Silk Road Leads to Madison Elementary School

Members of the Silk Road Ensemble, a project of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, performed with students at Madison Elementary, a Turnaround Arts school.

Members of the Silk Road Ensemble, a project of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, performed with students at Madison Elementary, a Turnaround Arts school.

They turned school inside out Wednesday afternoon at Madison Elementary School.

An assembly in the courtyard behind the school with guests of honor hailing from Spain and Japan was really a concert featuring some brand new musicians playing brand new instruments they’ve been practicing on since the Des Moines Public Schools Foundation donated them in February.

Madison was excited to welcome Cristina Pato, from Spain, and Kojiro Umezaki, who grew up in Tokyo. They represent the Grammy-nominated Silk Road Ensemble, a nonprofit creation of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma that includes members from 20 different countries, and were here on behalf of Turnaround Arts, an initiative created by the Presidential Committee on the Arts and the Humanities that has established a stronghold in the Northside feeder pattern of DMPS.

Pato and Umezaki spent the day at Madison and made themselves right at home, sitting in on band and orchestra rehearsals in the morning, joining in on a playground dancing game at lunchtime and generally making new friends by the minute. Umezaki introduced himself to students as “Ko,” signing autographs in Japanese characters. Pato posed for pic after pic, subbing “jalapeno” or “quesadilla” for the traditional “cheese” as a smile cue.

When the band struck up in the shade of a pine tree to begin the concert on a picture perfect day, Ko sat in with the woodwinds on a bamboo flute called a shakuhachi.

With director William Beyer on the slide trombone and new horns flashing, the band rolled through a set including “March of the Romans,” “Skeletons in the Closet,” and “Let’s Go Band” before giving way to the school orchestra led by Cynthia Prior. “Twinkle, Twinkle” was a fitting opener, given all the little stars out shining in the middle of the day like so many mini-suns. “Shark Attack” was a crowd favorite with Pato chiming in on a well-timed tambourine and leading the crowd of lower graders in choral shrieks.

Then Ko and Pato teamed up for a duet, she on the bagpipes, her instrument of choice. How did a Spanish girl end up a bagpiper of all things? “Oh, that’s a very long, interesting story, Mister,” she said with a mischievous grin.

The whole scene was a perfectly grand finale for the almost over school year and it might have gone on and on had a fleet of yellow buses not pulled up and ruined everything. 5th grader Brooklyn Gruber blew a blast on her shiny trumpet that got the tether balls whirling round their poles. It sounded like the order of a bull elephant for the herd to scatter and just like that, it did.

Except for the musicians who stayed after school to jam with their new pals from Spain and Japan.

Photos of Silk Road Ensemble at Madison Elementary School

Published on