By Tom Corrigan
All this week, at a clip of about 170 per day, youth from around Portsmouth and, in at least one case, well beyond, have been learning all about classical music and instruments, ranging from piano and organ to hand chimes, violins and, of course, the storied boomwhacker.
This year marks the 45th annual Dorothy Knost Children’s Summer Music Workshop, held this year as it has been annually since the early 1990s, at Cornerstone United Methodist Church. Cornerstone music director Becky Climer said early versions of the Knost workshops began in 1973 and mostly were aimed at students of the very well-known local piano teacher.
“She and her husband were very popular musicians in the area,” Climer said, adding they played at many churches around Portsmouth. “Dorothy was a very well respected piano instructor.”
The workshop last year offered 14 classes in things ranging from piano to guitar and voice. Each child chose two classes to take throughout the week.
“They definitely get a musical experience that they wouldn’t get somewhere else,” said Amy Howard , a co-director of last year’s s workshop who spoke to the Daily Times in June 2017. “They get to try out instruments without actually having to sign up for lessons or pay for lessons, they get a taste of different kinds of instruments, and singing.”
“It’s just amazingly popular,” Climer said regarding the workshops. She talked about one student, apparently the grandchild of a local, who was visiting Portsmouth from Wisconsin.
Returning to the history of the workshops, as their popularity grew, Climer said Knost began to open the sessions to children other than her students. She had only two rules, which despite the growth of the workshops, remain in effect today. The first rule is no child ever pays for a workshop. The second rule is instructors are not paid but must work as volunteers. Climer said organizers do pay performers to visit the workshops, such as Portsmouth native Matt Bickett, who played and discussed Cornerstone’s church organ for his young audience.
Now a musical performance (and theology) student at Oberlin College, Bickett once sat in the audience of a Knost workshop himself. A winner of prestigious national organ competitions, who has won scholarships to study organ and music in Europe this summer, Bickett has credited the Knost workshops with helping to inspire what has become his lifelong devotion to music.
Not only do the children get to try out the instruments and singing for themselves, they also are introduced to attending music performances.
“They learn how to behave during performances,” Climer said. “It’s not like being at a baseball game.”
Besides Bickett, performers at this year’s workshop included the Rose Mountain
Ramblers, who perform Celtic and folk music; the Portsmouth Ringers, a hand bell choir; and, artists from the Portsmouth Area Arts Council Children’s Theater, who performed outtakes from recent shows.
The Knost workshop runs through today and culminates in a 6:30 p.m. performance at Cornerstone by workshop students. While it is intended mostly for parents, the event is open to the public.
Somewhat incidentally, if you’re wondering about those boomwhackers referred to earlier, Climer said they are very similar to PCV pipe, but thinner and, believe it or not, they can be tuned based on the thickness and length of the individual pipes. Children “play” boomwhackers by banging them on the floor. The man who invented them came up with the idea after watching his children play with cardboard tubes, such as from wrapping paper, according to Climer.
“The guy’s a millionaire, seriously,” said Cornerstone’s musical director.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101