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7.5.05

Kinderkonzert at the Kennedy Center

I have really enjoyed reading the things that music bloggers write about their kids and how they experience music and the arts. Fred Himebaugh at The Fredösphere has blogged about taking his six-year-old, Der Drübermensch, to a Paul Taylor dance recital and about his developing melodic sense. John at uTopianTurtleTop has also blogged about his two-year-old's reaction to the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club. Given their father's predilections, it should be no surprise that I get to watch my own children react to the things I listen to and watch at home, like the Met Broadcast (most of which is mercifully during naptime) and opera DVDs. Well, yesterday morning I took my three-year-old to his first real, sit-down concert, a Kinderkonzert called Got Rhythm?, offered by members of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Theater Lab (at 11 am and again at 1 pm). I thought I would offer some of Mini-Critic's reactions.

As you can see in the picture above, he was not always sitting down, but he sat and listened, truly captivated, for a surprising majority of this kids-length concert. Mostly, when he stood up and walked to the end of our row, it was to get a good look at percussionist Joseph Connell, who at one point led the audience, in three parts, in the creation of an African polyrhythm. The players, led by violinist Glenn Donnellan, are all regulars with the National Symphony, and they led us through several explanations of what rhythm is and where it comes from. We were seated on the right side of the house, which had a good and well-behaved crowd but was not full to capacity, so Mini-Critic had the clearest view of Richard Barber and the 17th-century double bass he used to imitate the regular pulse of a heartbeat at the opening of the concert. These explanations of rhythmic sounds in the natural world led into brief excerpts of famous pieces arranged for the quintet: heartbeat (Bizet's "Habanera" from Carmen); walking; bird song (second movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony); and so on.

Mini-Critic's self-professed instrument is the violin, so his eyes were mostly fastened on Mr. Donnellan when the group was playing music. He tended to be most focused when the group actually played music and got mildly fidgety during some of the longer explanations. He was fascinated by the brief lesson on rhythmic values, although he was too scared to volunteer to go on the stage and help hold the signs for whole note, half note, quarter note, etc. Mrs. Ionarts, who is a flutist, and I have been teaching Mini-Critic basic music note shapes, so he was familiar enough with this territory. He danced in his seat at several points, most visibly during the concluding musical selection, Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. He was particularly generous with his applause for this concert and he had no tantrums, so I guess that's a rave review.

For my part, I thought that this concert was excellent for kids. Having suffered through one of the Sesame Street live shows for kids (which Mini-Critic enjoyed because his then-idol, Elmo, was the star), I was so happy that in this concert children were hearing real classical music, all nice selections in suitable arrangements in terms of length, played on real instruments by real musicians. It was a nice mixture of commentary and playing, since the older kids in the audience seemed not to get as antsy during the spoken explanations. As a musicologist, I wanted to leap in with helpful footnotes at some points. For example, when Glenn Donnellan asked us to identify how many birds we heard in the Pastoral Symphony excerpt, he had the players play each of the three melodies separately but only labelled the last one as the cuckoo, saying that you could "look up what the other two were." (Just for the record, Beethoven identified them in the second movement's coda as Nachtigall, Wachtel, und Kuckuck, or nightingale, quail, and cuckoo. When I explained that to Mini-Critic, he nodded politely and craned his head around me to see Edward Cabarga, on the clarinet, and Adel Sanchez, on the trumpet, so I guess Donnellan's instincts were on target for the audience.)

Mini-Critic and I also toured through the Instrument Petting Zoo that is regularly hosted by the NSO Women's Committee. Though it was not as extensive as the jam-packed version we took Mini-Critic to during the Kennedy Center Open House last fall, he was happy to bang on the percussion instruments, attempt unsuccessfully to make a sound on the clarinet, get his first sounds ever out of a trumpet, and of course play the string bass and especially the violin. As shown here, the half-size violin is still too large for his arms, so I think we are going to be buying a quarter- or eighth-size violin for him this summer. Any of you string players out there, feel free to advise on what sort of lessons to get for a three-year-old. Suzuki or no Suzuki, that is the question.

This was the last of the concerts in the NSO Family Programs series this season. Nothing about the new season has been released yet, except for a notice on the first performance, an NSO Family Concert called Stories in Music, scheduled for Sunday, November 20, at 1 pm and again at 3 pm. The Family Concerts feature the full orchestra in the Concert Hall, in this case with Leonard Slatkin conducting, but are generally about one hour long. The Kinderkonzerts are in the smaller Theater Lab, with a smaller group of musicians and shorter musical excerpts.

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