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North Hills Elementary Orchestra getting tuned up for whirlwind tour

March 22, 2018

Sixth-grade orchestra students from Highcliff, McIntyre, Ross and West View elementary schools are going on tour this month. The 50-member North Hills Elementary Orchestra will perform for pre-schoolers at Northland Public Library in McCandless and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side. They also will participate in a “master class” alongside North Hills High School orchestra students and record a song and tape an interview for a radio broadcast on WRCT 88.3 FM. The one-day whirlwind tour will occur March 9.

“Our goal every year is to perform for the community. In the past, we’ve played at a retirement home or Children’s Hospital,” said Allie Craig, the orchestra teacher at Highcliff Elementary.

“I’m overly excited about this one. This year, our audience will be a younger one and the events will be more interactive. The goal is to give younger students some insight about string instruments and how they make their sound.”

The orchestra will kick off its tour at 10 a.m. with a performance at Northland Library’s Musical Story Time for Preschoolers.

“We’ll hand out rhythm instruments so the preschoolers can play along with the orchestra,” said Susan Claus, children’s and teen department services manager at the library. “It’ll be such fun for preschoolers who generally don’t get close to string instruments. They’ll be able to see the young students making music. Maybe it’ll plant the idea of getting involved in strings when they get older. Plus, music, rhythm and rhyme are pre-reading skills, so this is not just entertainment, it helps pre-schoolers become better readers when they get older. It’s going to be a lot of fun, even though this is serious stuff.”

Claus expects about 50 to 60 preschoolers to attend the half-hour event, which is free, although registration is required.

Zoey Allen, 12, is excited about performing for the preschoolers. She plays the viola.

“I like performing for people,” she said. “Plus, I’ll get to tell the children about the viola. Not a lot of people know about it. I’ll tell them it’s a lot different than the violin. It’s lower and bigger.”

The orchestra will return to North Hills at noon, where they will have a pizza party and meet with high school orchestra students, who will mentor them on finger and string techniques like vibratos and accidentals. They will have the opportunity to experiment with the electric string instruments that comprise the district’s Rock Orchestra, and they will combine with the high school students on stage for a “master class,” according to Craig.

At 2:30 p.m., the elementary orchestra will proceed to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where it will perform “Pachelbel’s Canon in D,” “The Pink Panther,” and “Wonka’s Welcome Song” for more pre-school students.

“We’ll perform, demonstrate movement and music, and show how they go together,” Craig explained. “We move a lot more than a band instrument because we’re synchronized. We’ll wave scarves during the music, and stop during the rests. Pre-schoolers will be encouraged to move to the music, too.”

The last stop of the tour will take the orchestra students to a broadcast studio and training complex at the Children’s Museum where they will record a song and be interviewed for a radio broadcast of the Saturday Light Brigade, which will air March 10, on 88.3 FM.

“I’m excited. I hope that we play good and everyone likes it,” said violin player Shelby Poniapowski, 11.

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.