More than 100 third graders sit on the floor of the North Star Elementary School cafeteria, watching the musicians on stage and listening carefully to the dynamics of the musical piece, their hands hanging at their sides, ready to move in an instant.
The sounds of a flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon fill the room, and as the melody gets louder, the third graders jump upright, placing their hands on their shoulders with the kind of enthusiasm only eight and nine year olds are capable of displaying.
All eyes and ears are on the University of Delaware's Graduate Woodwind Quintet, NOTU5, a group of five wind players who are performing a 30-minute concert for the students as part of a larger "mini-concert" series for 15 elementary schools in Delaware's Red Clay Consolidated School District during the month of April.
The ensemble's name is taken from what Aristotle referred to as the South Wind, NOTUS, with the number 5 replacing the "s" to represent the five members: Tara Rozanski on the flute, Ben Carithers on the oboe, Tierney O'Brien on the clarinet, Dan Rocha on the French horn and Nora McDonnell on the bassoon.
The quintet continues to play Gyorgy Ligeti's Six Bagatelles, and the kids move their hands in accordance with the dynamics of the music — touching their shoulders when the piece is played forte and their knees when the song is played soft, or piano.
"The performances expose kids to really fine music that they can relate to and to instruments they may have never seen or heard before," says Suzanne Burton, associate professor of music who leads Project MUSIC and helped create the mini-concert series for the quintet.
She was initially approached in January by Red Clay administrator and curriculum director Jeanne Qvarnstrom, who was looking for ways to expose students to musical instruments before they enter fourth grade, the year instrument lessons begin.
"I've got just the group," Burton told her.
Now and for the rest of the month, NOTU5 hopes to excite students about their musical choices and introduce them to woodwinds through performances, active listening activities and a discussion of their instruments.
When Daniel Rocha introduces the French horn, he explains how it differs from the other instruments on stage.
"I have to make a sound before I play the horn," he says, holding the microphone to his mouth as he makes a loud, silly-sounding "thhhhhhhpt" that has the kids erupting in a fit of giggles.
The group's next performance of movie music, which includes excerpts from the Harry Potter, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, is an audience favorite.
And the final piece, a showcase of how classical music influences contemporary pop tunes by transitioning three songs that share the same rhythm — Beethoven's 5th Symphony, Michael Jackson's Beat It and Taoi Cruz's contemporary pop hit Dynamite — has the kids singing out loud.
The quintet hopes to continue the concert series and expand it to more school districts next fall. If they do, they already have some musical requests.
"That was really cool," says a girl in the audience. "But next time, could you play some Justin Beiber?"