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Orchestra invites younger audience to free family concert

Take a field trip with the Sarasota Orchestra, which will play several concerts for area schools and wrap it all up with a free evening performance for families.


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EDITOR'S NOTE: This concert was cancelled as a result of Hurricane Ian.

A famous overture is building to crescendo. The orchestra is playing at full steam, and out in the audience there’s a sea of children pretending to ride on horseback.

That’s a scene from a previous edition of the Sarasota Orchestra’s family concert, and for Alyson Rozier, it’s most notable for a regular attendee getting in on the fun. 

Rozier, the orchestra’s director of education, says she can still see it in her mind.

“My favorite story from a few years ago: One of the donors, a sweetheart lady in her 90s, she’s sitting there and we were doing William Tell,” she says. “The kids were jumping up and down pretending like they were riding a horse to William Tell. So she joined in and it's just hilarious to see this 90-year-old lady bouncing up and down pretending to ride a horse. We were like, ‘This is what it's about. You're supposed to enjoy music like this and have this much fun.’”

The family concert, long a staple of the orchestra season, fell victim to the pandemic and has not been presented since 2019. But it’s back on the agenda this year, and the orchestra will play a free concert for area families Oct. 7 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

That show is part of a busy week for the musicians that will see them play for nearly all of the area’s fourth and fifth graders. The Sarasota Orchestra will play nine performances in the space of four days, bringing nearly 10,000 kids for a life-changing experience.

“We have full halls for these shows,” says concertmaster Daniel Jordan, whose 9-year-old son, Spencer, will be in attendance at the family concert. “I think that’s really exciting for the kids to be in a big concert hall like that and to see all the other kids. They ride the buses there and get to be part of a big experience like that.”

Sarasota Orchestra musicians Daniel Jordan and Chung-Yon Hong with their son, Spencer. (Courtesy photo)
Sarasota Orchestra musicians Daniel Jordan and Chung-Yon Hong with their son, Spencer. (Courtesy photo)

Jordan, in fact, said his son got to be a part of the last family concert in 2009.

Young Spencer was sitting in the second row and was called up to be a guest conductor, which meant in practice that he got to tell both his mother and his father how to play violin.

“I have a great picture of him conducting with my wife and I in the shot playing violin,” says Jordan. "He still talks about conducting the Sarasota Orchestra on the Van Wezel stage.”

And that’s exactly the point; the Sarasota Orchestra is hoping to introduce kids to classical music and to the concert experience at an early age.

The hope is that it will represent an indelible memory and that it will spur the kids to a lifelong appreciation for the arts.

Rozier, now in her 18th season as part of the orchestra’s education program, says that there are 235 kids in the regular Youth Orchestra after-school program.

They range in age from nine to 21, and there are eight different groupings dependent on both age and ability.

Those kids are already bitten by the classical music bug, says Rozier, and the family concert represents an opportunity to recruit other kids who haven’t picked up an instrument yet.

“They don’t know if they like it until they’re exposed,” she says. “The majority of kids that attend a concert or Youth Orchestra, they’re not going to study music. But we want them to have an appreciation for it.

"We want you to go to a concert later.  We want you to allow your kids to learn an instrument. If you get a stressful career in medicine or law, what’s your outlet going to be? Music can always be a part of your life.”

This music, especially, can appeal to all ages.

The orchestra will be playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as part of this show, and they’ll also play Rossini’s "Overture to the Barber of Seville," which suspended adolescents of all ages may recall from a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon.

But the biggest part of the show will be composer Greg Smith's "The Animated Orchestra," which invites audience participation and even gives the orchestra some acting roles.

Sarasota Orchestra is primed for another full season of music. (Courtesy photo)
Sarasota Orchestra is primed for another full season of music. (Courtesy photo)

“There’s a whole story,” says Jordan. “There’s a narrator, there’s audience involvement and there’s musician acting involvement which is really fun for us. By the end of it, the audience is in stitches and it’s also a really great way to feature the orchestra. The music itself is really good. And every single section in the orchestra gets a chance to shine.”

In the weeks before the concerts, the Sarasota Orchestra sends out a huge informational packet to all of the participating schools that includes lessons about the composers and the history of the pieces.

But they also include hands-on activities that invite the students to try drumming, singing and dancing. 

Then, when the kids enter the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, they’re totally primed for what they’re about to see, and they’re encouraged to play along from their seats.

“There’s a whole different energy when you’ve got kids,” says Jordan. “You break some of the barriers for a normal concert-going experience, which I think is a good thing. There’s also such an excitement; it’s really inspiring for the people up on stage to get to experience it from the eyes of kids maybe seeing an orchestra concert for the first time.

"Even just walking into the concert hall, seeing those faces, or hearing the way they cheer when the conductor walks out. It’s just different. It’s not polite clapping. It’s a clapping of excitement and wonder.”

 

 

author

Spencer Fordin

Spencer Fordin, the Observer's A+E editor, hails from New York and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1999. Fordin previously worked as a sportswriter for MLB.com for 16 seasons and as a features reporter for The Cayman Compass on Grand Cayman.