To be or not to be…Yo-Yo Ma

It was so exciting to welcome our first KidStrings students this week at Jackson and Sarah Smith Elementary!

On Monday, I got started with some great kids at Jackson. On a hunch that the students didn’t yet have their instruments (due to Atlanta’s crazy winter weather last weekend it was hard to do much of anything), I made sure to bring my viola. I was glad I did, because it gave me the chance to talk about all sorts of interesting stuff up close and personal. (Did you know that the strings used on string instruments many years ago were called “gut” strings, short for “catgut”? And did you know that “catgut” strings were actually made from…sheep guts?)

We then moved on to the parts of the instrument and learned the difference between each of the four main string instruments. It was obvious to tell between the violin and cello, and of course the string bass. But what about the violin and viola?  The obvious answer is, not much at this level because the viola is only slightly larger than the violin. Less obviously, though, they learned the viola has one string a fifth lower than the violin, which allows it to play in a lower range. We then learned that the cello has the same strings as the viola but one octave lower, and the bass has the same strings as the violin…but in the opposite order, thus tuned to fourths, not fifths as with the others. Bet you didn’t know that…

Next we talked about how to care for their instruments. Golden rule of string playing? Well, there are two. One, never ever touch the hair on the bow. And two, never, ever leave your instrument. Always take it with you if you are out. If left in the car, it’s susceptible to heat, cold, and humidity, and it can get permanently damaged. Not to mention stolen! On that note, did you ever hear the story of the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who left his prized cello in the trunk of a New York taxi? For your reading pleasure, here is the story, as told by The New York Times. Even now, when you get into a cab in New York, you just might hear the voice of Yo-Yo Ma, advising you to make sure you retrieve all your belongings!

And next week, the fun begins!

Photo credit: Stephen Danelian

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