Strings brings musical merriment

School performances entertain kids while teaching music history and theory

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Parents in Northwest Colorado likely are buying earplugs this weekend.

They'll need them after six performances by Strings in the Mountains musicians, who entertained elementary students in Steamboat Springs, Craig, Hayden, Yampa and Walden during this year's Youth Touring Program, titled "Cultural Rhythms."

The comedic, lively performances featuring local musicians taught kids music history and theory as well as how to make instruments out of household materials including shoeboxes, rubber bands, coffee cans, oatmeal containers, straws, water bottles and cardboard tubes.

"I think John Philip Sousa is probably rolling over in his grave right now," performer Andy Pratt -- known for his juggling and piano playing at the Steamboat Mountain Theater -- said Friday while on stage at Strawberry Park Elementary School in Steamboat.

Accompanied by Randy Kelley of the local band Worried Men and Patty Zimmer of the Columbine Singers, Pratt played a Sousa march with slide whistles, metal pipes and other improvised wind instruments.

Friday's show had the Strawberry Park student body -- kindergarteners through fifth-graders -- laughing, dancing the "hand jive" while sitting on the gymnasium floor and clapping in unison, to the surprise of music teacher Michelle Hess.

"They're holding a beat, I can't believe it!" Hess exclaimed as students kept a rhythm for a washboard jam session by "Mr. Whiskers," a countrified costume worn by one of the performers.

First-graders Libby Lukens and Tucker Limbeld, both 7, said the washboard song was the highlight of the show.

"The best part was Mr. Whiskers," Libby said.

More than 2,000 area students saw the performances, which were designed to interactively teach children about the origins of musical sounds through geography, history and anthropology.

The Youth Touring Program, part of the Strings in the Moun--tains Music Festival, began in 1997. Sponsors of this year's program include the Frijole Blanco Foundation, the Huntsman Family Foundation and the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs.

Pratt told students Friday that the key to making an instrument is to create a "resonating chamber," a hollow area that allows sound waves to vibrate and produce sound. Virtually every instrument -- from washtubs to maracas to violins -- relies on a resonating chamber. That includes the human face, as Kelley demonstrated by cupping his hand, making an "O" shape with his mouth and clapping his cheek.

Nearly every student at Strawberry Park practiced making sounds with their faces as they left the assembly, displaying excitement and an eagerness to create music themselves.

Parents better buy those earplugs.

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