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National Symphony visits South Dakota
By Cara Hetland
Minnesota Public Radio
March 21, 2002
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The National Symphony Orchestra concludes its 10-day residency in South Dakota Friday. The 102 musicians in the orchestra visit one state each year to share their talent and passion for music with teachers, students and fellow musicians. The National Symphony Orchestra crammed nearly 120 events and concerts into a 10-day schedule that took the musicians to all parts of the state.

David Bragunier
Tuba player David Bragunier and the other members of his brass quintet blew into conch shells to demonstrate that music of one sort or another has always been used as a means of communication. The group played the theme song from "The Flintstones" on the shells.
(MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)

Most of the events took this form - a group of musicians in a school gymnasium talking directly to kids. On this day, members of the brass quintet visited the Sioux Falls Lutheran elementary school.

They talked about how air has always been used to make music. The five veteran brass players put down their instruments and picked up conch shells to show the students that while the instruments may look different, the method remains the same.

The brass musicians say their instruments were originally designed to communicate signals that were used in battle or emergencies.

This is the 10th year of the National Symphony Orchestra's Residency Program. It's funded through a grant by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts.

But teaching kids about their instruments and how music is made is only part of what the musicians want to get across. Tuba player David Bragunier says he first heard the National Symphony Orchestra perform when he was in elementary school, and he wants other kids to have that same experience.

Leonard Slatkin
Leonard Slatkin has brought the National Symphony Orchestra to South Dakota for 10 days and dozens of public events, as part of the symphony's annual residency. MPR's Cara Hetland talked to Slatkin about why the residency program is so important. Listen to his comments.
(MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)

"Music and the arts are being de-emphasized in the schools. I really feel they're so important, and...the heart of our personalities is the arts," says Bragunier. "Anyone can sit in front of a computer all day, and that's what the kids are being taught."

One of the key goals is to build excitement about live music. The symphony's music director Leonard Slatkin says when the orchestra leaves the state, he wants local residents to push for more music in their communities.

"The children who we affect - and who we play for - need to be taught the value of music and be excited by it. They need to see the joy and enthusiasm the professionals bring to it, and hopefully this enriches their own lives," says Slatkin.

For local musicians like Pat Mashek, a flute instructor at Augustana College, hearing the quality of the music and seeing the musicians' excitement about playing it makes the residency program worthwhile. She says meeting these musicians is all her students are talking about.

"To see a national group come in and have contact with these players - in smaller groups, in workshops and things like that - is so meaningful to them," says Mashek.

The results of the National Symphony Orchestra's effort doesn't end with its 10-day stop in South Dakota. The money raised from local ticket sales remains in the communities where the orchestra performs.

This summer, six students from South Dakota will receive scholarships to study with the Orchestra in Washington D.C. A few months later, the orchestra will choose which state it will visit next spring.

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