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By Lucinda Breeding
Aldo  Alvarado, left and Mason de Leon, who are both majoring in music education at the University of North Texas, have volunteered their time with the North Texas Music Educators Association for the annual Instrument Petting Zoo from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.Photos by Tomas Gonzalez
Aldo Alvarado, left and Mason de Leon, who are both majoring in music education at the University of North Texas, have volunteered their time with the North Texas Music Educators Association for the annual Instrument Petting Zoo from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Photos by Tomas Gonzalez

Petting zoo at UNT to introduce close to 200 grade-schoolers to musical instruments

Professor Don Taylor and his students are bracing for the flood of little feet they expect will storm the University of North Texas College of Music Recital Hall on Saturday.

The annual musical instrument petting zoo usually brings in close to 200 children — grades two to five — and their parents to the college.

This year marks the 10th year that the College of Music has opened its doors for elementary school children to take in performances and then move from station to station, holding, inspecting and playing instruments from every section of a symphony — strings, brass, woodwind and percussion.

Taylor, a professor who teaches music education at UNT, said the free petting zoo will begin with performances by students — graduate woodwind and brass quintets, a graduate string quartet, and a percussion quartet made up of undergraduate students.

“They’ll all play quick and fun pieces that the children should like,” Taylor said.

Music education sophomores Mason de Leon and Aldo Alvarado and other students will be on hand to show children how the instruments work.

De Leon will show children how to handle and play the cello, and Alvarado will show children how to handle and play the trumpet.

Both students started studying their instruments in school.

“When I was 11 years old, I talked to my parents about how did we get here to me studying music ed, and when I was in sixth grade, I wanted to play guitar,” de Leon said. “But my parents said, ‘Why don’t you try the cello, because if you learn that it will translate to the guitar?’ And it did. I played jazz guitar for two years in high school.”

Alvarado was born in Houston but grew up in Mexico City. He admits that in middle school, he really wanted to play the saxophone.

“But at my school, they didn’t have enough [saxophones] for everyone who wanted them, so I literally pointed to the thing next to it and this was it,” he said, pointing to a trumpet.

De Leon and Alvarado said they’ll take their cues from the children who come through their stations.

“I’ll let them hold it however it’s comfortable for them,” Alvarado said of the trumpet. “And then I’ll build on that to help them be comfortable with it. When I work with kids, I don’t tell them to buzz on the mouthpiece, because then that sets them up to do things improperly. I just have them blow into the mouthpiece and hear what it sounds like.”

De Leon said he likes to see children react to making a sound on the cello.

“I love that — when you see on their face the shock and happiness when they produce something,” he said. “I still feel like that now, that shocked happiness when I do something I wasn’t sure I could do on the cello.”

Teaching young musicians is where Alvarado feels he does best.

“Some musicians are called to write and some musicians are called to perform,” Alvarado said. “Some musicians are called to teach. As a section leader in band when I was in high school, I liked that so much more than I did getting up and playing a solo.”

The petting zoo is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the UNT College of Music, 415 Ave. C.

The event is free, but registration is required. Register online at http://bit.ly/2cXTZ6j by Friday night.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.