The bell signaling the start of recess rang as usual Monday morning at Mariners School in Newport Beach, but Sue White's third-grade class did not seem to notice.
The attention of all 28 students was glued on the Orange County Philharmonic Society's Music Mobile volunteers, who were at the school to teach the children the fundamentals of an orchestra.
"If they gave up their recess, you know they are enjoying this," White said.
The Music Mobile, a van loaded with musical instruments including violin, cello, snare drum and trombone, visits third-graders in school districts throughout the county. The program, sponsored by the Women's Committees of the Orange County Philharmonic Society and conducted by volunteers from the society, not only provides information about the orchestra but also allows the children to hold and play the various musical instruments.
"Every time they pick up an instrument they get a smile on their faces. It's great," said White, who has seen the presentation many times in her 23 years as a teacher.
The Music Mobile, which presents its program free of charge, has been in operation for 13 years and reaches more than 13,500 children in 180 schools every year.
"It's wonderful," said school principal Al Zeiderman. "It was especially helpful a few years ago when music programs were cut" from the curriculum.
A 45-minute presentation, which focused on the four sections of an orchestra--string, brass, percussion and woodwind--was followed by demonstrations on how the various instruments are played.
"We have another instrument for you to try today and that's called a cello," said program chairwoman JoEllen Huegy. "Let's listen to how that sounds," she said as another volunteer played a recording of the instrument.
As the recording was played, the children pantomimed as if they were playing the instrument.
Huegy then brought out the viola. "I have to tell you something about the viola," she said. "This one only has three strings because the last class that got this presentation got a little rambunctious" and broke a string.
The volunteers then played a recording of "Carnival of the Animals," an orchestra piece by Saint-Saens. Some of the children stomped their feet to the music.
When the song was over the volunteers asked the children to guess which animal sounds they heard the instruments make in the song . "A bird," yelled one boy. "A dog," hollered another. "A bunny," said one girl. "A bunny?" asked one of the volunteers amid laughter.
After the presentation the children lined up to play the instruments.
Wanda Gwozdziowski, a Newport Beach resident and society member for 10 years, covered her ears and winced as a young boy began to bang on the snare drum. "I will be totally deaf after this," she said, laughing.
Gwozdziowski, whose mother was an opera singer in Poland, said she enjoys working with the children. "If you get a kid hooked and they become a musician, that's great."
At one corner of the room, four boys formed a small band made up of a glockenspiel, cymbals and bells. "Yeah, maybe we should form a band," one of the boys said.
Three years ago, as a precaution to the spread of communicable diseases, the volunteers stopped allowing the children to blow into the brass instruments. Jean Tandowsky, public relations director for the society, said volunteers used to wipe off the mouthpieces of the instruments with alcohol after each child played, but with the advent of AIDS they stopped playing those instruments altogether.
"It's a shame," she said, "because they used to love to play the brass instruments."
Mary Leva, who has been with the society for 17 years, said the opportunity to teach children about music gives her a lot of satisfaction. The program not only provides "a catalyst for children to take up an instrument," she said, but also provides a music program for schools that do not have programs.
Eric Elder, a blond 9-year-old, said he enjoyed the program. He, like most of the children, enjoyed the snare drum the most because "I just like the noise."
Melissa Blakely, a 9-year-old blond in ponytails, said she might someday want to play in an orchestra. "I don't know what instrument," she said, "but I would probably want to play something loud."
The Music Mobile is only one facet of the society's musical instruction program for children. Second-graders are taken to the Orange County Performing Arts Center to hear the Disneyland Band. Fourth-graders get in-school performances by professional musicians. Classical concerts featuring a youth orchestra are provided for fifth-graders, while sixth-graders receive interdisciplinary lectures and demonstrations describing nine periods of music history.