For two days in October 2015, 175 middle and high school students in Belmont’s orchestra program participated in a musical residency with Hanneke Cassel and Mike Block, two Boston artists known for their mix of Celtic, jazz, and world music. Students learned about stylistic Scottish fiddle-playing, including wiggles, hammers, and flicks, and after two days of rehearsal performed in a concert with the musicians.
Students were taken out of their comfort zone and challenged in many ways. Most notably, they were required to play music by ear, learning pieces quickly and with accuracy. They were asked to internalize and add-in Scottish elements, and learned how to use their string bows in a different way, unique to fiddling and opposite to some classical teachings.
The culminating concert included all grade 6, 7, and 8 orchestra students performing a medley of Mairi’s Wedding (a reel) and Kerfunken Jig; the high school students also added Hanneke Cassel’s original composition, Last Alleluia, to their set. The second half of the performance featured the Hanneke Cassel band with the addition of Christopher Lewis on guitar. Students and the audience loved the interaction of the musicians on stage, and the sense of humor and musicality they brought to their live performance.
Students continue to talk excitedly about the artist residency program. Students were able to prove to themselves that they could try something new, like playing music without notation— the initial fear and skepticism! — and that they were able to accomplish so much in a short window of rehearsal time.