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Four Score : A String Quartet of Valley Teens Plays for President Clinton

July 24, 1996|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Woodland Hills teenagers Colin and Corinne Chow have been playing the violin since they were old enough to walk.

Back then, their "violins" were rulers attached to Cracker Jack boxes with wooden pencils for bows--makeshift toys to practice finger positioning.

Monday night, with better-sounding instruments, the teenagers played as part of a string quartet at a Century City reception for the president of the United States.

What a difference a few thousand lessons make.

"It was really fun," said Corinne, 16. "I don't think any of us really realized the magnitude of it at the time. It didn't hit us until afterward that we had played for the president."

In addition to Corinne, the quartet includes brother Colin, 19, who has switched from the violin to the viola; Wesley Fung, 18, of Encino on violin, and Christine Lord, 17, also from Encino on the cello.

With the help of Christine's mother, a Democratic Party volunteer, the four were selected to provide the entertainment for President Clinton's $1,000-a-plate reelection fund-raiser at the Century Plaza Hotel. Although the young musicians had never played together before in public, two weeks of diligent practice enabled the Celestial String Quartet to put together a 40-minute performance including Mendelssohn's "Second String Quartet," Mozart's "Eine-Kleine Nachtmusik" and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

Clinton himself stopped by to thank the four teenagers and chat briefly.

"I thought he was very nice," Christine said. "It was a very exciting moment for all of us."

Despite the foursome's short history as an ensemble, every member has had years of classical training to prepare for the big moment.

The four first crossed paths at the Mirman School in Bel-Air, a private academy that requires an IQ of at least 145 to be considered for admission. Meanwhile, they also studied with instructors from the prestigious Suzuki Music Program of Los Angeles in Sherman Oaks.

The school teaches flute, cello, piano, viola and violin through progressive steps in which students, beginning at age 3, learn music the same way they learn to speak: by listening. As the program progresses, the children learn to read music, eventually polishing a broad repertoire of pieces.

Was it ever too much? "Sure, there were times you got bored," said Corinne, who will join her brother at Yale University this fall. But experiences like Monday's are a handsome payoff, she said.

At the Century Plaza, the quartet played two sets, one in the reception area and later before the assembled guests.

"We were nervous but had enough practice," said Fung. "We knew we would play well."

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