© 2014 Marla McLean IMG_4673

The Children Got the Closest.

There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.

I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.

This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
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This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
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elevatorIMG_4002IMG_4071IMG_8218IMG_4009IMG_4017IMG_5309 look at bookIMG_4084IMG_5315
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.

But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.

Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip  of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars  at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.

So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post: 

Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt

By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.

The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.

Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.

I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.

But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
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They were flabbergasted. 
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin

The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”

The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
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Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”

And so I signaled, to go back the other way. 
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
IMG_4650IMG_4675First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
IMG_5316Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.

IMG_4671photo 2 (2)And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
IMG_5335Sasha F.’s sketch

Edwin’s sketch (below)


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Bryce
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Auden
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Apolena
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Milena’s sketch
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Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.

The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were  jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.

The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.

A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
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Dear Marla,

Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.

I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher,  someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.

I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.

 With sincere thanks and best wishes,

 Jane
Jane Covner

Press Representative / JAG Entertainment

4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

jcovner@jagpr.com

 “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,

flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato


Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.

The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”

And I say to that, Amen.
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5 Comments

  1. Danleigh Kaplan
    Posted November 7, 2014 at 8:34 am | #

    Great blog post about a wonderful experience for everyone involved…kids, teachers, and parents. It was magical to watch them all so focused on conveying the moment in their sketchbooks. Thank you for sharing even more details about the event and their year long study of Union Station. How awesome to get that package from Joshua Bell’s “people”!

  2. Erin McKevitt
    Posted November 7, 2014 at 9:10 am | #

    Tears of joy filled my eyes as I read your blog. The richness of the experience will be with the kids forever. Thank you for organizing, and thank you to Mrs. Ricks and Miss Laura for jumping in to get the kids there on such short notice.

  3. Elizabeth Barnett
    Posted November 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm | #

    Marla, I love reading your blogs but this one was truly magical. Bryce and his classmates are indeed so lucky to have you as their teacher – you see the beauty in every day. Thank you for sharing the pictures of the children and their wonderful drawings. They are remarkable. Looking forward to more.

    Elizabeth

  4. Posted November 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm | #

    Marla, what a lovely record of your class’s unit on Union Station. You’re a great teacher and your kids are great writers and artists! And of course I’m delighted to know that The Man with the Violin has been part of the experience. I wish you all the best with your next unit of study. Happy reading!

  5. Kirsten Leckszas
    Posted November 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm | #

    What a special treat to read this post & learn about the children’s book. I went to hear Joshua Bell and was likely only a few rows back from the kids- I truly wish I’d been able to experience it with the children. Their observations always challenge me to notice more deeply. Thanks for sharing your volume of documentation- I was really moved.

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