Bridge Arts Ensemble brings musical message to students

A flute player performs in front of an auditorium with students seated on the floor

In the elementary school auditorium, students sat “criss-cross applesauce” in rows on the floor while a group of musicians began to tell a story. A pink-haired woman introduced herself as “Melody,” and taught the children to sing a simple song.

“Melody is wonderful, and sounds so good to me,” the students echoed. As they sang, the students bobbed their heads, tapped their toes, clapped their hands and moved to the tune.

Soon “Melody” was joined by “Harmony” on piano, “Mr. Groove” on percussion, “Emotion” on clarinet, “Virtuosity” on flute and “Melody Two,” another vocalist. Together the five musicians blended together their own unique elements to form a rich and vibrant song.

The concert was a program of the Bridge Arts Ensemble, a nonprofit organization that brings character and musical education to schools in upstate New York. The story the musicians told was a fun and engaging one, but the Bridge Arts performers said they hope it is more than that.

“We’re introducing young children to the different elements of music, and giving them the tools and the language to understand what they hear,” explained percussionist Kyle Ritenauer.

And, Ritenauer said, he wants children will be inspired as well as educated.

“We’re thinking about that moment when students will be asked if they want to play an instrument,” Ritenauer explained. “We’re hoping that this will make them want to answer ‘yes.’”

And, added vocalist J.D. Webster, parents can play a role by fostering children’s creativity at home.

Later that morning, the Bridge Arts group took fourth- and fifth-graders on a virtual trip through time, telling a story about a traveler who feels lonely and out of place.

After doing the “Time Machine Shuffle,” where students bopped and spun around, they heard lessons of determination, being confident and overcoming fears through musical interludes representing different time periods.

“We’re trying to give them some concepts to build their character and prepare them for the years ahead,” explained pianist Grace Han.

That afternoon, Webster joined vocalist Sishel Claverie in John Krause’s classroom to lead a vocal master class for high school students. The pair listened intently as students gave solo performances before offering expert tips to each singer.

“I want to know — what does this place look like that you’re singing about? Who is the person you’re singing to?” J.D. Webster asked one student. “You need to see it in your mind — and we need to see what you’re feeling.”

To another, Claverie urged the student to bring emotions to the forefront.

“Think about what you want — what you like,” she said. “I want to see that glitter in your eye. Having an emotion behind your singing will propel your voice forward.”

As the students explored the vocalists’ suggestions, the change in their performances was clear. Voices that had hesitated or trembled rang out; shaky hands grew steady; faces lit up with excitement.

“My students look forward to this every year,” Krause said of the Bridge Arts workshops. “This program tends to electrify students who might otherwise be on the sidelines. To get that up-close contact, that one-on-one interaction — it really inspires them.”

To learn more, visit the Bridge Arts Ensemble’s Facebook page.