Roderick Ferguson, director of The Musical Offering, says he is serious about educating kids about music.

For the past six years, he has been working with Oakton Elementary School to bring music performances and individual lessons to kids at the school who would otherwise not have a chance to experience a broad spectrum of musical genres.

Mr. Ferguson says, “A lot of those families are families that can’t afford regular music lessons. The kids wouldn’t have easy or regular access to music performances – especially world and classical music. I chose Oakton because it’s a neighborhood school. The Musical Offering [436 Custer Ave.] is near Oakton, and I even live near Oakton, so I’m invested in the community in that way.”

Mr. Ferguson and The Musical Offering became involved with the Oakton Elementary music program in 2003. Mr. Ferguson says, “I approached the principal at Oakton, as well as the music teacher, and asked if I could come in and present music performances for a year, on a monthly basis, and they were totally psyched – totally open to it.”

Since that meeting, Mr. Ferguson has gone to Oakton Elementary before the start of every academic year to meet with the music teacher there to discuss the school year’s music curriculum. Based on that curriculum, Mr. Ferguson says he then arranges music performances at the school that will coincide with what the kids are learning in their music class.

This year marks the sixth year that Mr. Ferguson and The Musical Offering are working with Oakton Elementary School. While The Musical Offering has been involved with Oakton Elementary for some time, this is the first year that music performances have also been held at both Dawes and Washington Elementary schools. Performances were held at Dawes Elementary on Oct. 6 and at Oakton Elementary on Oct. 8; the Washington Elementary School concert was scheduled for today, Oct. 15. They were funded by a grant from the Evanston Arts Council, and introduced Latin American music to the kids in District 65.

The Dawes Elementary performance was overseen by Elbio Barilari, who is a composer, writer, performer and associate of the multi-national Ondas Ensemble. Mr. Barilari introduced each piece and told the kids what part of the world it came from, including Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

Mr. Barilari also related one of the things that made him want to become a musician. He said, during the introduction of a piece from Argentina, “I loved this piece when I was your age and decided that I was going to be a musician.”

After the introduction, the pieces were performed by four members of the Ondas Ensemble. The ensemble has, according to their website, three “core” members: flutist Julie Koidin, clarinetist Wagner Campos, and Mr. Ferguson, who plays piano.

Ms. Koidin performed at Dawes alongside clarinet player Donald Jacobs, and violinist Victoria Moreira.

Between pieces, the members of the Ensemble took a moment to introduce their instruments to the children, explaining how the instruments work and how the members came to play each instrument. During his discussion of the clarinet, Mr. Jacobs revealed that he himself had attended Dawes Elementary, and that is where he began playing the clarinet.

After the performance, Mr. Barilari gave the students an opportunity to ask questions.

The kids quickly raised their hands, but not to ask questions – they commented that they, too, played instruments including the flute and clarinet. The kids soon began asking questions, including one for Ms. Koidin, regarding how long she’d been playing the flute.

Ms. Koidin responded, “I started playing when I was nine years old, and after a few years of practicing every day, I was playing pretty well!” When the concert ended after the question-and-answer session, the Ondas Ensemble played some music for the kids to hear as they filed out of the auditorium.

Mr. Ferguson says these concerts offer members of The Musical Offering the opportunity to see children drawn into music: “It’s spectacular to perform this music and to watch kids become involved in it. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”

Mr. Ferguson says he wants to continue to reach out to kids through The Musical Offering, and he hopes that members of Evanston community will want to become involved as well: “We’re always in need of sponsors for individual Dawes, Oakton or Washington Elementary School students who can’t pay for individual music lessons,” he says.

Mr. Ferguson says that if anyone is interested in becoming a sponsor for an District 65 elementary school child – to help fund individual music lessons, or funding an outreach concert to a school; or if anyone is simply interested in learning more about outreach programs to schools, that they are welcome to visit http://www.themusicaloffering.org or contact him at mail@themusicaloffering.org.