They wanted to know how long I’ve played, how many guitars I’ve played, what other instruments I’ve played, and how long it takes to “play guitar perfectly.” They were curious how much money one can make with the guitar, and if you can learn guitar in college. One girl was curious about our programs in the foster care system, and wanted to know if we had any programs in Ohio (the teacher introducing me had mentioned we work in foster homes).

One boy said he’d brought his guitar and wanted to know if I could stay and teach him something over recess. Another girl asked if I would pray for her grandmother who is ill. That caused another girl to remember being held in a sling by her grandmother, who is no longer living, when she was very small while her “gran” would play guitar for her. Another girl wanted to know if playing the guitar is soothing when you’re upset, because she’d heard that it is.

I had just finished performing for Cedar Elementary School in Canton, Ohio as part of the String Festival here. I knew I’d be playing for a group of fourth and fifth graders, and I woke up this morning wondering what I might play for them. These days I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of storytelling in music, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to play them a series of pieces and have them make up a story as we went along. I started with Evocación by Jose Luis Merlin—a slow, beautiful, and brief piece—and then I asked them who would like to start our story. Five hands went up, and one boy said it sounded sad, and another boy said it sounded like a guy had lost his true love, that she had left, and that he was sad.

And we were off! After each new part of the story, I asked them to tell me if the next section should be fast or slow, happy or sad, and I did my best to come up with selections matching their requests. Sometimes in the middle of a piece, when the students’ enthusiastically wiggling hands reached critical mass, I would pause to collect more parts of the emerging story.

Here is my best compilation of the story these students came up with. Along the way we got many divergent ideas, many of which I’m sure I won’t recall. But here’s my version!

Music and Love: an International Action Adventure
By the students of Cedar Elementary School in Canton, Ohio.

[Evocación, by Jose Luis Merlin]
They met and fell in love. Everything was great. But then she left. He didn’t know why, but he knew he was sad, and he knew he had to find her.

[Joropo, by Jose Luis Merlin]
He got the in car and started driving. He couldn’t find her anywhere. He asked people in town where she might be, and they were super helpful! They had seen her, and they pointed him in the right direction.

[Tango en Skai, by Roland Dyens]
Driving down a side street, he just got “one of those feelings,” and decided to stop. Before getting out of the car, he remembered he had her cell phone number! So he tried calling her up, but she didn’t’ answer. So instead he went to the door and found her waiting inside.

He was so excited! Until he learned that he’d found her twin sister instead. His twin sister explained that her sister, his girlfriend, had gone to Italy.

[Etude No. 1, by Giulio Regondi]
He and his girlfriend’s twin sister went to Italy. They were able to arrange this easily because he was, in fact, a secret agent with crazy skills and important connections. Ah Italy! In their search for his girlfriend, the beauty and romance of Italy almost caused a little spark between he and the twin. But that just didn’t seem right. Eventually, they found his girlfriend.

[Sunburst, by Andrew York]
He was reunited with his true love! But just as they were approaching one another, she was kidnapped. This was such a traumatic experience that the manner in which she was actually kidnapped became the source of quite a debate between he and the twin in later years. They cannot agree to this day if she was snatched and placed on a jet, if a helicopter came by and whisked her away from him, or if some nasty guy swung by on a vine like Tarzan and carried her away.

Their memory is totally unified, however, about other key details. There was definitely an evil mastermind behind the whole thing. She definitely ended up in a speeding car that flew over the edge of a cliff, and our hero most assuredly saved her from certain death in an airplane flying by at precisely the right time.

[Fantasia, by Silvius Leopold Weiss]
Bandits! Just when they thought they were out of the woods, they were accosted by evil bandits. He was fighting them off valiantly when he was surprised to learn that his girlfriend (we think the twin lingered back in Italy) had some mad fighting skills too. Together they were able to eliminate the enemy and decided to fly to…Texas!  That’s right, Texas!

[Julia Florida, Agustín Barrios Mangoré]
Some baddies were still hanging around in Texas. As they continued to fight for their safety and their future together, it was revealed that she, too, was a secret agent.

They fell in love all over again, got married, and moved to an island where they admired the beautiful sunset every night happily ever after.

The End


My deepest thanks to the organizers of String, the incredible staff at Cedar Elementary School, and the amazing, brilliant, creative kids I met who took this wild journey with me for an hour or so this morning.

Cedar Elementary Cropped
Deep in our creative brainstorming session.