May 19, 2017

Music comes to life for kids at RPO Tiny Tots concert

This essay was written by guest blogger Maggie Symington, a Brighton resident and RPO subscriber who frequently writes about the arts and culture in Rochester for her personal blog.

The RPO's Tiny Tots concert at Browncroft Community Church
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra understands that a child who is exposed to classical music is much more likely to understand and appreciate it later. So they’ve developed a program of Tiny Tots Concerts to introduce the Orchestra to preschoolers and kindergartners in a fun and creative way. I had the privilege to attend one of these concerts, which thoughtfully paired pieces by Elgar, Strauss, and Bizet with humorous and educational compositions by the RPO’s own Jeff Tyzik, among others. Naturally, the program ended with selections from Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

More than 600 kids (and their supervisors) attended the performance Wednesday morning at the Browncroft Community Church, and it was refreshing to be among the oldest in the audience for a change! The first piece entailed three musicians playing as they walked down the aisles to the stage, waving to the kids as they danced in their seats to the beat.

Sesame Street-like signs dotted the stage (Percussion Pl., String St., Woodwind Way, and Brass Blvd.), and Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement Michael Butterman, in a touching analogy, described the orchestra as a neighborhood, with all of the sections working together, just as they do in society. The presentation included almost as much entertaining instruction as music. Before the Elgar’s piece for strings, violinist Shannon Nance, a “String St. resident,” explained how the violin is played, and introduced her viola “cousins,” other street neighbors -- the cellos, and the bass “grandfathers.”

The kids were generally attentive, although there was naturally a lot of fidgeting. The RPO cleverly tapped that energy by inviting the audience to participate in the music, and to engage with it, instead of sitting passively. For example, in one piece, Butterman got the kids to their feet to march and clap in time with the music. Later in the program, he invited them to stand and help the orchestra “take a bus to Percussion Place” by singing The Wheels on the Bus (“the strings on the bus go ‘plunk plunk plunk’…”).

One of the brass musicians and a percussionists came out with some homemade instruments and it was amusing and educational to hear the lovely sounds they produced. The kids were also getting a lesson in the music of physics, as the musicians explained the relationship between length and pitch (e.g., the longer the string, the lower the note).

It was delightful to watch some of the kids mimic conducting or instrument playing, and to watch them actively listening to pieces they were probably hearing for the first time. I chatted with one of the musicians on my way out, and we both remarked that, if programs like Tiny Tots are successful, these youngsters will become the RPO audience of the future. And who knows, one of them might end up in the orchestra! Kudos to the RPO and Michael Butterman for making classical music fun, approachable, and engaging to kids in our Rochester neighborhood.

Video: Watch Concertmaster Juliana Athayde, principal flute Rebecca Gilbert, and acting principal trombone David Bruestle make music come alive for little ones at Tiny Tots- playing a fun rendition of the Sesame Street theme!

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