Recorders rock!

NJPAC’s “wall of sound” is supported by 2,000 Newark third- and fourth-grade musicians.


As the house lights went down in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall, an emphatic “HUSH!” swelled from the orchestra section to the reaches of the fourth tier as about 2,000 Newark schoolchildren disciplined themselves to get ready for their concert debuts on the recorder.


Now concluding its fourth year, Recorder Arts for Musical Pathways (R.A.M.P.), an arts learning partnership between NJPAC and Newark Public Schools, has had a growth spurt. Third-graders who conquered the first-year curriculum (mastery of tunes like “Hot-Cross Buns”) were joined in the audience by fourth-graders up for the challenge of returning with more serious stuff, like “Oye Como Va.” All told, 20 schools were represented.


After months of practice – and the accompanying hazards of finger fatigue, shortness of breath, and foiled attempts to translate circles on paper into sound – a culminating, concert-hall performance was their reward on June 15. Their music teachers, who took part in professional instruction provided by the Arts Center, helped students gain know-how in note-reading, memorization, posture, articulation and embouchure (a necessary skill for those future brass and wind players).


“Often a young student’s love of music starts here, but doesn’t stop here,” said Alison Scott-Williams, Vice President of Arts Education at NJPAC. “We tell children to inform their elders if they want to play an instrument or learn to sing, and we’ll help them through programs such as Music Advancement for Newark Area Youth, or M.A.N.Y., in conjunction with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.”



About 90 all-star R.A.M.P. students played from the stage, where they shared the spotlight at various times with a string quartet from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, a jazz ensemble led by drummer Jerome Jennings, and the duo of Moran Katz on recorder and Robert Stephens on piano. Classmates in the rest of the house served as a back-up recorder orchestra, lending their accompaniment to favorite childhood folk songs and their voices to some of the choruses.


Ebullient conductor Patricia Billings and host Mark Gross, NJPAC’s Director of Jazz Instruction, didn’t miss a beat as they steered deftly through the musical selections, pausing to explain a musical term or to introduce a jazz icon like Dizzy Gillespie.  The young instrumentalists not only tootled their way through repertoire ranging from “Merrily We Roll Along” (aka “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” but were able to relax and listen to Katz, an accomplished clarinetist, perform Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in C minor. Gross unpacked his saxophone to join pianist Oscar Perez in “Brenda Mae,” one of Gross’ jazz compositions.


“I absolutely got chills, looking out over the orchestra and all the way up to the fourth tier in Prudential Hall, seeing and hearing these third- and fourth-graders performing in unison,” said Margaret El, Special Assistant for the Arts for NPS.


“We are so excited about the work NPS music students and teachers have accomplished in partnership with NJPAC, and look forward to many students pursuing an instrument of choice.”


Giving credence to their mantra that “recorders rock,” the audience of budding artists danced in their seats during the finale, which stepped off with a New Orleans jazz processional set to “When the Saints Go Marching In.” 


June 21, 2017