My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Performing for kids? All you need are...

Squeaky chairs.  Yep, squeaky chairs.  Or perhaps I should say, "squeki chrs," as one kindergartener spelled it.

Well, perhaps you need a bit more but that was one of the somewhat surprising things we discovered that was a hit with just about every kindergartener that attended a recent kid's concert we presented.  I'm still somewhat new at putting together classical concerts for little people so I still get pretty nervous and frantic in the planning stages but what I'm starting to figure out is that kids don't necessarily need a whole lot to make them happy and to make a concert of this sort successful.  And considering how important I think it is for us musicians to get out there and give young people some sort of musical experience, I think it's worth any extra effort it does take.

Aside from the squeaky chairs, some of the other things that the kindergarteners that left an impression on them were:
  • some fantastic puppets made by the company, Folkmanis.  My husband sang several songs of John Duke's that incorporated a turtle ("Mock Turtle Soup"), a crocodile ("The Crocodile"),  and a lobster and a snail ("The Lobster Quadrille").  The puppets ended up "helping" my husband sing the songs, according to several kids, and that thrilled them to no end, especially since they had met Mr. Turtle the previous day when we stopped by each classroom to talk a bit about the concert and what to expect.  Mr. Turtle, hands down, was the star of the show for those little talks and at the concert I think the puppets helped make the music come alive in a very visual way and helped the kids have an instant emotional attachment to the music.  
  • the variety of instruments.  Everyone one had their favorites, of course, and that varied widely.  For some it was the piano, for others the cello, and last but not least, the flute received many wonderful compliments including, "Floots are good to me.  I love it."  What a wonderful thought - an instrument being good to someone.  Lovely.
  • the animal identification game.  There was one set of three pieces that had to do with animals: "The Swan" from the Carnival of the Animals, and "Ox-Cart" and "Ballet of the Chicks in their Shell" from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  Each child received a bag containing 3 popsicle-stick puppets - one for each animal the pieces represented.  While I was playing each song, the kids were asked to hold up in the air whichever animal they thought the music portrayed.  They really seemed to get into this little activity and it gave them something to listen for and something to physically do in the middle of the concert.  They were also really good at it, much better than the previous year when the most hilarious conclusions were made.  You can read about that here if you're interested in reading about that.  
And the thing that the kids loved the most, even more than the squeaky chairs?
  • getting to come up on stage to join us for a rousing performance of "The Grand Old Flag."  I had spoken to their music teacher to ask her what the kids' favorite piece was to sing in music class and this was it.  I was actually most nervous about this part of the recital and was leaning towards scrapping it at the last minute.  I'm so glad I didn't.  After the final number that we big kids did up on stage, I invited all the kindergarteners, about 80 of them, to come right on down to the stage.  They had no idea this was going to happen and as they got up there, many seemed to be a bit nervous.  (Stage fright can start early!) But as soon as the music started, they were off and did a great job singing.  When the song was done, they seemed taken aback by the applause, the lights, the whole situation and that was just so wonderful to see, at least in my mind.  
Looking back on it now, it makes sense that this last part of their program left such an impression on them.  There is something wonderfully and delightfully overwhelming about being on stage, surrounded by music and musicians in such an intimate way.  It can be exciting, exhilarating, and fun - that's why I do it!  Knowing that 80 or so kindergarteners got to experience what I feel up on stage every time I perform makes me unbelievably happy.  It makes me feel like I've given them something special to walk away with and that might just inspire them to try playing an instrument themselves someday and to actually enjoy it.

Who knows.  Maybe someday some of the kids that were in the audience for this concert will be performing a kid's concert of their own.  Let's just hope they have some squeaky chairs too!


  1. Love that you're telling them to take a bow! :) That's so cool! I remember when we used to sing along in school. There were times I wasn't a good boy and I'd be doing something lame like making noises or simply not participating, but eventually I was in gear with performing.

  2. LOL, Chris. I'm so glad you finally figured it all out! ;-) Thanks for reading and for sharing your own personal past with performing. Very sweet.


  3. Nice post! I like your ideas on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I have done similar animal identification games in my music lessons with Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals". The same ideas can be applied to this post as well! Good blog, cheers!

    -Theresa Chen

  4. Dear "Private music teacher,"
    Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, I tried something similar the previous year with "Carnival of the Animals" and I had quite a funny thing happen with that. I played the Swan, Elephants, and one other one. When I finished playing the swan with a cellist and I asked the kids which animal they thought it represented almost all of them were absolutely convinced it was the Elephant. I was completely stunned and confused but it just goes to show you can't assume anything ;-)

    So glad you're enjoying the blog. Please do keep reading and commenting!

    All the best,