As the resonant sounds of the Ulysses Quartet’s string instruments filled the auditorium at the Thomas A. Edison School in Boston, music teacher Maria Doreste Velazquez saw something she’d never witnessed before.
Fifth grader Salem, one of her most music-loving students, sat transfixed, with his jaw dropped in astonishment. “Salem admires all styles of music. He didn’t have that exposure before. Seeing him connect emotionally with the performance was really beautiful.”
When the musicians opened the floor for students to ask them questions, they asked Salem what he thought. “He gave us a thumbs up,” said Ulysses Quartet’s cellist Grace Ho. “That was very rewarding for us.”
GBH Music’s first quartet in residence will spend five weeks in a diverse range of Boston Public and Massachusetts schools, bringing their signature music engagement programs free to students from kindergarten to senior year. With this partnership, GBH Music and the Ulysses Quartet aim to make music more accessible to young listeners. The quartet will also give free concerts to all at the GBH Boston Public Library Studio on the following Wednesdays (1/10, 2/14, 3/13, 5/22) at noon and will record at the GBH Fraser Performance Studio throughout the year.
Ulysses Quartet’s violinist Christina Bouey says there is nothing online that can replace the interaction of performing in and hearing a live performance. “Seeing how the kids react and move to the music is really special. It’s a huge reason why we do what we do.”
During the quartet’s visit to the Edison School, the musicians performed a series of pieces around the theme of animals. The quartet opened with Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons, showing how the trills on their instruments mimicked the chirping of birds. Other well-known works included Saint-Saën’s “The Swan” and “The Elephant” from The Carnival of the Animals and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Throughout the week’s visit, the Ulysses Quartet performed multiple times for all the grades at the school. The kindergarten students let the music embody their souls - elating when the music sped up, bouncing to the heavy downbeats and swaying to the blissful soft moments. Those in fifth grade observed intently at the virtuosity of these musicians and cheered exuberantly during their applause.
“I noticed how the quartet was adapting when performing for different grades,” Doreste Velazquez recalls. “The musicians responded to the personal connections with the students, and this makes them unique and approachable. Because the musicians enjoyed playing their music, that energy transferred to the kids.”
Ulysses Quartet’s violinist Rhiannon Banerdt pointed out that even though distinct musical techniques are difficult for young children to conceptualize, she was surprised by a first-grade student asking specifically how to make the sound of a glissando - which is a slide on the strings of the fingerboard.
“Music is so good for the development of the brain,” said Ulysses Quartet’s violist Anthony Bracewell. “Students who play a musical instrument tend to score higher on tests. Studying music develops emotional intelligence and empathy. A society that values art is a healthier society, so by exposing these kids to music at a young age, we get to pave the way for future generations.”
GBH Music’s General Manager Anthony Rudel agrees.
“These kids will go home today and their parents will ask, ‘What did you do today?’ and they’ll say ‘I saw a quartet perform,’” Rudel said. “That will lead to more questions that ultimately lead to having music be a significant part of these children’s lives.”
The Ulysses Quartet’s residency at GBH is made possible by a generous contribution from the Mattina R. Proctor Foundation. Read more about the partnership between GBH Music and the Ulysses Quartet here.