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The String Thing

About the Program:

Attention: kids, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, rubber chickens...but especially kids and rubber chickens! Step right up to this daring double act of classical fun! Bassist Paul DeNola and violinist Heather LeDoux Green take a break from the NSO to introduce young audiences to some of the greatest music ever written. You’ll never hear a word out of them during the concert, but with instruments in hand and a trunk full of gags, this “silent” comedic tag-team presents a hilarious program of music and mayhem.

About the Show

Meet Heather and Paul. They are friends who like to have fun and tease each other. They also happen to love playing music together on their string instruments. Heather plays the violin and Paul plays the double bass (we’ll call it the bass for short). Watch how they have a great time in ways that go with the music.

During the show, Heather and Paul never say a word. They communicate using costume pieces (like hats and goofy glasses) and objects (like signs). They also use mime—silently communicating through different looks on their faces and body movements. The only sound you’ll hear is amazing music, and lots of it.

During the performance, listen for the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” A famous composer (a person who writes music) named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (MO-tzart) wrote changes called variations for the main melody, or theme.

At the end of the performance, you’ll hear music you might have heard before because it’s been used in movies, cartoons, and TV shows. The music is called the William Tell Overture, and it helps tell the story of a hero rallying his army against an enemy. Can you imagine the troops charging?

Music Excerpts

  • “Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana

  • "Rondo" from K 250 “Haffner” arranged by Fritz Kreisler and composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 

  • “Variations on Suzuki Melodies” by William Starr including the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 

  • Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven (excerpts from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th movements)

  • “Non Piu Andrai” from Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • “Turkish March, III” from Piano Sonata No. 11 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Overture from William Tell by Giaccomo Rossini

 

Dear Grownups. . .

Before or after the concert, you may want the children to listen to some or all of these musical selections from the concert repertoire. Point out that some of the music will sound different during the concert because the musicians will adapt it for their instruments and play excerpts rather than full pieces. Ask the children whether they can recognize the music when they hear it the second time.

It's No Trick

All the music at the concert is played using just the violin and the bass. They are part of the string family of instruments (which also includes the viola and cello). These instruments are all 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 f-shaped holes.

Of course, the violin and bass are different in size. That means they are played differently—Heather holds her violin against her chin, but Paul’s bass stands on the floor. The different sizes also mean the instruments sound a lot different. The smaller the instrument, the higher the sound it makes, so…which will sound the highest and which the lowest?

Meet the Musicians

Longtime musician friends Paul and Heather love to perform music they think kids will enjoy. Heather started playing violin when she was just three years old, and practiced like crazy to keep up with her big sister. Paul started out playing trumpet, switched to guitar, and then the bass in high school—and there was no going back. Today both Heather and Paul are members of the National Symphony Orchestra.

Heather and Paul usually use long and short strokes of the bow across the strings to make different sounds. But sometimes they pluck the strings with their fingers, and the musical word for that is pizzicato (pronounced pitz-uh-KAH-toh).

Q&A with Heather and Paul

How does it feel to share this performance with students right now?

Heather: GREAT! We think what the world needs right now is classical music...with humor.

Paul: WONDERFUL! We miss being able to play these shows in classrooms around the DC Metro area, so we’re happy that we can send this video into everyone’s at-home-classroom.

What was the process of creating and recording the video? Did you learn anything excited or unexpected?

Heather: When we first had the introduction idea, Paul and I furiously texted each other ideas, and laughed at the preposterousness of them. Could we get Nurit to call in? Could we get Noseda? What about filming outside the REACH, not only in Studio K? We always take our ideas to the extreme, knowing there are limits since we are only two people. I am more mobile than Paul since my violin is small, and I love walking/running around while I play (especially since he cannot). Our first actual writing of the introduction took place at a coffee shop in Falls Church during a rainstorm. We were trying to be socially distant, while writing ideas down and getting soaked!

 

After we wrote the ‘script’ we started rehearsing in Paul’s backyard and meeting at the Kennedy Center to put the show together. We were constantly re-writing and improving the show, literally until the day of the filming.

Paul: We did have one temporary road-block during our first rehearsal….one of our older bits that we use for this film involves us both getting onto a stool at the same time and sharing the seat. It’s been at least 4 years since we’ve performed it….so when we went to rehearse that part for the first time we couldn’t both fit on the stool. Initially in denial, we tried a few times….I remember us both looking at the mirror in front of us when we both suddenly lost it. The bum-sized jokes flew for quite a while before we settled down to tackle the seat size “issue.” Thankfully we realized that it wasn’t the same stool AND it was set way too high. Once we made some adjustments it was...ummm...easier than it had been. CLEARLY the stool was the problem there...nothing else. ...clearly.

Why did you choose to include these pieces of music?

Heather: We have many pieces, and so it was a little hard to choose which ones to eliminate, since we love them all. We basically made a list of all our favorites, and narrowed them down to 7. Our props are a big part of each ‘bit’ and that also helped us decide.

Paul: Because it’s some of the best music ever written! That’s what we wanted: the greatest music we could arrange and the best jokes we could come up with.

What is your favorite part?

Heather: I have always loved Paul using the shredder, but it’s very hard for me to keep a straight face when the audience is laughing. I also really love it when Paul answers the phone and swirls the cord around before answering. OH and I love putting the moustache on Paul. I think he should wear it for the whole show. But he disagrees...When I ‘don’t recognize’ Twinkle, Paul gives me this look of ‘ARE YOU CRAZY’ and I almost lose it, you can hear me snort in the film.

Paul: I love the part where we have to stop so that Heather can open up the mile-long music, and the whole segment where she sees my super-easy two-note music and then switches parts with me, giving me the more difficult part. I can usually hold a pretty straight face, but that part requires a lot more effort on my part! I also love the simple silliness of the dueling cadenzas at the end of the Mozart Rondo.

Why is it important for students to be able to watch this performance?

Heather: We are proud of this production, and think it will inspire kids to listen to classical music with a twinkle in their eye. We love to find the humor in music!

Paul: Most live and in-person shows are on hold right now, so lots of kids out there aren’t able to see the shows they’d normally be able to see, and that includes The String Thing! Heather and I are usually all over the DC area playing in classrooms and other places through The NSO Education Department. We’re hoping this film will bring a bit of our Music+Humor back into their year and inspire them in the way this kind of music can!

More Fun with Music

Go with the Flow

Vary It

As you listen to the music during the concert, imagine how you would move to each piece. Would you dance? Gallop? Skip? Move back and forth? Pretend to fly? Or something else? Think about what movements match the music and rhythms.

Different versions of the same song, like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” are called variations. Take a song you know, and try creating a variation for it—like changing the words or doing parts of it faster or slower. Share it with friends and see whether they recognize it.

Make a Musical Instrument

Make your very own musical 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 (with help from a grownup). 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.

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