Mar. 21—The Aiken Symphony Orchestra is providing local public schools free educational videos about classical music with the "Concerts in Classrooms" project.
Featuring professional musicians who demonstrate their craft onscreen, the video series takes students through four periods of Western music: Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century. Students learn about a composer from each era as well as characteristics of the music from the time.
The series offers three levels of content for elementary, middle and high school students. The musicians, who include a violinist, an oboist, a cellist and a percussionist, play a selection of music from one of the four periods and provide information on their instruments.
The program began in February and will continue through May, with a new video in the series being released to the Aiken County School District each month.
The organization launched the Concerts in Classrooms project as a way to continue educational outreach in the community, said Deedee Vaughters, executive director of the Aiken Symphony Orchestra.
Vaughters said she wants children to have the opportunity to experience live music, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant the orchestra could not have its usual children's concert at the USC Aiken Etherredge Center.
"This was a way to ensure that we kept the outreach happening, that the music didn't stop just because of COVID," Vaughters said.
The production behind the Concerts in Classrooms project includes professional videography, lighting and sound from local company Meadows Media. Vaughters said each recording session took 6.5 to 7 hours.
"It kind of took on a life of its own ... I'm so very blessed to be a part of this and to watch its creation and see where it's going to go," Vaughters said.
Hosting the 25-minute videos is Dr. Nisan Ak, the educational outreach director on the project. She has worked with the Aiken Symphony Orchestra since 2016, and she wrote the scripts and coordinated the guest musicians for the series.
One of the goals of the videos is to help children become better listeners of classical music. Ak said even if a student finds that playing a musical instrument isn't something they enjoy, listening to classical music can help students improve their concentration and abstract thinking.
"It does develop the abstract brain, which makes you think better and faster and out-of-the-box," Ak said. "That's one of the main things that I like about listening to classical music. Your concentration gets not just deeper, but also better in time."
Feedback for the project has been overwhelmingly positive, said Ak and Vaughters.
"I'm so happy with all of the feedback," Ak said. "I am getting some emails from teachers, and then some of our patrons are emailing us."
Ak encountered music education from an early age. Born and raised in Turkey, her music lessons began when she was 5 or 6 years old. She was accepted into a conservatory by age 14.
"It was a little bit of an inspiration of just seeing music around me, and I wanted to learn and discover the instruments, but it was also a little bit of a push of my family," Ak said. "You know, because when you're young, yeah, you want a lot of things. I was also in gymnastics. But my parents were more supportive of classical music."
After completing her master's degree in New York, Ak moved south to earn her doctorate degree from the University of South Carolina.
"I really like South Carolina, so I want to stay and help the community as much as I can," Ak said.
Funding for Concerts in Classrooms was provided by sponsors Bank of America, Masters Automotive, CCNB, Bridgestone and the Aiken Symphony Guild.
Concerts in Classrooms won't be the last multimedia educational project from the Aiken Symphony Orchestra. Vaughters said as soon as pandemic conditions allow, the organization will offer in-person field trips as well as a virtual component for students in Aiken County.