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Seven to join harmonious lobbyists
By MELANIE AVE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- As her seven young musicians played Strauss' Emperor Waltz Monday, Sharon Greco winced.
The teacher, seated at a piano, waited for her students to finish. Then she stood and asked the earnest fourth- and fifth-graders, "Okay, which piece do you think you need to practice before tomorrow?"
One by one the students, each holding a violin or viola, murmured, "Emperor Waltz."
"I'm glad you came to that conclusion," Greco said, relief in her voice.
Greco, a strings teacher at Perkins Elementary Center for the Arts and International Studies, admitted that she's a bit nervous about the difficult piece as one of the ensemble's more high-profile concerts approaches.
It is one of five classical selections the school's chamber strings group will perform at 1:30 p.m. Thursday before legislators in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Tallahassee. The other songs are Sleigh Ride by Mozart, Sonata in F Major by Vivaldi, O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini and Carmen Suite by Bizet.
The Perkins group is one of 17 selected to play for Arts for a Complete Education Day, an annual event to raise the profile of music education in the schools. Other Pinellas County groups chosen include one from John Hopkins Middle School and another from Seminole Middle School.
The performance comes at a time when several school districts are pushing for a rule change to include fine arts as a core academic area. In three years, state universities will increase the number of academic courses required in high school, forcing many students to give up elective classes in the arts.
Greco is trying to get the children an appointment with several area lawmakers so the students can lobby in favor of music education. They already have written to their state representatives to tell them the value of music in the schools.
The Capitol concert will mark the first time the Perkins group has played outside the parent-heavy audiences of Pinellas County, Greco said.
"It's an honor for them to be chosen," she said.
Greco calls the seven violinists and violists who will play at the Capitol "very fine musicians" and "confident performers." The 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds are the most advanced stringed musicians of the 200 children Greco teaches the Suzuki method at the school.
Most of the five-boy, two-girl group has been playing since first grade. Their accomplished musical abilities and their professional demeanor make them appear years older.
When Greco ordered, "Ready position," the students sat tall on the edge of their chairs, their instruments upright on their left knees. When she said, "Play position," they quickly nestled their instruments under their chins.
When they play, their faces are poses of intense concentration as they stare at their music sheets and saw their bows in unison.
The students are excited about going on the overnight trip to Tallahassee and playing before the lawmakers, Greco said. "And I'm sure going to a motel is right up there," she added.
Carson Zimmer said he's just a little nervous. After all, the round-faced, well-spoken youngster says he has played the viola for the past four years. And performing before an audience is nothing to the 11-year-old, who enjoys acting.
"I think it's really cool," he said, tuning his viola as its case rested beneath his tennis shoes.
The students have been practicing the music since January, in 45-minute sessions twice a week.
That's enough to give violinist Aaron Lorenz faith that they will deliver a good performance.
"I'm pretty much excited," said the lanky 11-year-old. "I like the pieces that we're playing. They're a lot more lively than some of the others we've done."
His mother, Ellen, also will make the trip. She said the performance is a great opportunity for Aaron and the others to demonstrate their musical prowess.
"He loves performing," she said. "The arts have helped him become more confident, outgoing. He's just really blossomed."
Earlier this week, when the students finished a performance of the complicated Carmen Suite, which will be the last song in their repertoire, Greco stood from her piano and smiled at her young proteges.
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