DYNAMIC DUO GOES TO SCHOOL- The Coast Reporter February 23, 2007

Cellist Shauna Rolston and pianist Heather Schmidt of Toronto are about to face one of their toughest Coast audiences. They are unfazed by the pressure and continue to smile even though this will be their third concert in two days: on Sunday they performed for the Coast Recital Society’s (CRS) subscribers and Monday morning at Chatelech Secondary School. Now, they will appear before a wriggling mass of six to 12 year olds in the gym at the Roberts Creek Elementary School.

They are dressed for the occasion — Rolston in a tank top that says “I love cupcakes,” and Schmidt, in classical music black that shows a bit of denim on the leg. The two obviously love the interaction with young students. It could be because they both started music at a very early age themselves.

“I’ve been playing since I was two years old,” says Rolston, eliciting a gasp from the six year olds in the front row. “My mother played the piano and my father the violin, pointing at parent Tom Rolston who is in the audience.

The elder Rolston has spent a lifetime teaching and playing music at the illustrious Banff Centre. Already that day, he had recognized other musicians, now teaching at Chatelech, who studied under him.

Schmidt has been playing since age four and composing music since she was five. She will give the kids a selection of her own, Fantasy for Cello and Piano, a shimmery, ethereal piece she wrote with Rolston in mind. Later, the duo ask the children what they thought of the music, what images occurred to them. A bit scary and dark, was the general impression, although it also conjured up images of picnics and birds in flight for others.

The two mostly perform apart — Rolston as a soloist with various orchestras on a hectic touring schedule and Schmidt as a composer currently at Columbia University where she is writing background music for television. She has recently started composing for a documentary called Synchronicity, about paranormal phenomena. They started working together in 1998 when Schmidt was commissioned by the Harvard Musical Association to write a cello concerto for Rolston.

As soon as Frances Heinsheimer Wainwright, artistic director of CRS, booked them for a Sechelt concert, she knew they would be good candidates for the society’s Artists in the Community program. There’s no charge to the schools; CRS funds the outreach concerts by reselling unused series tickets and through CD sales. Arrangements are made through School District No. 46 to squeeze in a brief, local show that will offer kids the chance to hear artists of an international calibre.

“It’s so important that high school kids get that kind of exposure,” says Wainwright, who enjoyed the hour concert at Chatelech that morning.

She’s curious to see how the younger kids will respond.

“Does anyone play the cello?” asks Rolston, but only one hand goes up. “Does anyone play the violin? The piano?” Lots of hands go up. After a brief question period, Rolston launches into the vibrant Hungarian Rhapsody.

“You’ll feel like dancing on this one,” she tells the kids.

They take her at her word. Before too long, one smart tyke makes some disco moves to the lively music, then others follow suit with shimmies and hulas. Rolston seems not to mind this interaction, though afterwards, the kids are gently admonished by their teacher. They learn that there’s such a thing as respectful movement to music as opposed to goofy dancing that distracts others. Nonetheless, the dancing heightened the energy in the gym and the children will leave that day with the intense memory of a classical piece that could move them to dance.

It’s what the Artists in the Community program is all about.

- Jan Degrass, Arts & Entertainment Writer