When placed in the hands of a beginner, the violin has the capacity to make listeners cringe and wish they had earplugs.
But when the Ituah siblings of Kenner confidently run their bows across their violins’ four strings, even simple tunes such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” rise to another level. In the young trio’s hands, the jerky childhood song is played in three-part harmony, and is transformed into a majestic and mesmerizing piece of classical music.
“Playing the violin calms me down any time I’m bored – it’s just something that soothes your soul,” said sixth grader Damose Ituah, who with his sister Muosekalo, a fifth grader, and brother Jesuogie, a third grader, are violin virtuosos who attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Kenner.
“Every time I play I have flashbacks of the first time I picked up the violin,” said Damose, 11. “Music is very emotional to me. It is a kind of like a meditation.”
The sibling violinists recently spent their Mardi Gras break in Oxford, England, taking lessons from one of the world’s foremost violin and viola instructors, 93-year-old Kato Havas.
“Ms. Havas taught us to think of the violin as a person,” Damose said. “For example, where your fingers are placed is the neckof the violin. You don’t want anyone squeezing your neck, so you grip (the strings) loosely. Everything should move over the neck fluidly and softly.”
Muosekalo, 10, said Havas also helped them with their musicianship, reminding them to look at their audience, and not at their fingers, as they played violin.
“Ms. Havas helped me to smile,” Muosekalo said. “It doesn’t matter if you mess up; it only matters that you like your audience and that the audience cares about what you are playing. The violin is like your partner. You work with it, kind of like it’s your best friend.”
Damose, the eldest of the siblings, took up the violin when his parents, natives of the African nation of Nigeria, temporarily moved the family to Madison, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina. The public school he attended that year offered a string program for any student with an interest in taking lessons during his or her free period.
It didn’t take long for Muosekalo and Jesuogie to catch the bug. The Ituah children currently put in about 12 hours of private and group violin practice each week. They also play an impressive repertoire at home with their piano-playing mother, a doctor, and their father, a petroleum engineer who likes to sing.
The gifted Ituah siblings also have earned “Gold Cup” standing as members of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra and the Suzuki Forum, the latter founded by their local violin teacher, Kathleen Tyree.
“If the (sheet) music says ‘lively,’ you have to play it lively and smile; if it says ‘sad,’ you have to kind of put on a frown,” explained Muosekalo, noting that her favorite part of playing a piece is playing it precisely the way the composer intended.
“I am always thinking about how the music feels – to see if it’s boring or it amazes people (in the audience),” she said.
Damose also tries to visualize what the composer is trying to communicate through the art of music.
“If you’re playing a minuet, it’s a dance – so you have to play it calmly, smoothly, and not jump too fast between the notes,” he said.
In addition to violin, each Ituah child plays the piano. Damose, who aspires to be a doctor specializing in relieving the joint pain commonly encountered by musicians, also plays the cello; Muosekalo plays guitar and wants to be “a lawyer or the president of the United States”; and Jesuogie plays guitar and hopes to be a doctor and an inventor.
“Playing together has made us very close,” Damose said. “It’s just a lot of fun!”
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