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Presto! The Case of the Vanishing Viola

About the Program:

Three musicians who play string instruments will perform a story to help you learn about music. In the story (as in real life), Karen plays violin and Elizabeth plays viola, and they perform together as the Dynamic Duo (pronounced DEW-oh). Drew (a cellist) plays the role of a magician practicing his magic in the office next door. (You better keep an eye on him because he has quite a few tricks up his sleeve.)

At first, the musicians and magician do not get along. And that leads to a problem—Elizabeth’s viola vanishes, or disappears. That’s when things really get tricky and our friends will need your help. Along the way, you are in for a few musical surprises, too, like the very different sounds the string instruments can make—if we can just find that viola!

Magic Words

How fast or slow the music is

How loud or soft the music is

(pitz-uh-KAH-toh)—Plucking the strings with fingers instead of using the bow

Playing quickly, a fast tempo

Now You See (and Count) Them

The number of musicians performing affects the sound of the music. Musicians perform in groups as small as one (a solo performance) and as large as (or even larger than) 100. Here are the names for some groups:

  • Duo—two musicians (and a duet is a piece of music written for a duo)

  • Trio (TREE-oh)—a group of three musicians, like this concert’s performers

  • Quartet (kwawr-TET)—four musicians

  • Symphony (SIM-fuh-nee) orchestra—as many as 50 string instruments playing together along with the other instrument families of the orchestra—the woodwinds, the brass, and percussion

Acing It

Playing music well and performing magic well have at least one thing in common. They might look easy when you see them in the video, but both take lots of practice to do a good job. Practice is fun, though, because it means you are learning and getting better—watch to see what Elizabeth and Karen learn as they practice for their concert.

Think About

Can music and magic get along? At first they might seem very different, but watch how musicians and a magician can cooperate and even become friends.

One of the string instruments you’ll hear sounds so different in one style of music that it even has a different name! Listen up during the video to find out which one.

It's No Trick

String instruments might look very similar, but they can sound very different and play many styles of music. You'll hear:

Classical - Music from Europe and the United States that you often hear performed in concert halls like the one at the Kennedy Center.

Jazz - Music with energetic patterns and tunes often made up (improvised) by musicians as they play.

Bluegrass - A type of country music often played at a fast speed.

Ragtime - Lively music popular in the early 1900s that has unusual patterns and unexpected strong notes.

A Trio of Musicians and Instruments

Look at the three instruments played by the trio—violin, viola, and cello. They all are made of wood and have four strings. Musicians play them by using a bow (a stick of wood with a tight ribbon of horsehair) in their right hand and pressing the string with the fingers of their left hand. The bodies of the instruments have a hollow center. This center is called a resonating chamber, and it makes the sound of the strings loud and strong. That sound comes out of the two holes.

But these instruments are not exactly the same—they are different sizes. That means they sound a little different. The smaller the instrument, the higher the sound it makes. Guess which instrument will sound the highest and which will sound the lowest?

Presto! Here’s Your Musical Trio

Karen Lowry-Tucker (violin), Drew Owen (cello and magic), and Elizabeth Pulju-Owen (viola) play together as a musical and magical trio with a musical and magical name—Presto!

They all love music and enjoy sharing it with young people like you. Karen has played all over the world. Elizabeth began playing viola when she was 13 years old. Both she and Karen perform in other orchestras at the Kennedy Center, too. As a child, Drew liked both magic and music, but he decided to study music first, and he chose the cello because it was big. But as you can see, he never gave up on magic.

The Concert Program

Before or after the video, you may want to listen to some or all of these musical selections from the concert repertoire. Some of the music will sound different at the concert because the musicians adapt it for their instruments. See if you can recognize the music when you hear it the second time.

  • Allegro from Divertimento in E-flat Major, K. 563 for violin, viola, and cello, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Canzonetta by Carl Böhm

  • Larghetto sostenuto from Duo No. 1 for violin and viola (originally for clarinet and bassoon), by Ludwig van Beethoven 

  • Allegro from Duo Number No.1 for violin and viola, K. 423, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Minuet by Luigi Boccherini

  • “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington

  • “Orange Blossom Special” by Ervin Rouse 

  • Courante from Suite in G Major for Solo Cello, by Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Minuet from Notebook for Anna Magdalena, by Johann Sebastian Bach

  • “Pop Goes the Weasel”

  • “The Irish Washerwoman”

  • Polka by Charles Dancla

  • Minuetto from String Trio in E-flat major, Op. 3, by Ludwig van Beethoven

  • “Paragon Rag” by Scott Joplin

Presto Change-oh!

After the performance, choose a song you know, like “London Bridge Is Falling Down.” Try singing it using some of the ideas you learned about, like changing the tempo (singing it fast and then slow) or dynamics (singing it loud and then soft). Start as a duo and then add friends or family, creating a trio and quartet.

Make Your Own String Instrument

Take a small container without a lid (this will be your instrument’s body) and two or three rubber bands (these will be your “strings”). Stretch the rubber bands around the container and across the open side. Now pluck the strings with your fingers. Notice how the bands vibrate—this is what making music looks and sounds like! Discuss ways to change the sounds with your friends or family.

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