Staying in touch

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Anna Marie Lux
Wednesday, July 24, 2013

JANESVILLE--Chloe Wasson has been up early all week to take a musical trip around the world.

The 13-year-old is one of 25 students at an annual strings camp at Janesville's Marshall Middle School.

Orchestra teachers Ruth Banwell and Seth Matuszak and student teacher Jacob Puccio gave them good reasons to get out of bed. Since Monday, the teachers have been introducing the middle school students to international music.

During one lesson, Banwell encouraged young musicians to play an evocative piece of Japanese music “like it is a nice fluffy kitten.”

They did not disappoint her.

Students performed the gentle song as Banwell kept time and praised their effort. The piece, called “Koneko” or “Kitten,” is one of many they practiced.

Special guests shared their talents.

On Monday, Inna Larsen of Madison played her hardanger fiddle, often called the national instrument of Norway. Later, she explained how to play the instrument with echoing overtones.

On Tuesday, Blaine McQuinn of Whitewater introduced them to Irish fiddle tunes. One of Banwell's former students, McQuinn performs with a four-piece, acoustic-style folk group.

On Wednesday, members of the Rock Prairie Dulcimers strummed their uniquely American instruments. Judy Figi of the group explained that settlers from the British Isles and northern Europe developed the dulcimer in Appalachia.

“This year's international theme broadens our students' ideas of music,” Banwell explained. “They don't just think of rock or country and western music. They are hearing new sounds. We also get into the history and the culture of the music and talk about how it is different and similar to music they know.”

In addition, aspiring musicians are learning playing techniques and getting chances to compose music.

Middle school students and some who will be entering high school are polishing up on their violins, violas and cellos during the morning classes.

On Friday, the public is invited to a school concert to hear some of the songs they practiced.

Banwell is starting her 15th year as a teacher in the Janesville School District.

“This is a way I can share my love of music,” she said.

Kylie Sievers, 14, will be starting ninth grade when school starts.

She is helping students at the camp, while getting some warm-up time on the violin.

“Playing my violin relaxes me,” she said. “It also makes me happy.”

Matuszak said he enjoys seeing his students give up part of their summer vacation to polish their skills.

“We put a lot of music into a few days,” he said. “I stress the importance of practicing every night.”

Some students look forward to practicing.

“It's overwhelming if you go into the school year without practice,” Chloe explained. “It's really a good warm up.”

Chloe, who will be starting eighth grade, wants to improve her skills on the cello so she is ready to play in a pops orchestra. In addition to cello, she also plays piano and recently started on the guitar.

“I don't know what I would do if I didn't play an instrument,” Chloe said. “It's a lot different from listening to music. Playing music is much more fulfilling.”

   Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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