published Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Beginning on a good note: CCA musicians perform morning concerts for Rivermont students (with video)

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    Elaina Wood, a senior at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, shows her harp to Jamari Jackson, 10, after a weekly performance for the students of Rivermont Elementary School after a morning performance.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
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    Elaina Wood, left, and Isaiah Pennington set up for a performance.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
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    Isaiah Daniel, 9, listens during the morning music performance.
    Photo by Maura Friedman.
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Diamond Hayes sits among her schoolmates at Rivermont Elementary School, engrossed in the sounds.

Before classes begin at 8 a.m., Elaina Wood and Isaiah Pennington, two seniors from Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, are in one of Rivermont's hallways, playing Christmas carols on harp and cello.

Set up in a corner, the duo face about 50 youngsters sitting quietly down two hallways, listening intently.

"I love how they play and how slow and smooth it is," says Diamond, a fifth-grader. "They really like to play. It's very exciting."

The pair have been performing for the early arrivals every other week since the school year began. Wood came up with the idea after hearing that many Rivermont students are enrolled in the Hamilton Country School Nutrition Program and arrive early for breakfast. She decided to enlist fellow CCA musicians to provide entertainment, and perhaps a little music education for the school, where about 84 percent of the students qualify for free meals.

In addition to performing, they answer questions and sometimes let the students try their hand on the instruments. Depending on who they can entice, Wood and Pennington sometimes bring a string quartet or woodwinds with them; sometimes it's just the two of them.

"We both have such a great opportunity with the music in our lives, and we saw that the school didn't have a very good music program so we thought we should just help out," Wood says.

"I get to play music at least three hours everyday at school," Pennington says, "and I don't think that's an experience everybody gets to have."

Rivermont music teacher Phyllis Finney says the students -- and the teachers -- have come to love having the CCA kids perform. The students get to see and hear what each instrument looks and sounds like, she says, and they are impressed that someone not much older than they are can learn to play them.

"It's wonderful," she says. "These musicians bring instruments that my kids don't normally get to hear. They get to see and hear members of the string family and woodwinds live and not on a CD or a video."

Earlier in the year, Finney gave her students an assignment to write an essay about the concerts and Hayes and fellow fifth-grader Zoey Brown were singled out for their pieces.

In Zoey's essay, she noted that Wood and Pennington "were so talented" and "I had so many question my brain was about to explode." She wanted to know, for example, how they learned to play at such a young age and what their experiences were like while they were learning.

After the show last week, Jamari Jackson, another fifth-grader, was brave enough to approach Wood to ask if he could touch her harp. She sat him down and showed him how to pluck the strings.

"I wanted to see what it felt like," he says. "I really like it and they sound good."

Wood and Pennington have been busking on the sidewalks of downtown Chattanooga, making a little money over the past several weeks. On Friday, they presented Finney with a $175 check for the Rivermont music program.

"It will be so nice to be able to buy things," Finney says.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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