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Musicians prepare for Presidential performance

| Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008

An almost Renaissance-style arrangement of Christmas carols wafted through the luxuriously appointed reception room of the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley Heights.

The green, gold and coral room was dressed for the holidays with a lighted Christmas tree, poinsettias and evergreen wreaths on each French door. Ten string musicians, three pianists and a guitarist took turns filling the air with the melodies of the season.

And this will not even be the most formal setting in which the children from The Center for Young Musicians in Pine and Sewickley will perform. Later this month, they will play in the most stateliest of American settings: the White House.

"I think it's really cool. All my friends and family are supportive of me. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said pianist Nicole Kosuda, 12, of Pine.

For half the group, it will be a return engagement. The center has sent musicians to the White House for the past two Decembers. Organizers declined to provide the exact date of the engagement.

"If I could find words to describe (the experience), I'd be a human thesaurus," said Madeline Marco Scanlon, 15, of Moon. First violinist for the group, Madeline played the White House in 2006. "To be going there and to do something you love, you have the best of both worlds. We've refined (the music) and refined it and refined it until it's flawless."

Alicia McGinnis, 44, of Pine, the center's director, said most of the musicians have attended classes at the center since 1996. They started as toddlers, learning the Suzuki method developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki, which employs concepts used in language learning to teach young children to play.

"We have great local credentials because some kids are featured artists with the Fiddlesticks program of the Pittsburgh Symphony (Orchestra)," said McGinnis, a member of the orchestra's board.

McGinnis, a graduate of Gateway Area High School and Northwestern University, founded the center in Pine in 1994. Three years ago, a satellite location opened in Sewickley to accommodate students in the western suburbs. "We have a comprehensive long-term curriculum that can accommodate all kinds of kids," she said.

Friday's performance at the country club represented as a dress rehearsal for the White House event.

"You should be so proud of yourselves," McGinnis told the group afterward. "Stay healthy, take care of yourselves and practice."

A docent-given tour will follow the performance. Madeline remembers the 2006 tour well.

"We saw the Christmas trees and how intricately they were decorated and the way they played off the rooms," she said.

The group saw the White House gingerbread house and were given cookies; Madeline preserved hers as a memento. She called the performance and tour "magical."

But that's not everything the young musicians are anticipating. Said violinist Evan Adelman, who will play along with his cellist twin, Sergei: "We hope to see the president."

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