LeBron James is Instrumental in Music Education

LeBron James is Instrumental in Music Education
Posted on 01/29/2018
Image of Instrumental Petting ZooJordan Dampier’s first pull of a bow across the cello’s string Saturday produced a droopy whine.

The 9-year-old fourth-grader played Jingle Bells on a double bass during Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts’ Christmas concert a month before, but the cello — even though it looked like a smaller version of a double bass — felt completely different in his hands.

“Try putting it between your legs,” Zoe Dudack coached, showing Jordan how she positions the cello she plays with The University of Akron Symphony Orchestra.

Jordan drew the cello closer; and, suddenly, his arms seemed to fall into place. And even though he had never played a cello, Jordan, dressed in a black suit and tie, looked confident, ready to perform.

Jordan was one of about 200 Akron Public Schools fourth-graders — from 27 Akron elementary schools — at E.J. Thomas Hall on Saturday with their families for a musical experience built into the LeBron James Family Foundation’s I PROMISE program.

Though James loved music, he had never seen an orchestra play until he was nearly 30 and went with his wife, Savannah, to a Cleveland Orchestra Christmas concert.

“Midway through and I’m beaming like a kid on Christmas and my wife has this beautiful ‘Told you’ look on her face,” James is quoted as saying on the family foundation’s page. “That night was magical, and I want my kids to experience that magic. They don’t need to wait nearly 30 years.”

Three years ago, James’ family foundation launched an experience day with the Akron Symphony Orchestra for fourth-graders, a chance to not only experience a private concert but also to talk with the musicians and to touch and play instruments — from flutes and trumpets to violins and drums.

Nicole Hassan and Keith Liechty, school employees and liaisons to the foundation, said the timing for fourth-graders is perfect because Akron children can join band for the first time the following year, in fifth grade.

Anyone who wants to join band can, they said, because the schools have a loaner program. Students who can’t afford to buy their own instrument borrow one for the school year.

The day with the symphony not only inspires fourth-graders, Hassan and Liechty said, but it also lets them test-drive instruments to find out if any make their souls sing.

Damonae Smith, 10, stood up and smiled Saturday after trying her hand on a cello for the first time.

“How was it?” Meredith Gallagher, a sophomore from Cuyahoga Falls High School volunteering at the event, asked.

“I like the violin more,” Damonae said.

“Well, you’re good at it,” Meredith told her.

Damonae has always loved music, her mom, Endia Cheatham-Corley, said Saturday. She sings, but playing an instrument is new.

Even before arriving at E.J. Thomas, Damonae was curious about the violin.

Saturday, though, when she lifted a fiddle to her chin, the petite Findley Elementary School student said she was surprised by how big and cumbersome it felt in her hands.

When Damonae said something, a volunteer found her a smaller violin.

“It was just right,” Damonae said. “I don’t know. There’s just something about it, the violin. I think I like the way it sounds.”

Behind her, Jordan Dampier had settled in with a cello next to Zoe Dudack, who plays with the university symphony even though she’s still in high school, a senior at Firestone.

Like Jordan, Dudack went to Miller South, a school for the performing arts. She started playing cello in the same grade Jordan is in now.

“My mom played viola, and she suggested I play cello,” Dudack said. Cellos play the same intervals as viola but an octave lower.

“Someone said cello is based on the range of the human voice, and I liked that,” she said.

Helping fourth-graders with the cello Saturday was fascinating, she said, because so many of the younger children would watch what she was doing for a few minutes and then imitate it perfectly.

Once Jordan had the cello position right, Dudack noticed he was holding the bow like a toothbrush.

“Maybe try a bunny face,” she said to Jordan, demonstrating.

Dudack wrapped her thumb and third and fourth fingers around the bow to hold it, leaving her pointer finger and the pinkie extended to represent bunny ears.

Jordan used his right hand to make his own bunny face and ran a bow across the strings again, releasing a long, pure, single note that made him smile.

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