They met in kindergarten and became friends a year later, at the ripe age of 6--one screeching "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on a tiny violin, the other scratching "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" on a guitar-sized cello.
Eight years later, they are still playing music--sometimes now as a duo--but their ensembles and abilities have matured. One favors Vivaldi, the other is more a Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Bach man.
Besides their friendship and abiding passions for classical music, violinist Jonathan Jones and cellist Isaac Matthews, both 14, also share a mutual conviction that although it has been music that has catapulted them from the rank of regular teenagers to that of Wunderkinds, music may not provide a lucrative living once they get through high school and college.
"I want to study government and go into politics," said Jones, a freshman at Suitland High School and a member of the school's visual and performing arts program. "I want to be a congressman."
"My major goal is to attend MIT to study aerospace science and aeronautics engineering," said Matthews, a freshman at Oxon Hill High School. "I want to be an aeronautics engineer."
Although neither is planning a career in music, people who know music and know them think both young men would have bright futures on the concert stage. The two won awards playing together and individually at several music competitions last school year. "Jonathan and Isaac are extremely talented young musicians and fine young men," said Leslie Thomas, a music teacher at Thomas G. Pullen School for the Creative and Performing Arts, their alma mater, while introducing them at a school concert last year. "They are wonderfully talented."
Jones and Matthews said the "fine young men part" can sometimes pull them up with their boys. While many young men in their age group are pushing the macho envelope as they search their chests and chins in vain for signs of adulthood, Jones and Matthews, both cultured and gentlemanly, spend upwards of 15 hours a week with their violin and cello respectively, playing music most of their peers perceive as, well, not macho.
"You do sometimes get teased because some of them don't think it's manly," Jones said. "They don't understand that playing music is so much more than that."
What music is, the youths' parents said, is the vehicle they have used to instill discipline in their black male children, expose them to worlds beyond Prince George's County and help them develop everything from analytical thinking skills to manual dexterity. They move as comfortably among professional musicians--both play in ensembles with adults with much more experience--as they do among their friends at school and have been exposed to a cultural education that will stand them in good stead in later years.
"We felt that if he learned music, he would learn to discipline himself in other areas," Sharee Jones said of her only son. "It has worked. He's very disciplined."
Elouise Matthews said she enrolled all three of her children in music programs early because "it helps develop that part of the brain that many parents tend to neglect and fail to help them nurture. It really does help their mathematical ability. Isaac is very mathematically inclined."
And at an age when so many young men seem directionless and fodder for the streets, both Jones, who lives in District Heights, and Matthews, of Fort Washington, are poised and self-assured young men and honor students who know exactly where they are going.
"Music is good in the building of character, and it has helped mold my character," Matthews said. "When I first started, I was a little nervous. Then about fifth grade, I got more serious. It was interesting that I could play music that I heard on the radio."
Both youths realize how much music has enriched their lives. Jones, who played with the Prince George's County Solo and Ensemble Orchestra in middle school at Pullen, plays with the D.C. Youth Orchestra and the Prince George's Philharmonic. He is featured in a book called "Viva Vibrato!" by Gerald Fischbach and Robert Frost and was photographed for the cover. This summer, he traveled to Europe with the D.C. Youth Orchestra and spent two weeks playing in concerts in Austria and Germany, accompanied by his parents.
Matthews, a former member of the D.C. Youth Orchestra program who now studies in private lessons, is one third of the Ebony Strings Trio, along with his sisters Cheryl, 16, and Stephanie, 18. The group plays at weddings, receptions and other programs and was scheduled to play at a Kwanzaa program in December at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He plays regularly on communion Sunday with the Ebenezer AME Church orchestra. He is also a member of the Fort Washington Sweepers, a National Capital Soccer League Division 3 team.
Jones's older sister, Calida, 18, is majoring in music performance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Matthews's older sister Stephanie is scheduled to play at the Kennedy Center in February as part of the young soloists competition series.
Busy schedules don't allow the youths, who once also played in a quartet, to collaborate as often as they once did, but they are making arrangements to resurrect the duo in the new millennium.
"Music will always be a part of my life," Jones said. "I may not work at it professionally, but I will always play. I love playing, and I'm happy that because of my music people think I'm something special or something rare. But I'm not big-headed about it. I just love to play."
CAPTION: Jonathan Jones, on violin, and Isaac Matthews, on cello, practice in Matthews's home in Fort Washington.