Desert Companion

Culture: Hey, Kids, Frog Rasps!

The Las Vegas Philharmonic’s music van brings music education to the valley

Forty-four anxious students gather in the lunchroom of Mabel Hoggard Elementary School. They jump around, talk quietly, and whisper to each other about these weird objects on the table.

This a fifth-grade music class, learning about music history in Africa, South America, and Asia, thanks to the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s music van program. The year-old project brings music education and stimulation to schools and senior communities around the valley, tailoring its offerings to whatever lesson is needed. Experience with traditional orchestra instruments? Check. Sensory friendly sessions specifically for special needs students? Check. Concerts for seniors? Check. (For more, see

In this case, it’s a hands-on introduction to the mostly unfamiliar objects that make music in distant lands. Director of Education Kevin Eberle-Noel laid out instruments indigenous to the Atlantic coastal regions of Africa, the Andes Mountains, and the Asian island diaspora. He shows a video of people using the instruments, and then demonstrates himself. He always leaves time for the students to try them out, too.

“So, what’s different about this instrument from the others?” he asks. Students quickly shoot up their hands. “They are dancing,” one says. Eberle-Noel shows them how the people in the video played the instrument, and how they moved while playing. He did this for the djembe and the mbira, the wood blocks and the shekere, the nut rattles and the guiro, the zampona and the frog rasps.

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The music van visits schools and senior homes each week. Last year, the van’s first season, it brought various programs to 65 schools and more than 6,000 children. This mid-October session at Hoggard is the first of the 2019-2020 school year. For now, the van serves Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson, though, eventually, the Philharmonic plans to send it farther afield — to Searchlight, Pahrump, and similar dots on the Southern Nevada map.

By teaching students about different instruments, Eberle-Noel and the music van help not only students, but music educators — particularly in a time of frequent funding cuts for their programs. Not many schools have the budget for some good nut rattles and frog rasps. So the music van program becomes a resource to help teachers inspire their students. “We are such a global community in Las Vegas,” Eberle-Noel says, “There is a huge need for music enrichment.”

For the final 20 minutes of the 55-minute session, the students break into two groups. One at a time, each student gets a chance to play one of the instruments. One group claps to the beat and the other chants along with the stringed instrument. Before you know it, and too soon for some of the kids, the music van’s first visit of the school year is officially over. 

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