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Folk Singer Leaves Musical Trail in Beach Elementary Schools

by Laine Mednick Rutherford

Johnny Appleseed made his way across parts of the United States, telling stories, planting seeds and teaching children about the fruit he loved. Bob Zentz is following in Appleseed's famous footsteps, but his path is taking him through local elementary schools. His is not teaching about apples, rather he is showing children that the fruits of their labors can produce incredible music. Homemade music is the theme of Zentz' lessons.

Well known locally as a folk musician and teacher, Zentz has been spending up to two weeks at various schools as a PTA Artist-in-Residence. For the past two weeks, he has been at Bayside Elementary, repeating the lessons he has already given at Linkhorn Park and Trantwood.

For several classroom periods normally reserved for the art teacher, Zentz instructs the children in the construction of a working instrument. He also relates the cultural background of folk music, places around the world where different instruments are played, discusses variations of rhythms and teaches songs the children can sing and play. In other words, he is covering history, geography, music and art in the span of a couple of hours.

Zentz likes to think that he is ``lighting the spark that gets people to think creatively.'' To that end, he has decided to take things that can easily be turned into instruments, give them to children and let them see and hear the sounds that can come from something as basic as, for example, a pair of plastic spoons.

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, in the portable classroom that is typically reserved for art, not music, at Trantwood Elementary, Kathy DiNardo's first-grade class sat gathered at Zentz's feet. Each child clutched a pair of spoons and listened to Zentz' instructions.

``I don't understand,'' piped up a small voice from within the group assembled on the floor as they all started to play.

``Stop the music,'' bellowed Zentz, having to speak loudly over the volume of the plastic. ``What don't you understand?'' he asked the child. ``I don't get how to hold them,'' the boy answered back. Zentz patiently demonstrated the technique again, and began another lesson on rhythms.

After their hour with Zentz was up, the children were guided out of the classroom and another class entered. He began again, instructing a new group of children in the making and playing of their unique instruments. By the end of two weeks, Zentz had sat in front of hundreds of children, attempting to teach them something new about music, and, if nothing else, sending them home with a piece of artwork that could be strummed, blown, spun, or hit to create sounds.

With his help, Virginia Beach now has elementary school orchestras consisting of, among other instruments: rattle drums made out of pie tins, dowels and beads; ``kazoobapones'' constructed from PVC pipe, tubing and funnels; and mouth harps assembled out of yard sticks, guitar strings and tin cans. At each school, Zentz concludes the two week session with a Friday night ``Jamboree,'' where all of the students at the school bring their instruments, sit on the auditorium floor picnic-style, and perform with Zentz for friends and relatives.

Lorraine Turner, Trantwood's art teacher, along with PTA volunteers, helped keep the children on track during Zentz's two week classes. ``They have really enjoyed Bob Zentz,'' said Turner. ``He has done a lot with different cultures, combining music and art. I think it is a really good blend.''


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