About 150 students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School sang the "Spongebob Squarepants" theme song in near-perfect harmony on Tuesday morning.
But they weren't watching cartoons.
They were learning the elements of music as taught by the Hot Club of Saratoga, a gypsy jazz/swing ensemble.
Hot Club performed for fourth- and fifth-grade students at the school as part of the Saratoga Performing Art Center’s Classical Kids program. Since 1993, Classical Kids has performed for over 8,000 students in the Capital Region through Union College sponsorship. This year, they’re reaching out to more schools in Schenectady and Albany to expose young students to music in a way they might not have seen before. Participating students can also gain a free SPAC lawn pass for every summer season until they graduate from high school.
While that prospect was exciting to some of the students at MLK school, Hot Club really captured everyone’s attention with a rendition of the "Super Mario Bros." theme song and a few guessing games. In between songs, lead guitarist Chuck Kish spoke to the crowd about the importance of music as a way to tell stories and show emotion.
They played Pachelbel's Canon in a reggae style, in a swing style, in a metal style and in bluegrass style, as requested by the crowd.
“Do you hear the music in you? If you want to get started in music, get started! Don’t let anyone get in your way,” Kish said.
Maggie Russo, the school’s music teacher, said many of her students would never be exposed to SPAC, let alone get to attend shows every summer if it weren’t for Classical Kids.
“It’s so important because they don’t usually get this kind of opportunity,” Russo said.
In order to get the free tickets, students have to go to SPAC’s film-with-orchestra showing of "E.T." on Aug. 5. According to Russo, the school district is able to provide transportation to SPAC on that day, so students will just have to get permission from their parents to go.
One fourth grader, Megan Takechand is already planning for the trip. She plays both the flute and piano, although Megan has dreams of becoming a singer. As soon as she found out that Hot Club would be performing at her school, she started listening to the group’s music.
As an aspiring singer/flute/piano player, the performance was exactly what Megan was hoping for.
“It was really fun. I was looking forward to it because I heard that they were really good,” Megan said.
Fourth grader David Rambharose said he was surprised when the band went from playing classical music to playing the "Star Wars" theme song.
It was clear that his classmates shared the feeling. Within the first 15 minutes of the presentation, kids went from being shy and timid to clapping and shouting out melodies.
“They’re very quiet and it’s hard to get their attention but they [Hot Club] really did. It’s . . . inspired me to start to get theme songs for the piano element of our course,” Russo said.
For students and teachers, Classical Kids is a way to expand on their musical inspiration.
But Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s president and chief executive officer, hopes that the program also inspires a sense of wonder.
“It’s really about opening their hearts and opening their sense of curiosity and having that sense of wonder because, let’s face it, that’s something that’s really a challenge in these days, when kids are so connected to their devices a lot of them don’t even think to look up into the night sky . . . the wow factor, that’s what I’m looking for,” Sobol said.
As the program goes onto other schools in Schenectady and Albany, Sobol wants to continue to expand Classical Kids into underserved communities outside of Saratoga in the years to come.
To bring the wonder of music and the arts to more students like Megan and David.