VENICE - During the recent recession, when budget cuts hit Suncoast schools, a wave of fear went through many local educators and parents, afraid officials would drop music and arts classes in an effort to save money. The cuts came, but the musical programs in the schools didn't suffer.
One reason for that is the Perlman Music Program Suncoast. They have developed an education outreach program that they make available to area schools.
Right now the world famous Ariel Quartet is in town. They're providing interactive performances and hands-on classroom experience to Suncoast school kids.
Middle school students from Laurel Nokomis, and 5th graders from 5 Venice area elementary schools gathered at the Church of the Nazarene in Venice Monday to watch the quartet.
For many this was their first live classical music concert. What did they think?
"I thought they had really good music, I liked the movements, just really cool," said Veronica Stephenson, 5th grader at Taylor Ranch Elementary.
"I loved it. It was awesome," said Joshua Burgess, 5th grader at Taylor Ranch Elementary. He plays the drums, but now he's found a new interest. "I like the cello, because it has a very cool sound.”
Taylor Ranch teacher Meghan Levick is thrilled with this opportunity for her students. "The best part is that the kids get to experience the music and see the quartet up close and then ask questions, but also the Perlman Music School gave us a lot of materials to use in the classroom to prepare them for the concert. So they really were ready to see what was going on and understand what was happening during the concert instead of just sitting and watching."
And the world-class musicians say they love seeing students who've never heard classical music get interested in it. "All of them love it, even the kids who go ‘ It’s kind of…I don’t like that.’ And then after a while when we play, they all – even if they don’t want to – their eyes lit up and they get into it and get excited," said Ariel Quartet member Jan Brunin.
And they teach even as they play. "They break it down so they can understand the form, the instruments, the sounds they are hearing, and how it all fits together, so that the music tells a story," said program consultant Cindy Balistreri.
And in these tight economic times, another beauty of the program that it’s free. “We do this free. All the schools are asked if they'd like to be invited. And then if they accept, and of course most of them do, this year were seeing 23 different schools," says Barbara Staton, program chair.
Along with concerts like this, members of the quartet go into high school bands and orchestras and play with and instruct the band members, making sure the young students in Sarasota County get an opportunity to learn about and appreciate classical music.