My quartet, the Aurora String Quartet (named for the sunrise, my daughter's favorite princess and the city where I grew up), played a pro-bono educational concert at the Mormon church where one of my students is a member.
We had played the same concert a few weeks back, for the Pasadena Symphony's children's educational program, and we thought it would be nice to air it out again.
Last year we toured more than a dozen schools, playing for first- and second-graders, and our show was fun and successful.
This year we wanted a new show, but we wanted to keep that balance of music, education and fun. We decided to write one about Mozart. We called it “Maestro Incredible,” and made Mozart the “Superhero of Classical Music!” Since the movie “The Incredibles” is quite popular (and quite good, I'll add), we talked about the movie characters being born with superpowers and compared this with Mozart's “superpowers” as a child.
After starting by playing a bit from Divertimento K. 136, we then tried to take them back to the time of Mozart. We said there was a lot less noise in 1756. As I ticked off all the noisy annoyances of today: cell phones, airplanes, cars, CD players...my fellow members turned on various loud approximations: violinist Marisa McLeod played with noisy toy airplane, violist LaVette Allen sent a loud toy car across the stage, and the cellist Michael Masters rang and talked on a cell phone, until I yelled, “NONE OF THAT!”
Then we said that all you could hear were horses and birds during Mozart's time, for which we had a big red bird that makes very convincing North American chirping sounds when squeezed in the middle.
They liked that silliness, and hopefully it made a point.
We asked them if they'd ever heard this: then we played the theme from the piano variations on “Ah! Vous Dirai-Je Maman,” K265, and they all brightened quite a lot.
“It's 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!'” Indeed, would a couple of Suzuki teachers (both Marisa and I!) forget such a thing? But Mozart's variations are so beautifully elegant, I can't say the same for...well, we needn't get into that!
“Mozart's superpower,” I revealed, “was that when he heard a song like that, he could turn it into this!” Then we launched into the next variation, which is a clever volley between right and left hand, or in our case, between first violin and viola. We continued in this vein, explaining also the “sad Twinkle” in a minor key, and the “fancy” Twinkle, which has a lot of noodly notes in the baseline.
After this, we played a bit more from the Divertimento and concluded with everyone's favorite Eine Kleine. I noted that the performances of it may well number in the million, and possibly that each of us has played it that many times and yet we still love it.
After the show, the children came up to the stage, along with the parents, to chat with us. They were so happy and appreciative. But what surprised me was that the adults talked about how much they craved this kind of an educational concert for themselves. One asked if we might play the same show for a group of adults, and another confessed to “not knowing much about classical music,” but being very interested in it.
Imagine this: educational outreach concerts for adults.
I think some people miss the boat with classical music, then, sadly, they think they can't catch it. As teenagers, many (most?) people are happy to listen to popular music, and its mostly uncomplicated and repetitive nature goes unnoticed. But as people get older, they crave something a little more sophisticated. Britney Spears just doesn't cut it any more. They like the little snippets of classical music they hear, but they don't know how to identify them, or find them. The classical music section of the record store boggles their minds!
We must pay special attention when someone asks us simple questions about this music we know so well. Spread the word!
Opening night of our symphony last season was educational. The conductor opened by explaining that we were going to go backwards in time from Beethoven to Handel.
They started with a pretty full complement of the orchestra with a Beethoven symphony. At the finish, the conductor said the next piece would be Mozart, but as with the times, the orchestra would be smaller. At that, many musicians left the stage and the Mozart piece was played.
Then the conductor said the final piece would be Handel and as with his time, the orchestra would be even smaller. Again, even more musicians left the stage. He then said that the symphony would be played as it would prabably have been played at the time also, so they all stood to play.
The conductor had much more to say, a lot of it was to ask us to notice the influences one composer had on another. I was engroseed with the whole thing.
My sisters, OTOH, were a bit perturbed. One comment was "I didn't come to the symphony to be lectured". She had a point, and perhaps this should have been labeled "educational" and presented as a special program, but I really appreciated it.
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