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On March 16th, the sounds of thousands of recorders—the woodwind instrument most commonly used as an introduction to music education—will fill Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium. Approximately 4,000 elementary school-aged students, from nearly 40 schools around Southeast Michigan, as well as students who are homeschooled, will play two concerts with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (A2SO).

In partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute (WMI), A2SO presents their very first Link Up Concert, The Orchestra Moves. Started in 1985, “Carnegie Hall has been presenting Link Up participatory concert experiences for more than 30 years with New York City schools. A little over 10 years ago, we began sharing it with national partners, and we now have programs with 82 orchestras around the world,” with a reach as far as Brazil and Kenya and impacting more than 350,000 students worldwide, according to Hillarie O’Toole, Carnegie Hall’s Manager of Elementary Programs.  

Sarah Ruddy, the Director of Education and Outreach for A2SO, saw her first Link Up concert several years ago, calling it “a celebration of their [the students’] accomplishments,” and knew what an important addition to the Ann Arbor-area community it would be.

The program, which culminates in the Link Up Concert, is a year-long initiative. WMI provides comprehensive materials and lesson plans for all of the teachers, who then integrate it into their own curriculum as their district permits.

Ruddy says that for some schools whose arts education budgets have been slashed, these materials are an imperative resource. In other schools, they are supplemental.

“This model is you teach them all year, which changes the educational concept.”

“This model is you teach them all year, which changes the educational concept.”

Chris Shefferly, a music teacher at Divine Child Elementary School in Dearborn, commented that “the provided materials could replace my 4th grade curriculum almost completely… If I could focus only on the Link Up materials, I really could teach most of the year from it.” The materials include not only textbooks, but workbooks for the students, DVDs and teacher training webinars. She noted that since students had their own workbooks, it added a level of responsibility and import to the class as well.

Musicians have also been visiting the schools throughout the year, including A2SO Conductor Arie Lipsky. Ruddy says that not only is it a “really great opportunity for kids to meet him and ask him questions,” but that “when they see him on the podium in a few weeks, it’s like he’s a rockstar. It’s great to make that personal connection.”

At first glance, the program for The Orchestra Moves seems a bit ambitious for third through fifth graders. Ruddy says the students have learned how to play along with Mendelssohn’s Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will sing along with the orchestra to a toreador from the opera Carmen, and that their “big listening piece is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.” Shefferly and Yael Rothfield, a teacher at Ann Arbor’s Thurston Elementary, are both excited to hear The Blue Danube.

“They’re learning real, meaty orchestral music, which is totally achievable for a 4th grader to sing along with. In addition, they’re learning how to listen, how to be an audience member, how to hear the motive and how that moves around the orchestra.”

By welcoming the students onto the stage with the professionals, it also changes the perception as to what a field trip can be for many of the participating schools. “We’re asking teachers for a commitment.”

Samantha Lyttle, the music instructor at Birmingham’s Eton Academy, says that “Link Up provides the experience of listening to music through a concert experience, but keeps in mind that they are kids and need to wiggle.”

That speaks to why the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra chose The Orchestra Moves for the first concert—the three-year concert cycle also includes The Orchestra Rocks and The Orchestra Sings.

“It’s about motion in music, how music moves us emotionally, or how a motive moves us in music, or makes us dance,” says Ruddy, speaking to all of the different connotations of “movement” when it comes to music, and how it can be explained to children.

Amy Mereson, the Assistant Director of Elementary School Programs, says that it is this “participatory aspect” that really sets the Link Up concerts apart. “Joining in the theme song, playing the recorder or singing, it’s electrifying for the students. That they are playing along with professional, high-quality orchestras is an incredible experience to have as an elementary school student. It’s so singular, and so important.”

For more information about Link Up, or to purchase tickets for the 12:15pm concert on March 16th (the 10:15am is sold out), click here. Tickets are $6, with all proceeds helping to fund the program.