Jazz great Duke Ellington famously composed “It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing” in 1931.
And fifth-graders from Aiken and surrounding counties proved Friday morning they've definitely got it more than 80 years later.
During four concerts over two days, about 2,000 public and private school students from Aiken, Edgefield and Lexington counties learned about swing music and its roots in jazz as part of an education outreach program sponsored by the Aiken Symphony Guild and performed by the Aiken Symphony Orchestra.
Joe Pinner, whom baby boomers will remember as Mr. Knozit on WIS Channel 10 out of Columbia, narrated the Orchestra Swings program at USC Aiken's Etherredge Center.
During the concert, the symphony's members demonstrated how regular quarter notes can turn into jazzy, syncopated beats and how even classical music can swing with the right musical attitude.
By the end of the performance, the children were up on their feet, dancing and swaying to “When The Saints Go Marching In” with the full orchestra and vocalists backing them up.
The concert's focus on swing music expanded what the students are learning in their social studies and music classes, said Sharon Johnson, the vice president of the Aiken Symphony Guild.
“The kids are learning about the Jazz Age in their classes,” she said. “For children, when they can make that connection, that's the magic. Having first learned the music makes it even more exciting and more meaningful for them.”
Johnson said the concert might be some students' introduction to the symphony.
“Most children have never been to a symphony. That's just not a part of their culture,” she said. “We feel like if we can introduce them to the symphony in an educational yet fun way then it's going to open up a whole new world to them.”
The Orchestra Swings is a music education program provided by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute called “Link Up.” The program “facilitates deeper connections between the concert hall and the classroom through an instrument-focused curriculum that culminates in an annual participatory concert,” according the the Carnegie Hall's website.
The Aiken Symphony Guild sponsors music outreach programs and raises money for the Aiken Symphony, said Bruce Bruce Leinster, president.
The guild's next fundraiser will be Swingin' Jazz at 7:30 p.m. March 24 in the AECOM Center for the Performing Arts at 126 Newberry St. S.W. Tickets are $50, and proceeds will benefit the Aiken Symphony Orchestra.
“It's going to be three local jazz groups with a champagne reception,” Leinster said.
The Aiken Symphony Guild sponsored the Orchestra Swings program with grants from the S.C. Arts Commission and Security Federal.