Music to their ears: Students are their own boss during ‘The Story Game’

VACAVILLE — For the past 25-plus years, David Auerbach was the musician behind Carols in the Cave, a holiday tradition in the Napa Valley wine caves.

Now, thanks to grants from the Solano County Arts Council and Napa’s Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation, he’s the man of many musical instruments in school multi-purpose rooms.

The 62-year-old will wrap up his two-week residency at Jean Callison Elementary School on Friday. He will have worked with each class, totaling about 1,000 students.

Sixth-graders were the first to sit on the multi-purpose room stage and play “The Story Game.”

While Auerbach plays more than 100 instruments, he brings two to three dozen of the more rare ones to the school programs.

The students sit in a semicircle before him. Each contributes a line to a story.

The author chooses an instrument for Auerbach to play and actors to tell the story.

The imaginations of Callison sixth-graders ranged from President Barack Obama being kidnapped by aliens to a zombie cow being beat up by a Sumo wrestler.

“I wonder how this story will end,” Auerbach said after hearing the latter plot.

It got even more involved.

Another student decided Bigfoot should chase the Sumo wrestler and a flying pig should dance in the background.

“You people are doing some nearly impossible things,” Auerbach said.

Ultimately everyone in the story died, but not before hearing music from the native American flute, water drum, dulcimer, African triangle, the Peruvian flute and the psaltery, to name a few.

Drake Claxton was impressed by the number of instruments Auerbach played. His favorite, the Whirly tube, is a corrugated plastic tube which is swung in a circle to play. The faster it’s swung, the higher the pitch.

Jennifer Trausch was one of the actors and storytellers. Her favorite instrument was the Appalachian dulcimer, which Auerbach jokingly noted came from the “foreign country we live in.”

For the younger students, kindergarten through second grade, Auerbach does a more simplified version of the game.

He also offers a program for secondary education, “Sound Explorations,” which consists of rhythm workshops using percussion to investigate nonverbal communication.

The programs began about a year ago in Napa County.

Auerbach had fallen on hard times. And many schools were dealing with budget cuts.

“In this era of severe cutbacks and excessive focus on measurable results, unenlightened forces threaten to turn schools into gloomy workhouses where teachers and students are put under unreasonable pressures, with fewer enjoyable things to do at school,” Auerbach writes in press materials.

“This is a boring and self-defeating prospect for education. Bringing some beneficial sunshine into the pall of this atmosphere can serve to make school a more pleasant place for all to be.”

A friend suggested Auerbach take his music to the schools. An anonymous donor kick-started the enrichment activity.

“My programs are privately funded by people with a threefold vision: Benefit schools, aid an artist, improve society. For me a hardship has opened a door to community service,” Auerbach said.

He is self-taught on all the instruments he plays, including ancient harps, panpipes, concertinas, xylophones, marimbas, drums, chimes, bells and gongs.

Auerbach also plays newer inventions such as the vibraphone, steel drums and many sound-effect instruments.

This is his third visit to a Solano County school and his first full artist residency in the county.

He was at Tremont Elementary in Dixon in June and at Browns Valley Elementary in Vacaville last month.

At Tremont, he presented an assembly and some informal hands-on instrument workshops. At Browns Valley Auerbach shared “The Story Game” with each fourth-grade class.

The residency at Callison concludes with a school-wide assembly and parents-night performance.

“It’s wonderful. It’s a win-win situation,” said Carmen Slack, Solano County Arts Council president. “The kids love it.”

It empowers the students, giving them the chance to employ acting, storytelling and directing skills. And they get to be the boss creating the story, choosing the performers and telling Auerbach what instruments to play, Slack said.

Slack is hoping to secure more grant money so Auerbach can perform at more Solano County schools.

“I can’t think of anything else that provides the students with this type of creativity. I think if we had this regularly at all schools, we would see a change in how students develop,” she said.

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or


Solano County Library, 1150 Kentucky St
Fairfield, CA (707) 421-6500
Open Mic: First Thursday of Every Month Starting 6:00 PM
Poetry Coordinator: Marty Evans


Call for Artists - Art Gallery at the Benicia Public Library

Our goal for the Art Gallery is to share the diverse creative elements of our culture as we develop a clearer understanding of the role of arts in our community.  We seek exhibits by individual artist, community art organizations, schools, collectors, and public and private sponsors of art and artists.  The gallery will be available for eight to ten exhibits of four to eight weeks each.

150 East L St, Benicia, CA 94510 707-746-4343 Fax 707-747-8122


Baby Storytime

Baby Storytime is held every month on Mondays at 1:00 p.m. 

The program is free.  Expect 10 to 15 minutes of fast-paced storytime fun,                     including stories, rhymes,  bouncing songs, tickles, and feltboards. Sit on the floor,         hold your baby in your lap,and play along together. One child per adult, please.  Afterward there’s a chance to talk to other adults, and books suitable for babies are available for checkout. Please do not bring other children along, since this is a highly interactive program for both adult and baby. Ages 6 to 18 months

Location: Doña Benicia Room 

venue:Benicia Public Library                                                                                  address:150 East L St.  Benicia, CA 94510