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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Sarah Hanks wanted to perform in an orchestra, but, she told us recently, something kept pulling her toward kids. Last year, fresh out of Florida State, she landed her first assignment--teaching sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade orchestra at KIPP Academy in Washington, DC. We stopped by Hanks' class to ask about her first year on the job.

Ms. SARAH HANKS (Teacher, KIPP Academy): Get out "Can Can #92." For the concert, guys, make sure, cello and bass, you're playing the harmony. You're playing the B line. Violins and violas, what are you playing?

Group of Pupils: (In unison) A or B.

Ms. HANKS: A or B. Everyone together...

(Soundbite of metronome)

Ms. HANKS: ...two and down bow and...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HANKS: They're just starting to play orchestra arrangements. They get very confused. A violin will look at a viola sitting next to him and say, `Ms. Hanks, they're messing up. They're playing the wrong part,' and then I have to say, `No, they're playing their part. You're playing your part. It's different but it fits together. You focus on your stand partner and you listen to your own section around you, and in the background, you fit in with everyone else.'

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HANKS: Again, and down...

I'll start out with the most difficult day. It was about three days before our Christmas concert, during my last class period of the day, and with all the stress of getting ready for my first concert with these kids, a cello got knocked over. It got broken beyond--it was totaled. And so I was a cello short, the concert was in three days. I went home in tears. I had to take the cello up to the repair shop, and then, since it was beyond repair, had to get a brand-new cello right away in order for every child to be able to perform at the concert. And my initial thought was, well, the child who broke that cello won't be playing it, but then I quickly thought well, no, they deserve to play at the Christmas concert. They've been preparing for it. So got another cello, got it all fixed and ready to go. And that was a tearful day, running in to the administration and crying and wanting to go home and thinking that I had just about had it, so...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HANKS: Concert rest, as if this is the concert, so there's an audience in front of us. Don't wave to your mom and dad. Tammy, I'm waiting for you.

I would say at first it was definitely not what I expected. I expected a lot more enthusiasm at the beginning from the kids. They got discouraged pretty easily about how difficult it is to play a string instrument. But the best days far outweighed the tough ones. Just a couple months into the school year, maybe in November, one of my sixth-grade boys--he'd been playing the violin for two months, and I was--I tune the entire orchestra. It takes about three minutes to tune them. I turn on the tuner, I walk around and I tune their instruments individually. And when I got to him, he told me that his instrument was already tuned. Well, this is impossible, because they get out of tune every day. I have to--they're always--you know, that's just how string instruments are. They've got to be retuned every day. And he said he tuned it.

I checked it, and it was perfectly in tune. And I asked him how he checked it, and he said, `I just listened. I just checked it.' And I thought this child must have perfect pitch. And it was just so amazing to me to see that after two months of a little music education--it's obviously not something I taught him. It's something he had all along, was this ability to just listen and fix, and it was just absolutely amazing to me. And he is currently one of my best little violinists in the sixth-grade orchestra, and he's just really excelled and his classmates look up to him and he's just--he's going to be great. So it was just amazing, so...

(Soundbite of metronome)

Ms. HANKS: ...two, say it, G...

Group of Pupils: (Singing) G, A, B, C, D...

Ms. HANKS: So much better! D, F, G...

LUDDEN: Sarah Hanks, reflecting on her first year teaching at KIPP Academy in Washington, DC. There are pictures of her orchestra class at our Web site, npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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