When the Friction Quartet came to the Cleveland Elementary School in Oakland for a KDFC Playground Pop-Up Concert, they brought metaphors along with their instruments. The program that they presented explained musical dynamics and tempos using the analogy of the sounds and movement of water in nature. The majority of the third, fourth and fifth graders attending take violin, viola or cello lessons, so they had a good head start on several musical concepts. The Pop-Up Concerts aim to bring ensembles into schools – we’ve begun in Oakland, and are hoping to continue into other communities within our listening areas.
The Friction Quartet has been playing together since 2011, and has already commissioned more than 35 works, in addition to playing concerts around the country and world. But another important part of its mission is education and outreach. Violinist Kevin Rogers says they’ve recently put together the program that the kids at Cleveland Elementary heard, which uses water as a way of explaining some musical basics. “A lot of the things we talk about in music, like fast or slow, higher pitched, lower pitched, can be harder to conceptualize if you don’t have a background in music. But people can get fast flowing water very viscerally… We were going through the different ways that water moves on the surface of the earth, using that as an analogy. It’s a very easy concept, kids have a lot of experience with water, rain, lakes, rivers, the ocean, and it’s something they can visualize while hearing something that’s a little more abstract.” They chose their repertoire keeping in mind the point they want to get across. “We try to come up with a musical concept that would be in the analogy of water, fast flowing, slow flowing, so that’s tempo. A waterfall with very loud crashes vs. a lake being very placid and quiet, that’s dynamics. And then what water does to the earth, like erosion in a canyon, we can talk about layers in the music.” Linda Green teaches music at the school, where all fourth and fifth graders take violin, viola or cello. She says there’s great value in that exposure. “It teaches you about beauty, how to make something beautiful, how to move people, how to… work as a team.” And, she says, even if you don’t continue to play, it will be helpful later in life. “At least an appreciation for music, so that you’re not afraid to go to an orchestra concert, or you might listen to the classical music station… or you might go to the San Francisco Symphony, or the Oakland Symphony, or a string quartet concert, and you’re not afraid, because you understand it.”