Instruments of Education : Performers, Audience Learn From Musical Encounters

Heather Lee is a sophomore at Villa Park High School

The eager young audience sat in quiet anticipation, awaiting the first dramatic notes of “Carmen.”

With a rose dramatically placed between her teeth, cellist Eboli Giannini obliged them.

When she finished her playing, she answered questions such as: Why do you shake your wrist when you play? What do you do in your spare time? Why are there Ss on the cello?

OK, so they weren’t questions about music theory, but Giannini, 17, did her best to answer every question from fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Villa Park Elementary School with a smile.


“If the kids are interested, they can be the most rewarding audience,” said Giannini, who was performing this day as part of Musical Encounter, a program operated by the Orange County Philharmonic Society Women’s Committees.

Giannini, a senior at Villa Park High School, is one of 13 gifted Orange County student musicians, ranging in age from 7 to 17, who tour the county’s elementary schools in the spring, enriching the lives of an estimated 8,000 children with 30-minute live musical performances.

Giannini first played the cello for Musical Encounter when she was in the sixth grade. Last November, she auditioned again, with about 60 budding virtuosos, for Musical Encounter and has since performed three times as a member musician.

She and her accompanist, pianist Christina Cha, who is also a senior at Villa Park, prepare two to three weeks before each performance. They select musical pieces they believe their audience will enjoy and, perhaps, recognize.

“Before a performance,” Giannini said, “I put myself in a 10-year-old’s frame of mind to help me relate and open up better to the audience so they can feel more involved.”

Giannini likes to start with a fast piece to capture attention. Students in the Villa Park Elementary audience whispered, “Wow, she’s good.”

Musical Encounter, which just finished its eighth season in Orange County, gives young musicians in teams of two the opportunity to perform and interact with live audiences, thereby developing their performing and social skills. The musical program is followed by a question-and-answer period.

Giannini explained to her audience at Villa Park Elementary the reason she chose the cello as her instrument (“Because it was different; everyone else was playing the violin”) and how she became involved with music.

Ellen Halopoff, chairman of Musical Encounter, often serves as moderator at the shows. She helps to build a relationship between the young performers and their audience.

“The program allows talented musicians to share their gift with elementary students,” Halopoff said, “and gives them a chance to hear and see a musical instrument instead of watching it on television.”

Musical Encounter was begun by Sylvia Kunin in Los Angeles in 1976, and has since served as a model for similar programs--including Orange County’s--throughout the country.

“The primary goal of Musical Encounter is to bring young people and music together,” said Kunin, who also founded the Young Musicians Foundation in 1955. “Carefully selecting the young performers and their repertoires, answering questions with musical demonstrations whenever possible and encouraging audiences to creatively participate by allowing the music to provoke feelings and thoughts in the hearts and minds makes it work.”

Sometimes the musicians on stage are even younger than members of their audience. Such is often the case for Jacqueline Treu, a 9-year-old pianist who is a fourth-grader at La Veta Elementary School in Orange and performed on the same bill as Giannini.

“I was excited to be performing and nervous at the same time,” Treu said. “I really like performing.”

In addition to Giannini and Treu, other Orange County students involved with the program are Asaf Blasberg, 12-year-old pianist from Brea; Emmy Chang, 13-year-old pianist from Seal Beach; Kong Chou, 11-year-old violinist from Fountain Valley; Stanley Chou, 8-year-old pianist from Irvine, and Rae Hyun Koh, 10-year-old pianist from La Palma.

Also participating are Steve Lee, 14-year-old pianist from Irvine; Theresa Lin, 17-year-old pianist from Irvine; Wendy Lin, 15-year-old flutist from Buena Park; Sachiko Tanaka, 16-year-old violinist from Mission Viejo; Cheryl Yarbrough, 15-year-old harpist/pianist from San Juan Capistrano, and Christine J.T. Yu, 9-year-old pianist from Laguna Hills.

Musical Encounter is one of 14 youth education outreach programs sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society.

“This particular segment of our education outreach program gives Orange County’s most gifted young artists the opportunity to appear in live performances,” said Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Philharmonic Society. “And engaging in conversation with their audiences helps to sharpen their verbal and intellectual acuity, as well as their musical skills.”