When Hilary Coon visited Rose Park Elementary, oboe in hand, she asked Jennifer Cologna’s class of third graders if any of them played an instrument. There was silence. It was a first for Coon. The school’s music program consisted of a choir, but the budget provided room for little else.
On the bright side, while none of the students are yet musicians, every one of them is an artist.
For the 12th year, Coon, a member of the Salt Lake Symphony, and Bev Keyes, owner of the Atelier Children’s Art Center, have joined forces for Draw the Music, an outreach program that inspires children to create visual art by interpreting classical music.
This year, Cologna’s class listened to Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, a complex five-movement piece with a rich history. Coon learned a great deal about Bartok and his inspiration for the work, but admitted throwing it all out the window when she entered the classroom. The students had barely seen an orchestral instrument up close, let alone listened to classical music.
"The piece was written for World War II and has a very serious background," Coon said. "With these kids, though, I thought that, instead of getting too deeply into it, we could let them explore it in their own way."
Instead, Keyes focused on what the students were familiar with — animals. She and Coon asked the students to listen to the music and visualize birds chirping, fish swimming or even green foxes walking through green forests.
Using the work of Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as a guide, Keyes helped the students bring those visions to life. She started by asking them to "create their own paper," a request that caused stirs throughout the classroom.
"The kids had to get it in their brain that they weren’t making the animal — they were making the paper that would become the animal," Keyes said.
Strewn around Cologna’s homeroom were scraps of wet paper, brightly painted with shapes cut out. Through a collage technique, the students layered their paper to form colorful, and often surreal, creatures.
When the principal of Rose Park Elementary asked for a volunteer to help with the project, Cologna said there were few takers. Classes are precisely structured and taking a few hours out of the week for art could leave the children behind in fundamentals. Cologna said she hesitated at first, too.
"I knew my kids would love it, so I went for it," Cologna said. "It’s hard to give that time up, but to see the kids line up excited for art day made it worthwhile."
This year, for the first time, the students art will be auctioned off. On Saturday, April 20, the artwork will be up for sale during the Salt Lake Symphony’s performance at Libby Gardner Hall on the University of Utah campus. All proceeds will be going toward creating an art program at Rose Park Elementary and hiring an art teacher to visit the school regularly.
"In life, we try on so many hats to figure out which one fits," Keyes said. "Some of these kids could be great artists, but if they don’t have the opportunity in school to make art, they may never find that hat that fits."
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