Four Kids 4 Harmony musicians to take part in a week-long intensive orchestral camp in California

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PITTSFIELD — Starting on Saturday, four local Kids 4 Harmony musicians will travel from the Berkshires to California to take part in a week-long intensive orchestral camp, culminating with a finale performance in downtown Los Angeles at the world-class Walt Disney Concert Hall. The internationally renowned Gustavo Dudamel, who usually directs the Sim n Bol var Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, will conduct their concert, as part of the National Take a Stand Festival.

But on Monday afternoon, despite the rigorous itinerary before them, Geivens Dextra, Hannah Beckington, Gerdlie Jean Louis and Gedrose Jean Louis, didn't seem to be sweating it. After all, they and their fellow musician have been traveling and performing together for the past five years.

On this particular afternoon, before taking a break from rehearsal at Morningside Community School, the students were rehearsing Robert Shumann's "Quintet," a piece in four movements, practiced here by eight students playing either violin, viola or cello. The other students, who are part of a summer rehearsal group, include Heather Cruz, Johan Serrano, Leila Paredes and Tianna Houle.

Asked to offer a comparison for what level of skill playing this requires, senior teaching artist Courtney Clark said, "I played this piece in college, when I was an undergrad. They're definitely learning college-level music."

The social service agency, Berkshire Children and Families, established Kids 4 Harmony in 2011, inspired by the evidence-based El Sistema program founded in Venezuela in 1975. The concept is giving kids, who wouldn't be able to otherwise, access to classical music instruments, instruction and performance opportunities, creating social change through empowerment. Clark has been with this particular group of young musicians since they began five years ago.

"As these kids get older and we're bringing in new students, they understand the importance of helping younger students. Mentorship is a big part of the program. The idea is that if they want to grow and lead, they have to give back," she said.

Gedrose Jean Louis, 13, and Heather Cruz, 12, became cello stand partners after Gedrose's previous partner moved away. The two have quickly fallen into stride, helping each other through the work.

Gedrose said she can't explain exactly why she's kept up with Kids 4 Harmony over the years, but says, "I just like that you can express yourself."

Gerdlie Jean Louis, and Leila Paredes, both 13-year-old violinists, can't agree whether the group is "like a family," as Paredes describes it, or just "a unique group," as Gerdlie prefers. They can agree that the group can both distract one another with silly, energetic banter, as they can motivate each other and "practice for hours and hours," Gerdlie said.

Both Paredes and Hannah Beckington, a 15-year-old viola player, said they were put up to joining the program through their mothers.

"But I'm very happy I was forced to, because I love it now," Paredes said.

Beckington agreed, and said, "I wonder where I'd be if I hadn't switched schools and joined this."

For her, going to the Take a Stand Festival is bittersweet; her family will be moving next year and this will be one of the last experiences she'll have with her friends and band mates.

"I'm just going to have to make the most of the time we have left," Beckington says.

This group, however, has infinite memories to take with them as they continue to grow as musicians and as young adults.

They've previously performed with the L.A. Youth Orchestra at a birthday celebration for Kitty Dukakis, the wife of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. They've gone to The Clark Art Institute to perform music they've written with one of their current teaching artists, Sean Elligers. They've also played multiple El Sistema showcases at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre.

Next up, they'll play the full Shumann work at the Kids 4 Harmony Summer Gala Concert with guest conductor Emanuel Ax at Berkshire Community College's Boland Theatre on July 31.

Asked what it sounds like when he's in a room as part of an orchestra with other El Sistema students from across the state or the country, Geivens Dextra, an 11-year-old violinist said, "it sounds like I have more work to do. I'm always trying to do my best."

He said, "Our teachers are really hard-working and make us do our best in our playing."

Fifteen-year-old viola player, Johan Serrano, said it's motivating to be able to share what they've learned across so many stages.

"We've known each other for so long, it's like we know how good we are and how performing gives us a lot of experience," he said. "Bringing us out to the world is important, it's a good opportunity."

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