we were able to describe the pieces based solely on what we heard and the differences between them. Mr. Spraker then revealed that each piece was inspired by a story, much like movie music, and told the tales that influenced the composers’ music.

On the second workshop visit with the 5thEliotSchool-5thGradersWorkshop-Rev graders, the class went into more detail about the individual instruments (or colors) of the orchestra. They played a listening test game where each instrument was highlighted and then I revealed the answers with more in-depth discussion about how the instrumentalist creates their sounds. Using video demonstrations of musicians from various professional orchestras (including John Ferillo of the BSO), and Mr. Spraker’s own display of brass instruments, the students discovered the unique qualities of each instrument of the orchestra.

The workshop concluded with a plethora of creative and curious questions that the students had for Mr. Spraker, such as: “does the orchestra really need a conductor?” And “What is the most important instrument in an orchestra?”

During NEMPAC’s visit, we discovered that 8 out of the 37 students in the 5th grade had never been to a live Symphony. NEMPAC surely aims to provide another opportunity for these students to all experience an educational, orchestral concert together.

Visiting NEMPAC teaching Artist, Kyle Spraker, teaches with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, NEMPAC, and is a resident Teaching Artist at the Longy School of Music of Bard College. Mr. Spraker is a professional Trumpet player, leading the Redline Brass Quintet professional ensemble in Boston.