NORTHRIDGE - The sheet music was covered with musical notes, but the fifth-graders in Linda Mouradian's advanced violin class saw them as the ingredients for a fruit salad.
Using the syllables in "watermelon" to time the four-count whole notes, and "kumquat" and "pear" as the beats for the shorter half and quarter notes, the young musicians at Topeka Drive Elementary quickly picked up the rhythm of the new piece.
"You have to find a way to get through to them, to give them something from real life," Mouradian said later, as she waited for the kids in her beginning strings class to arrive.
"You can see the look on their faces when they get it. It's like the answer to the universe.
Mouradian has honed her techniques during the 34 years she's taught instrumental music in Los Angeles Unified, sharing her talent and inspiration with tens of thousands of students.
She's demanding about good posture and meticulous about technique, grabbing a youngster's violin and bow during a recent lesson to demonstrate the flourish she wanted on the ending note.
"I'm here with high expectations," she said. "I expect them to be good, and they are."
Her skill and dedication drew the attention of Education Through Music - LA, which recently honored Mouradian and legendary composer John Williams with its Shining Star awards.
"Our award recognizes a teacher who has been in the trenches and dedicated their lives to teaching music to students of Los Angeles and has been a beacon of light in the community," said Victoria Young Lanier, executive director of the Burbank-based nonprofit.
Mouradian is one of 93 elementary arts instructors who teach at several LAUSD campuses each week, providing lessons in voice or instrumental music.
From Monday through Thursday, Mouradian teaches at Topeka, O'Melveny, Woodlake and San Fernando Elementary schools.
"This isn't just a job," she said. "It's the reason I wake up in the morning."
Every Friday is spent sharing her expertise with other LAUSD music teachers. She also is an instructor at Cal State Northridge and a mentor for student teachers at the university.
"Linda is a role model for every music teacher - and every teacher, period - throughout the country," said Steven McCarthy, LAUSD's arts coordinator.
A staunch believer in the importance of the arts in education, Mouradian is thrilled that it's been embraced by the school board as part of the core curriculum being implemented in 2014-15.
She likened the ability to play music to having a sixth sense, one that provides a connection between data and emotion.
"Music gives you a different way to process information and give information back," she said. "You have to process the symbols and learn the rhythm and duration and the movements, and all of that has to come out somehow.
"What other subject can do that?"
Education Through Music - LA also wants to ensure that Southern California youngsters have access to the arts and the opportunity to play an instrument.
The organization's Nov. 4 gala at the Skirball Center raised money to hire music teachers and provide instruments at a dozen schools in underserved areas of Los Angeles, Burbank, Pasadena and Compton.
During the evening, students from ETM-LA schools joined with a handful of Mouradian's students to perform "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.
And Williams, who wrote the scores for the "Star Wars" movies, led a standing ovation for vocal students who sang his "Dry Your Tears Afrika" from "Amistad."
"Music transcends cultures, school communities and languages," Lanier said. "Kids can come together and speak a common language."
Mouradian was surprised to learn she was being honored along with Williams but tried to take all of the glitz and glamour in stride.
"I'm really down to earth. In fact, I'm so down to earth, I'm probably underground," she joked.
"I'm not impressed by many things - except for my kids."