The Well-Tempered Ear

Madison Symphony Fall Youth Concerts bring classical music to many Wisconsin students – and some adults

December 14, 2010
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and thousands of school students recently gave me an early but wonderful holiday gift – Thanksgiving, Christmas or whatever, take your pick.

I’ll explain.

There is a lot of worry these days, what with less media coverage and curtailed school budgets, about young people getting music education.

Me, I am quite a little bit less worried now that I attended the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Fall Youth Concerts on Tuesday, Nov.  23.

The three hour-long concerts drew more than 4,200  students from 52 elementary and middle schools in the area. (In the spring, high-schoolers get their turn.)

They packed the hall.

And you could tell they all liked it – students  and musicians.

Smiles told the story.

John DeMain smiled as he conducted and explained the music.

Various sections leaders of the Madison Symphony Orchestra also smiled as they demonstrated their instruments. (Below, the second violins, standing.)

Two middle-school piano soloists smiled as they came out to cheers and performed for their peers.

And the audience members, bundled up on a cold day in their parkas, smiled as the performances proceeded.

What it all said, simply, is that the kids are all right. At least for now.

And that is very good news.

It took place in Overture Hall. The MSO was holding its annual Fall Youth Concert for upper elementary and middle school students, and had invited me to attend the concerts, which are ambitious and complex in their planning, logistics and execution — all spearheaded by the MSO’s endlessly patient and helpful director of education and community engagement, Michelle Kaebisch.

The students come from as far away as Appleton and Oconomowoc, although I am told that the Madison turnout is disappointingly small, with only four Madison schools participating.

Some 5,000 people – students plus teachers, chaperones and guests — crowded into the three one-hour concerts to hear explanations of classical music.

When DeMain announced the MSO would play Beethoven – “classical music’s superstar” is how he described Ludwig – cheers went up. Then cheers went up again after the end of the first movement of the famous, the iconic Fifth Symphony.

Now don’t be jaded. The Fifth is an impressive piece of music to hear and just as impressive to see played. And so was Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture (you know, the Long Ranger theme).

There was also Gounod’s energetic version of the Rakoczy March and the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” section from Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

The winners of the youth concerto competition also had their time on stage.

Pianist Waunakee Intermediate School sixth-grader Vivian Wilhelms, 11, played the gracefully difficult final movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 15 in B-flat Major, K. 450 with lyricism and elegance; and twice Jefferson Middle School pianist sixth-grader Isabella Wu, 11, played the lickety-split final movement Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25, with panache and self-confidence.

It was a good year for pianists in the competition. Normally, I am told, the soloists play different instruments. (Below, in a photo by Greg Anderson, from left are Vivian Wilhelms, John DeMain and Isabella Wu.)

The title of the program was “Get Motif-ated.” And maestro DeMain explained how “when you listen to motifs you really start listening to the building blocks of classical music.”

To demonstrate he took the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and outlined the three-note theme by having the students counter “Yes, I can” with “No, you won’t.”

I know the MSO is too big for early music but it made me want to hear them scaled down and do more Bach and baroque music in general as well as more Classical music, — more Mozart and Haydn, more Beethoven and especially Schubert.

Cleary, John DeMain enjoys working with children and educating people about music – perhaps no surprise since his great mentor was Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Joy of Music and Mr. Young People’s Concerts himself.

As for the students, most seem fascinated, attentive and extremely well-behaved. (See the photo below by Greg Anderson.) In fact, mort of the time they seemed a model of good concert behavior and etiquette that some of the older audience members I attend concerts with would do well to imitate.

And, I suspect, many adults would like classical music explained ot them and demonstrated for them with as much verve and joy as filled Overture Hall that day.

Did you attend the MSO Fall Youth Concert as a student?

Did you perform as a player?

Are you a parent or family of either?

What did you think of the event?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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