When Amy Grinsteiner took an idea she had of combining visual art with classical music to Carter Lake Elementary last year, she had no idea how successful she'd be.
Her Goldberg Project, where kids illustrate what they hear in Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” not only enabled regular classroom teachers to introduce music and art concepts, it offered kids at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord school to explore deep emotions. It also drew an audience of 230 to the final concert at Pacific Lutheran University, more than half of whom had never heard classical music live before.
This year, Grinsteiner is taking the project one step further. She’s expanding it to another teacher’s class at Carter Lake, and she’s combining the resulting artwork and performance with other chamber pieces in a Spotlight Concert on Sunday for Second City Chamber Series.
“It was incredible,” said Grinsteiner, of the 2009 PLU Goldberg concert. She played the entire “Goldberg Variations” on piano while artwork that the second-graders had created for it was screened behind her.
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“The students got so much out of it, and over half of the audience was brand-new to classical music. That’s part of the project, to develop new audiences,” Grinsteiner said.
The 2010 Goldberg Project has been in process for the past couple of weeks at Carter Lake. Second-grade students are taught basic principles of art, such as line, shading and color by classroom teacher Charlotte Peck. Grinsteiner comes in for one lesson to introduce classical music concepts such as dynamics, pitch and tempo, and to integrate the students with the professional music world.
Then, one by one, students sit down with headphones, colored pencils and a piece of paper. They each get one of the 30 Variations, listening to it on repeat while drawing what they hear. The result is fascinating: Students describe the music and art as sad, joyful, angry or reminding them of people close to them, like their mom.
Connecting music and art with emotions is important, said school principal Paul Douglas during the 2009 project.
“That’s huge for kids, particularly the kids we have here. They struggle with the deployments and everything, and for them to have another way of expressing their feelings is great,” he said.
Grinsteiner, who is completing her doctorate in music at the University of Washington, sees the Project as a tool both for educators to bring more arts into schools and for musicians to connect with audiences. She’s hoping next year to begin marketing the curriculum.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s concert will feature the Variations in the second half, played by Grinsteiner while students’ artwork screens behind. The first half will feature oboist Shannon Spicciati playing music by Eugne Bozza and Joseph Schwantner, and violinist Svend Ronning playing Ravel’s “Tzigane,” music that Grinsteiner says “encourages the audience to create pictures in their own imaginations.”
But it’s the second-graders who are best at that. “Kids that age are in a window of real openness and creativity before they starting getting into what they think is right or wrong artistically,” said Grinsteiner. “It’s a great age.”