A group of 600 6-year-olds stare in awe, fascinated by the collection of instruments that sits before them. The music is so loud and big that it fills the room. One little girl is frightened by the sound, so the conductor invites her to place her hand on a horn to feel the vibrations of the music. The classical concerts that Inside the Orchestra brings to Denver-area schools are “not like any orchestra performance anyone has ever seen,” says Executive Director Shelby Mattingly.
During these shows, Mattingly explains, the conductor “acts as a tour guide through what an orchestra is and does" to get kids up close and personal with the music. As the orchestra plays a variety of pieces, the conductor teaches the audience to make their bodies bigger and smaller for loud and quiet music, listen to the difference between slow and fast songs, and determine the feelings that correspond to minor and major keys. A mix of both modern and classic tunes—often the Star Wars theme shares program space with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—teaches audiences “that music is part of everyday life." At the end of the performances, the orchestra often plays the William Tell Overture as the conductor asks the audience to ride their pretend horses off into the sunset.
Perhaps the most inspiring moment of the performance is the concerto, when a talented local child plays piano, flute, or violin with the orchestra. The solos give young musicians experience performing and inspire other children to learn to play. After shows, children write thank you notes to the orchestra, often mentioning the soloist by name: “I want to be Katie—can you ask her to teach me how to play piano?”
When Mattingly stresses that Inside the Orchestra inspires a “lifetime love of music,” she has more than 50 years' worth of anecdotes to draw from. Since the organization was founded in 1958 under the name Junior Symphony Guild, it has touched the lives of thousands, including a 4-year-old boy who has attended 70 concerts since he was an infant, often bringing his own baton with him. Twenty years after their first Inside the Orchestra concert, young adults frequently come back to hear the musicians play again. These audience members may now play in orchestras themselves or just listen to the music for fun, but the message is always the same: “I just want you to know this program changed my life.”
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