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“My Shot” Behind the Scenes

Kidznotes is deeply rooted in the core values of El Sistema, an organization that affects social change through music for children with the fewest resources and the greatest need. By association, we are passionately charged to uphold equity, empowerment, excellence, impact, sustainability, joy, and community in everything we do.

The Kidznotes mission is best seen in action when we provide equitable educational opportunities to our students that go beyond the classroom. The “My Shot” project gave our kids the chance to participate in ensemble music which in turn provided them with the space to be an asset within their community. When it comes down to it, there is no better word to describe this project than community.

Kidznotes Teaching Artist, Sara Maria Blanton, shared her perspective on the project and explained the process of making this idea a reality.

Q. How was the idea of this performance conceived?

A. We started working on this piece in January, 2019. My co-teacher at the time, Alison Konopka, received the music and suggested that we introduce it to the Copland Symphony. The kids fell in love with it! It was definitely a challenge and growth piece as most of the students were playing Grade 2 music and this was definitely a hard Grade 2, so it pushed them. When we came back in the fall after the COVID shutdown, my main goal was to get to know the new students in class and incorporate them into the culture the kids had already created. By the second semester, the kids meshed well but were also definitely dealing with pandemic fatigue. I wanted to choose a project that would inspire them and get them excited about music, while also finding a way to partner with other Kidznotes classes. The students had been asking to go back to “My Shot”, but I was hesitant because it is rhythmically and logistically challenging. I decided we just needed to go for it. My Intermediate Violin I and II students and Jacob Hermsen’s Intermediate Viola I and II students collaborated and we were able to create a work of art through video and audio recording.

Q. What was it like rehearsing during a pandemic?

A. It was definitely challenging to rehearse a piece like this primarily on Zoom because we all play different parts. I recorded myself playing the individual parts and emailed it to the students so they could have a practice track. Then on Zoom, we would do anything from breakout rooms, to practicing with the YouTube recording, to having individual students play while everyone else played along while muted. This process forced me to be creative, so I implemented “office hours” where kids would drop in anytime the hour before class to get some one-on-one help. I loved that time because I was able to build some super fun relationships with kids that I otherwise would not have worked with as much.

Children playing string instruments as an orchestra, outdoors

Q. What was it like to bring the Raleigh and Durham Nucleos together?

A. In the early days of planning, I knew we would need at least 1 or 2 in-person rehearsals before we recorded. We also knew it would need to be outside to keep students, teachers, and families as safe as possible. Our first rehearsal was at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. Jacob and I were hoping to get 20 students to the rehearsal, and as I pulled up I saw a swarming hoard of kids and families. It was such a rush of joy to see kids in person that I hadn’t seen in over a year. I couldn’t believe how tall some of them had gotten! We warmed up on open strings, and hearing all of the students play together in person made all the challenges of the year disappear. Most of the families stayed and set up chairs and listened and clapped for the kids throughout the whole rehearsal. Our second rehearsal was in Durham and we had just as many kids show up. That was also the first time we had Gladys rap. Having her there was such a good motivation for the kids to see the piece really shaping into something they would record.

A boy singing at a mike, accompanied by a cello player and a violin player.

Q. How many students were involved?

A. Over 40 kids were a part of this project! I could tell stories about every single one of these kids. Whether it was Elba adding in her newly learned vibrations, Aubrey leading the first violins, or the entire viola section calling Gladys “lil’ Gladys”.

A children's orchestra playing stringed instruments in front of a row trees.

Q. What was it like to have the parents involved in this project, especially considering those who came from Raleigh to participate?

A. Having the parents listen to the kids, applaud, and cheer them on during rehearsals made a huge difference and encouraged the students so much. I also love, love, love having parents in rehearsals because they get a sense for our class culture and what the kids are working on, and I get a chance to tell them how amazing their children are.

People are filming the show from a porch. One person appears to be following along with the music.

We could not be more joyful about the experience we were able to provide for our students and the beautiful outcome of the “My Shot” project. None of this would have been possible without the support of our students’ parents and guardians, our Teaching Artists, or our grantors, United Arts Council, North Carolina Arts Council, and Durham Arts Council. Each and every one of them had a direct impact on the lives of our students in such a positive way.

A children's orchestra plays on top of a deck in the middle of a park.

Video Team: 36 North (

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