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Fox Valley Orchestra offers kids chance to get in tune with new instruments

The Fox Valley Orchestroffered kids chance try out new instruments during special program Monday Aurora.  |  Submitted

The Fox Valley Orchestra offered kids a chance to try out new instruments during a special program Monday in Aurora. | Submitted

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Updated: May 8, 2013 9:48AM

When it comes to learning to play a musical instrument, some kids are drawn to whatever their parents play, while others migrate to guitars or other instruments their favorite band members’ play.

Students at Smith Elementary School in Aurora had a different experience in terms of determining their musical interests Monday as the Fox Valley Orchestra offered kids an instrument “petting zoo,” which allowed youngsters to pluck string instruments and basically take them for a test drive.

Jonathan Hauser, 35, president of the Fox Valley Orchestra, said the program, which ran for a little more than two hours, was the last session of its Communities in Schools program which has been patterned after a similar program that started three years ago in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“We had about 60 kids that came out and I was surprised that there was interest across the board in terms of the stringed instruments the kids said they liked,” Hauser said. “We had kids try things out at various stations and then we asked them to pick their first, second, and third favorite.”

Hauser said the education program, which provides free instruments and education to disadvantaged kids, is based on a successful model launched back in 1978 in Venezuela known as “El Sistema.”

“We call this group ‘The Fox Valley El Sistema” which has been patterned after the South American program that has now ballooned to include 300,000 kids,” he said. “Through fundraising and sponsorships, we’re able to offer free instruments and music education. It’s a social engineering program that helps kids educationally as well as keeping them involved in healthy activities and away from crime and drugs.”

Hauser said that Monday’s group, which included first- through fifth-grade students, had already received some basic instruction about holding and playing certain instruments, which meant that the sampling of instruments at various stations “wasn’t just one big cacophony.”

“We had some brief demos and for most kids, this wasn’t the first time they held or saw the instruments,” he said. “These things weren’t foreign to them.”

One of the goals of the Fox Valley El Sistema program is to provide kids with instruction and then send them on their way with the instruments they’ve been given. Hauser acknowledged this means having a turnover of kids and the need to acquire more instruments, but that it is a good problem to have.

“It’s all part of giving these kids a classical music education,” he said.

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