Jones Middle School general music and choir classes joined together for two days last week to experience musical improvisation, led by two local musicians.

Jones Middle School general music and choir classes joined together for two days last week to experience musical improvisation, led by two local musicians.

Pete Vogel, owner of Stay-At-Home Lessons for the past nine years, and John Bolzenius, owner of the Guitar House Workshop on Chambers Road and a member of the a cappella group Throat Culture, focused their classes on the emotional fundamentals of music.

Choir director Katie Widing said she hoped to help students get past their natural reservations.

"In middle school, students are concerned about not making mistakes," Widing said. "The changing voice is a challenge for the boys, but the girls go through that as well. They go from a breathy tone to a more full tone. It's working with that and finding where they're comfortable and being willing to take risks.

"What I do is try to create an environment that is safe, where they can explore and experiment and risk. It's through those risks that you can succeed and find your voice and really make music," she said.

Vogel and Bolzenius led six classes each on Thursday and Friday. They built the core around "Over the Rainbow," which Vogel said was an ideal choice because it has been re-popularized recently on television and radio, giving the kids a chance to see a historical perspective and how music can be adapted to new purposes.

"We wanted a classic song that everyone would appreciate but also give a perspective of how the original composition differs so much from the current composition," Vogel said. "The kids are more familiar with the current composition because it has been on TV and commercials and whatnot.

If we could share the change in feel from the first piece to the last piece," he said, "we could share how all music can be done that way, you can make your own interpretation of it."

Vogel, who was a corporate trainer before starting his music business, said one of the keys to keeping people's attention is to enable them to relate the new experience to their own familiar experiences.

"The attention span of an eighth-grader is far different than the attention span of an adult," Vogel said "You have to keep in mind that maybe every 20, 30 seconds they might tune you out, so you ask their opinion, relate something from their past.

"When 'The Wizard of Oz' first came out in 1939, things were black and white, and this was the first color movie the public had ever been exposed to," he said. "Imagine the audience reaction when Dorothy opens up that door and there's color, you know? So I made the correlation about how they felt when they watched 'Avatar' for the first time, and their faces just lit up. They made that connection. You give them something they can really chew on."

Bolzenius said the nature of improv is that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

"I learned this about the second or third class we did," he said. "We weren't sure how it was going to fly. I figured if I could center myself, create a groove in my mind, that's exactly what I do," Bolzenius said. "I close my eyes, I stand there, I shuffle my feet a little bit, feel the rhythm, start some vocal percussion. It usually starts off a little more sparse, until I find the groove that I'm kind of looking for and it feels right.

"Every class is different," he said. "There isn't a formula. There can't be in improv. You have to be open to it, because it's a scary place. You can fall flat on your face. And sometimes classes are more open to it than other times."

"We live in a generation where we put so much emphasis on the pop star, with 'American Idol' and Youtube," Vogel said. "Somehow we've lost a little bit of touch with what music is really about. It's about expressing your emotions. The privacy and solitude of our existence.

"We wanted to try to introduce music as more than a way to make money, more than a way to be seen and noticed, to get back to the fundamentals of it," he said.