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Classically Trained: A symphony to bring the dog to

August 16, 2010|By Bradley Zint

Bernadette Ceman, a soon-to-be junior at El Toro High School, was helping little ones hold and produce a sound on the flute. She looked like she was having fun recruiting a few burgeoning musicians for the future ranks of flutists.

"Playing flute is harder than it looks," she said. "People don't know that."

Anyone produce any notes? "Some!"

Practice makes perfect.

Four-year-old Bayani Reed of Lake Forest tried his skills with Ceman on the flute and also the trumpet. His dad watched, photographing the scene with his camera phone as Zack Zibits, who goes to Poly High in Long Beach, held up a trumpet for Reed to buzz in. There was no music that moment, but even Miles Davis started somewhere.


Mission Viejo's Katerina Stein, 4, looked sharp holding the violin. Though mom admitted she might've gotten just a little bit from dad, Rudy Stein, who happens to play cello for the Pacific Symphony.

Ending the playground fun time was Conducting 101 with St. Clair, whose assistants passed out batons to the future bandleaders of Orange County. Substituting for the standard wood or fiberglass sticks were multicolored straws equally capable of helping the orchestra keep the beat. An assistant beforehand asked the kids to name the varied pieces of wood and metal that make up an orchestra. My favorite response: "The big, fat drums!" "Those are timpani!"

Then St. Clair enthusiastically came into his class.

"Hold up your right hand," he proclaimed.

Up they went.

"Hold your baton in your right hand."

Right hands were now equipped.

"Up ... down," St. Clair motioned.

Up and down they went. Nice and slow.

But a bit too slow.

"Actually, the piece you're going to conduct goes about twice as fast as that," St. Clair announced. "Do you think you can do it?"

The group laughed at the sudden realization of tempo.

But the test came soon, as St. Clair's assistant played Strauss' "Thunder and Lightning" polka on a boombox. Up and down the straws went beneath the cloudless SoCal evening skies to music celebrating stormy weather. St. Clair led the group bouncing his pink straw up and down to the 19th-century beat.

St. Clair's students held on to their batons for the remainder of the evening until it was their big shot. The conductor motioned the children and accompanying parents to the front and center stage. They got ready.

Then off they went, a sea of straws amidst a flurry of notes from above. Some children, resting on the shoulders of dads, conducted and looked at the lit stage with bright enthusiasm, just trying to take it all in.

After their musical successes, St. Clair said the kids were lucky to hear a live orchestra at such a young age. The maestro, who grew up in as small a Texas town as they get, didn't hear an ensemble like the ones he would conduct until age 17.

Indeed, they were lucky.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at

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