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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Friday, 02 November 2012 11:15

Yumi Kendall, celloNovember 2, 2012 - The first time the trio behind the popular “Dancing Vibrations” Bridge Session rehearsed, the instrumental line-up included one cello, one violin — and a car full of African and South American percussion instruments.

Since then, the group — which includes Yumi Kendall, assistant principal cellist for the Philadelphia Orchestra; Luigi Mazzocchi, violinist and teaching artist for the Philadelphia Orchestra; and Alex Shaw, percussionist and lead singer for Alô Brasil — have used their diverse musical backgrounds to create a Bridge Session that includes everything from 300-year-old Bach minuets, to traditional songs from Venezuela and Brazil, to pop music.

We sat down with Yumi to talk about what makes a good Bridge Session, and how paying homage to Baroque composers and Michael Jackson in the same breath is all part of music education.

Where do you start when you’re putting together a program for grades 2-8?
The first rehearsal was definitely a little bit of a jam session. We decided on a program called “Dancing Vibrations,” so now everything we do revolves around that theme, whether it’s a Bach minuet or a song about the morning after a carnival.

Yumi Kendall, Luigi Mazzocchi, Alex ShawWhat are some highlights from “Dancing Vibrations?”
We start out with very simple Bach minuet, accompanied by Alex helping the participants find the heartbeat of the 1-2-3 rhythm by snapping and clapping their hands, then move into a Brazilian piece with some pretty complicated rhythms. Since we play a lot of music from Africa and South America, I really had to train myself to move beyond the written music and into music that I had to feel off of the page.

How do you incorporate younger kids into a set like this?
For a very fast cello piece called “Dance of the Elves,” I pick out one of the melodies and ask them to help me make it sound like something we’d all like to dance to. They decide if they want it to be faster or slower, higher up the scale or lower — anything they want. Usually they want it to be fast, high and short, so they can make their feet move. By the end it sounds like a dance for nimble feet only — a dance of the elves.

How do you keep participants interested?
You have to read the energy of the crowd and adjust. Usually it’s all about shorter pieces, and getting them involved by clapping or snapping or making music. In that setting we can usually sense what did they need to stay engaged. Shorter is usually better!

Dancing Vibrations Bridge SessionWhat’s the most surprising thing that’s ever happened during a set?
We always invite participants to sing along when we get to our final Michael Jackson/Black Eyed Peas medley, and we've had sessions both with senior citizens and with young kids where people just couldn’t stay in their seats and started dancing in the aisles. That’s what I really love — when people are so enthusiastic that they just can't contain their energy for the music.

Why do you feel that moving and dancing is an important part of music education?
Actively participating in music gives people a chance to be physical, and that’s how lots of people learn — by kinesthetic movement, not by intellectualizing what they are told. And even during sessions when participants aren’t dancing in their seats, they can see how music bridges gaps between cultures. They see very different people up here — Alex is half Chinese, I’m half Japanese and Luigi’s Venezuelan — all of us embody different cultures. Music is a very natural bridge between cultures and genres, which is why the diverse program works.

[Check out our complete Bridge Session schedule here.]

 

Images: Conrad Erb Photography

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