In June, more than 300 students of Dawes School in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood were visited by Vadim Karpinos and Oto Carrillo, two musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The lead-up to the visit reaches all the way back to September of last year, when Dawes music teacher Cale Piepenburg ordered the Orchestra Explorers “Pastoral Symphony” instructional materials for her classroom. Karpinos and Carrillo — or their cartoon representation — feature heavily throughout this edition of Orchestra Explorers.

It was the guided listening section in particular, in which the musicians talk students through musical concepts, that got Dawes kids especially interested in Vadim. At first, they were intrigued by his description of the timpani in the “Thunderstorm” passage of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Once the students became accustomed to his unusual accent, the grew curious about its origin, which led them beyond the music into geography, where they researched Karpinos’ country of birth, the Ukraine.
The students eventually decided to send handmade cards and letters to the musicians. According to Karpinos, “I was so moved by the beautiful cards and pictures that I wanted to come to their school to meet them, show them a variety of instruments and play some music,” a beautiful way of closing the loop, so to speak, on the Orchestra Explorers connection between musicians and students.

There are over 200 Chicagoland schools using the Orchestra Explorers materials, which are designed so that classroom teachers can slice and dice the lessons in whatever ways suit their classroom structure best, regardless of whether the teachers themselves have any musical training. CSO staffer Jon Weber, who oversees the Orchestra Explorers program, is thrilled by the response to these materials. “Orchestra Explorers was designed to offer broad access to learning about the exciting tradition of orchestral music. These materials are a great way for teachers with a variety of backgrounds — from kindergarten teachers to librarians to veteran music teachers — to introduce their students to the amazing musicians of the CSO. The ownership and creativity that they show by adapting our blueprint and resources to fit the unique needs of their students is particularly exciting.”

Orchestra Explorers materials are free for teachers in the Chicago metropolitan area and are available at a very low cost to teachers outside the region.