Baton Rouge Kids' Orchestra: Putting music in the hands of children

Baton Rouge Kids' Orchestra: Putting music in the hands of children
Ten drummers practice keeping time with their instructor (Source: WAFB)
Ten drummers practice keeping time with their instructor (Source: WAFB)
A room of trumpeters are learning to hear notes (Source: WAFB)
A room of trumpeters are learning to hear notes (Source: WAFB)
Peeps and squeals ooze from the flute room. (Source: WAFB)
Peeps and squeals ooze from the flute room. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Over the laughs and shouts of kids leaving school, a symphony pours through the classroom doors at Magnolia Woods Elementary School. For the 20 or so school children in the Baton Rouge Kids' Orchestra program here, it is day three with their new instruments.

Peeps and squeals ooze from the flute room. Inside, one instructor and four students are building a song, one note at a time. Next door, six second and third graders sit straddled across cellos. Some of the instruments are bigger than the musicians. They are learning how to hold their bow to coax just the right tone from the C-string. Down the hall, ten drummers practice keeping time with their instructor, and another four clarinetists are learning not to squeak while a room of trumpeters are learning to hear notes.

They all work at a feverish pace. The orchestra's first concert is less than three months away.

"The problem with creating an orchestra," says Jovan Zivkovic, artistic director for the Kids' Orchestra, "is that you have to have a critical mass of students. You can't create an orchestra out of six students."

Similar scenes play out across 26 different East Baton Rouge schools two days a week. The Kids' Orchestra brings together 800 students across the parish to make beautiful music.

"One of the constant barriers to participation in music ensembles," says Baton Rouge Symphony Box Office Manager Scott Miller, "is the price of instruments. Not every student has the access to resources that will give them a violin, or a flute, or a cello." That's why, this year, the Symphony has partnered with the Kids' Orchestra to collect used instruments. The goal is to put a free instrument into the hands of each of the orchestra's 800 musicians.

The program works like this. If you have an instrument that you are not using and would like to donate to the orchestra, you can drop it off at the symphony's office at 7330 Highland Rd, Zeagler Music on Florida Blvd, or at any Raising Cane's restaurant. From there, a Zeagler's Music technician like Doug Guyman, evaluates the instrument, sanitizes it, and makes minor repairs. Again, all the work is donated.

For Guyman, it is about giving the kids a good experience. "Music is supposed to be fun. If the kids can't play the horn, they end up blaming themselves. They don't understand 'My horn doesn't work,' They think they are the problem."

When the instrument is ready for play, it is loaned to a student for as long as he or she is in the Kids' Orchestra. And if the musician graduates to the Louisiana Youth Symphony, the instrument goes with them all the way to his high school music program.

"Our goal is not to educate 800 professional musicians out of our program. Our goal is to help these kids learn discipline, to learn how to practice, to solve problems on their own, and to work as a team," says Zivkovic. All skills that will help them later in life.

Miller says the instrument drive is about more than just the donation. "You're not just donating an instrument; you're creating an opportunity for that kid who can't afford to buy a violin or rent a violin. You're putting music in to a child's hands." And that is music to his ears.

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