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Symphony plays kid-friendly classical music

Program hopes to instill love of music in children
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Over the next several weeks, school children in the Auburn area will get the opportunity to hear live classical music performed by a mini-orchestra of professional musicians.

“Symphony goes to School” is an Auburn Symphony program that brings in musicians from not only the symphony here but also the Davis and Sacramento areas. They will tour 11 schools in the coming weeks, performing 16 concerts for children.

To see a photo gallery from the Rock Creek Elementary School concert, click here.

Along with the music is an educational program led by Harriet Kroot, who walks students through the different parts of an orchestra and provides the history of the pieces and their composers. The musicians demonstrate what their instruments do, including playing scales, and students are challenged to find the rhythm in each piece and pay attention to what each section of musicians does during the piece.

Symphony goes to School committee member Audrey Mueller explained that a major goal of the program is “to remove the mystique of instruments and classical music for children.”

That includes time at the end of the concert during which the students can talk one-on-one with the musicians about their instruments and experience. Violinist David Thorp, plays “Pop goes the Weasel” while having a student pluck the correct string to make the “pop” sound. The fun activity at the same time demonstrates pizzicato, a playing technique.

“So many schools don’t have programs for kids to play,” said cellist Alan Clark. Just last week, he said, a student approached him at the end of the concert to ask how she could learn to play the cello. Before the week was out, the group had found a private teacher and instrument for her.

At Wednesday’s performance at Skyridge Elementary School, the kindergarten-through-third-grade audience members were surprised to know they already knew a classical piece written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

They also heard Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, during which conductor Larry Tyrell invited the crowd to join in making the easily recognizable first four notes. The familiar pieces were balanced with waltzes and polkas, and ended with Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther,” which got the audience snapping their fingers to the beat.

Audience members Jazmine Wright, Allisyn Marks and Natalie McKnight agreed that “Pink Panther” was their favorite song.

“It made your heart thump!” Jazmin said.

The musicians are paid a stipend for their time, which is covered by the schools and a matching contribution from the symphony. Teachers are given a music resource guide beforehand that includes a guide to the composers, information about the orchestra instruments and a CD of classical music to play in the classroom. Mueller said some parents and grandparents have felt the program is so important that they donated the entire amount to their children’s schools. Those major donations mean a lot in times when music funding has been greatly reduced if not cut completely at schools across the nation.

“It’s good exposure for the kids,” said Skyridge fifth-grade teacher John Garcia. “A lot of the kids don’t get this part of classical music, and I’m so happy to see that they get it.”

Committee member Miccie McNee has been involved since the program’s inception 14 years ago, and said the musicians have visited tens of thousands of children since then.

“There’s less and less time in the classroom for teachers to be able to touch on this,” she said. “And even the ones that are blessed by programs where they pick up an instrument or sing in choir, it nourishes them as well by showing the professional musicians.”

Garcia agreed, saying that teachers are so pressed for time that things like classical music are often not included in the curriculum. While some schools, like Skyridge, have a band and music teacher, it’s still important to expose students to different genres of music.

“We’re pressed by so many standards and things that we have to find a way to fit it in, because it’s important,” he said. “That’s why they call it classical.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com.

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More music for kids

Children of all ages are welcome to the upcoming KinderKonzert, presented by the Auburn Symphony from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Placer High School Theater, 275 Orange St., Auburn.

Maestro Michael Goodwin introduces the selections and the instruments of the orchestra in a program designed to inspire children to a lasting love of classical music. Twelve-year-old Young Artists Competition winner Alexis Keller is the featured violin soloist.

Tickets cost $7 at www.auburnsymphony.com.