VIDEO: BV Prep's student-musicians get ready for winter concerts

VIDEO: BV Prep's student-musicians get ready for winter concerts

Fourth-grader Carlos Hernandez smiles as he plays a song on his violin during music class at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy's Elementary School 1 in Cumberland. (Valley Breeze photos by Meghan Kavanaugh)

CUMBERLAND - It's not every day the anthem "We Will Rock You" is heard coming out of an elementary school classroom. Especially when it's played by 4th-graders. On violins.

But playing a Queen song on string instruments is just another day of music class for the students at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, where all students have 100 minutes of music each week and violin skills are taught starting in grade 3.

So these 4th-graders at Elementary School 1 on Broad Street are already pros. In fact, when they come back from winter break, some will have the chance to move on to violas or cellos.

And the "We Will Rock You" performance, complete with lyrics modified to be about attending BV Prep, is just a basic piece, something they could play in unison, on cue with no practice.

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They are currently working on more difficult, orchestral pieces. Holiday shows are coming up, including a performance at the Cumberland Winter Wonderland at Diamond Hill Park on Sunday, Dec. 15.

As school districts around the country are cutting back on arts education during the school day, this charter school is offering more, said BV Prep Director of External Affairs Jen LoPiccolo, because of a belief that music and arts have a direct relationship with the core academic curriculum.

BV Prep also has the benefit of a longer school day and longer year, LoPiccolo said, to allow for more time to be spent on music education than a traditional public school.

Music classes for the school's 400 students are led by Piera Leone, network music director and professional singer and cello-, piano- and violin-player; and Bethany Sousa, a strings teacher who has been playing violin since the age of 3.

Leone said reading and math are an integral piece of teaching students to play instruments and read notes, a skill that is taught starting in kindergarten. Students also learn to be respectful audience members, and to project their voices when speaking or singing, which can lead to more self-confidence when giving presentations in front of a class.

While most of the kindergarten lessons involve learning how to breathe correctly when singing and getting kids comfortable projecting their voices, students also learn note values and basic rhythm reading.

Leone uses a story about a family of notes that lives next to a Dunkin' Donuts to help kids remember note values. It's silly, she admitted, but it sticks.

First-graders star in their first musical, and 2nd-graders continue singing while adding playing the recorder to their repertoire.

Orchestral skills begin after that, and will develop further as students move on to the higher grades.

Leone said it can be difficult to master the violin and bow at first, and there is a fair amount of scratchy sound, but kids, who must practice 10 to 15 minutes a night in addition to attending two music classes a week, see improvement quickly.

"I think what really helps us be successful is learning different instruments," said 9-year-old Sophia Lombardi. "They all sort of combine together."

The kids respect the instruments, LoPiccolo said. Violin distribution night is "a big deal," and students know they are held accountable for taking care of the instruments until they give them back at the end of the school year.

"They know this is a gift," she said, adding they have had very few issues involving broken instruments.

More than teaching students an enjoyable skill, learning an instrument illuminates for scholars the need to persevere, Leone said.

"And that it's OK that you're not good at something right away," LoPiccolo added. "The reward is to see the improvement."

Students in a 4th-grade class at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy Elementary School 1 in Cumberland listen carefully and follow along with sheet music as music teacher Bethany Sousa plays the violin. Students in the charter school start learning violin skills in grade 3. (VALLEY BREEZE PHOTO BY MEGHAN KAVANAUGH)
Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy 4th-graders Kizaiah Bradford, left, and Mekhi Hall play violins in music class last week at Elementary School 1 on Broad Street in Cumberland.
Jordi Lara, a 4th-grader at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy in Cumberland, concentrates while playing the violin during music class. This winter, 4th-graders will have the chance to move on to the viola or cello.