A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to play for the Arapahoe Philharmonic‘s annual Children’s Concert. I always look forward to these, because it is an opportunity to expose hundreds of young people to the wonders of the orchestra. I kick around the percussion section, toying with xylophones, timpani, snare drums, gongs, slide whistles…you name it. They come up onto the stage and watch myself and the others do this before the concert starts. And if the program was done right, the power and the mystery of the orchestra and its music will also inspire them. It’s actually my favorite concert of the year.

However, playing was not all I had the privilege of doing there. The powers that be liked my World Championship composition so much when I had them record it that they wanted me to conduct it for the children. They also wanted me to do two versions: one without the scene and one with the scene. The idea was that after we did it without the scene, the kids would tell us what they thought the music represented. I thought this was a spectacular idea…something that would really get the kids engaged and curious about music in film in addition to concert music.

The rehearsals were a little rough, but that was as much my fault as it was theirs. I learned a good lesson that first rehearsal: even if it’s your own piece, you could stand to go over it before you get up there. Getting the tempos in time with the picture isn’t the same thing as knowing how the music goes. If you take a section even slightly faster or slower, you have to do some major course correcting later on and it starts to feel a little like a cartoon.

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Thankfully, though, the rehearsal time was enough and the concert went beautifully. When the kids were asked to describe what the music reminded them of, I received several comments that were truly touching. Many of them indicated that it sounded like a kingdom or an army, which is pretty much exactly what I was going for. Some of them even likened it to Lord of the Rings or Star Wars! I tried not to get a big head about it. 😛

Almost every orchestra has a children’s concert somewhere in their season. But I would be willing to bet that many of these ensembles don’t go to such lengths to put together a program like this for it, or to let kids close to the instruments and even carefully play them a little. And that is the most critical ingredient: kids need to be engaged. It is hard for them to be engaged when ALL of the music is rather inaccessible, or if the orchestra is some intangible, sterile music making machine before them. My own piece certainly wasn’t the only example of creative and interactive programming. We also played one of Gregory Smith’s most recent educational compositions: The Animated Orchestra. It is a narrated story about a ferret who breaks the fourth wall and wreaks havoc on the orchestra as they play. He climbs into various instruments, causing humorous cracks and irritated faces from the conductor.

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This is a tradition that I sincerely hope is to be continued, because the stigma of classical music being too inaccessible and boring is simply ridiculous. This music accompanies our favorite cartoons, movies, television shows, video games and so many other forms of media we consume. It helps to make it what it is. And in many cases, it is an experience in and of itself.

I will truly miss being a regular member of this fine ensemble, and I hope it continues to enrapture audiences for decades to come, young and old alike.