Merz Trio Outreach Event at Barshop Jewish Community Center on March 13, 2023
The morning of March 13, 2023, was chilly with overcast skies – but joy shone out of the young faces as a group of toddlers were led into the hall at the Barshop JCC for an outreach event conducted by the Merz Trio. A word about the JCC – for more than 135 years, the JCC has developed an outstanding reputation as a “birth through life” institution providing exceptional programs and services to individuals and families of all ages and stages from both the Jewish and wider communities. The Merz Trio’s outreach presentation was a highly engaging, interactive musical encounter in two parts.
…the musicians proceeded with a “show-and-tell” of their instruments – it was immediately apparent that these professional artists know how to engage this very young audience.
They started the morning by entertaining a group of very young (3-4 years old), pre-school children. After an enthusiastic welcome from the young ones, the musicians proceeded with a “show-and-tell” of their instruments – it was immediately apparent that these professional artists knew how to engage this very young audience.
Pianist Lee Dionne explained how a piano worked by dismantling the front boards and exposing the “guts” of the instrument –showing how the hammers striking the strings produced the different kinds of sounds that are possible. He then demonstrated by playing a short excerpt from Bach’s Italian Concerto.
Next up was Brigid Coleridge, who got down on her knees and introduced the violin. She expertly showcased its high voice, how the strings were tuned, and explained that the bow caused the strings to vibrate and produce sound. Brigid then illustrated how the violin could “purr or growl like a cat”, delighting all with an Irish traditional tune The Cat’s Scratch. The children squealed with delight when they learned that the bow was made with hair from a horse’s tail.
Cellist Julia Yang then introduced the cello to the group. She described it as “a big cousin to the violin with a low voice”, showing the similarities and differences between the two instruments. Accompanied by Lee on piano, Julia mesmerized the audience with an excerpt from Saint Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. The children were then asked to identify the animal being portrayed by the cello. The guesses included a sloth, turtle, snail, and fish before finally one little girl shouted out the correct answer: the SWAN.
The children clearly enjoyed this musical encounter, and as they were led out of the hall, there were clamorous goodbyes to the musicians – one exclaiming, “you are awesome!”
The Merz Trio concluded this session with a rendition of Stefano Landi’s Augelin (Little Songbird) – accompanied by the children who were asked to chirp and make little bird sounds. The children’s engagement continued at a short Q&A session after the music, asking many questions of the musicians: how long they each had been playing their instruments, how much they had to practice, how long they had played together, etc. Brigid amused all with a story about how she started playing the violin – on a cereal box, with a ruler (for the neck), using a chopstick instead of a bow, which she said made a great sound in her head, but no one else heard anything. The children clearly enjoyed this musical encounter, and as they were led out of the hall, there were clamorous goodbyes to the musicians – one exclaiming, “you are awesome!”
For the second part of the outreach event, a group of seniors, some with walkers, came in, along with a group of slightly older (4-6 years old) children. SACMS board member Randy Glickman welcomed this group with a brief description of the SACMS and introduced the Merz Trio. The program for this second session was basically the same as for the earlier one, chiefly for the benefit of the children, but it was obvious that the seniors were equally captivated all the same.
For the finale – the musicians struck a chord with both young and old by playing the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. All the children and some of the seniors got up to dance along with the music. Some JCC staff members present were especially enthusiastic dancers! This was met with rousing applause and many thumbs-ups. During the following Q&A session, one child asked Brigid how she could play to be so mean to the cat – the music really got to him. Several seniors commented that the music moved them intensely and they plan to attend some of the regular SACMS concerts in the future. One elderly lady expressed her fervent belief that this type of outreach event is crucial for the intellectual and emotional development of the young as well as the mental health of the old. We couldn’t agree more!
Submitted by Pauline Glickman