At White House, music to Michelle Obama's ears
First lady Michelle Obama hosted 120 student musicians, who took master classes from classical artists, filling the White House Wednesday with the strains of cellos and pianos.
The White House had the feel of a music conservatory Wednesday afternoon, as 120 high school and middle school students from around the country – classical musicians all – attended master classes with some of the top names in the business.Skip to next paragraph
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Yours truly, serving as the print pooler for first lady Michelle Obama, got to dip into each class: First, Grammy-award winning violinist (and heart-throb) Joshua Bell, in jeans and shirt-tails, met with some 30 teenage violinists in the Map Room.
“Hey, everybody. Whaddaya think, being at the White House?”
“Woo-hoo!” the students replied.
Bell lamented that he now seems to be most famous for a Washington Post experiment he took part in almost three years ago, in which he played the violin on the street – to see if anyone would notice that he was a world-class violinist. (A few people did.)
“I guess any publicity is good publicity,” he said. “I made $38 in about 40 minutes. The good news is that I didn’t have to give my manager 20 percent.”
Next, to the Diplomatic Room, for 27-year-old cellist Alisa Weilerstein – called by New York magazine, “arguably, Yo-Yo Ma’s heiress apparent" – and a roomful of cellists. The group played the prelude to one of the Bachianas Brasileiras, by Heitor Villa-Lobos.
Then it was off to the Blue Room, for virtuoso classical guitarist Sharon Isbin and a roomful of guitarists. One young player performed a piece, and she then coached him on body position and other techniques. “Do you know the formula for a more sweet, dolce sound?” she asked. It’s all about where you strum: “Divide the string in half.”
Finally, we went to the East Room, where the lively and accomplished pianist Awadagin Pratt was performing the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor by Bach (arranged by Awadagin Pratt) for piano students.
A moment of disclosure: Your correspondent ran into an old friend, Martin Goldsmith, a classical music announcer for Sirius/XM Radio, who was there for the network’s recording of the event. He tipped me off to what the performers were playing. Sirius/XM will air Wednesday night's full-dress concert over the weekend.
Then it was off to the State Dining Room, where FLOTUS em-ceed the awarding of the annual Coming Up Taller Awards, which recognize outstanding after-school and out-of-school programs in the arts and humanities. The awards, an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, were started in 1998. Many of the programs reach at-risk youth, who then often end up doing better in school and going to college.