Musical Connections

A local string quartet helps kids discover a new way to learn

Performing “The Best Nest” at Chattahoochee Nature Center.
KATIE VANBRACKLE/Staff
Elizabeth Alvarez plays second violin.
KATIE VANBRACKLE/Staff
Young students enjoy learning about music.
Kazanetti4kids performs at Crabapple Crossing Elementary School in Milton.
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By KATIE VANBRACKLE
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Elizabeth Alvarez’s love affair with music began in the classroom. As a sixth-grade student in East Cobb, she was given the choice to learn either the violin or the cello. She chose the violin, and by the time she graduated from Lassiter High School, Alvarez knew that music would play a major role in her career and her life.

Now an avid chamber musician with over 30 years of experience, Alvarez is raising her own family in Crabapple and sharing her talents as second violin in the Kazanetti String Quartet (KSQ), a group she co-founded in 1996 with collegiate pal and fellow musician Julie Rosseter, who plays viola. George Butler on cello and Michele Mariage-Volz on first violin complete the award-winning quartet, which has performed across the United States and Europe.

In 2008, upon receiving the appointment of artists-in-residence at The Plaza Arts Center in Eatonton, Georgia, the KSQ began sharing musical programs with children in primary and elementary schools. This put Alvarez and her friends back in touch with their own musical beginnings by sharing the power of story and song with eager young ears.

Each half-hour “kazanetti4kids” program contains a story and discussion around a central academic theme such as history, math, astronomy or literature. The powerful and adaptable tool of music brings the subject to life.

The lesson might have a St. Patrick’s Day theme, with Rosseter’s daughter performing Irish dance steps while kids tap their toes to rhythmic jigs and reels, interspersed with discussions on math, Irish culture and making your dreams come true.

Or students might learn about Civil War history by hearing the story “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” and learning the African American folk song of the same name that taught slaves to use the Big Dipper in the sky to navigate their way north to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

“By telling a compelling story and pairing it with music, we practice what we call stealth teaching,” explained Alvarez. “The kids are absorbing a bit of history, a bit of astronomy, without even realizing it. Maybe they will find themselves humming the Drinking Gourd song, or looking in the sky for the Big Dipper or wanting to find the book in the library to read it again. Something always sticks, and it’s usually something unexpected.

“We are always surprised at how curious the kids are about us as musicians,” said Alvarez.

When the quartet performs their “Introduction to Strings” program for preschoolers, they bring along a “musical petting zoo” of small instruments, just the right size for little fingers to grasp and explore.

In late February, kazanetti4kids visited the Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in Roswell to participate in a special themed event “For the Love of Birds.” Alvarez and her fellow musicians performed their latest original program, “The Best Nest,” created especially for the CNC, where themes of natural science and English folklore tales took center stage.

“The Best Nest” features the story of a magpie who teaches other species of birds how to build a nest, accompanied by fun bird facts and the music of Austrian composer Joseph Haydn’s “The Bird” quartet.

Eight-year-old Aidan Allegro of Marietta eagerly raised his hand during a quiz show after the performance, correctly sharing the names of groups of birds such as a “murder” of crows and a “charm” of finches.

“I liked it,” Allegro said of “The Best Nest,” noting that his own favorite bird is a peregrine falcon. Or an owl. So many choices.

“As a quartet, we love collaborating with a wide variety of groups to discover how we can engage a wider audience,” said Alvarez, who remembers visiting the CNC as a young girl.

“What we love about CNC is they look at nature a little differently and present a unique experience to the individual, yet also emphasize the essence of community, that eventually everything is connected,” she said.

Perhaps the same could be said of the members of the Kazanetti String Quartet, who present music a little differently, blending their individual instruments with eager imaginations to create a unique experience for the young mind.

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